Sensitivity to Audience When Preaching About Sex
In matters of preaching the preacher should try to identify with his audience. I experienced a bit of the chasm that can be created between preacher and audience last summer in Romania. Preaching via an interpreter to another culture basically assures that no one in the congregation will understand any of your jokes or illustrations. Lost in translation, jokes become literal stories and illustrations only serve to illustrate that American customs do not always demonstrate Biblical truth.
So it is when preaching about sex. The sermon can be lost in translation. This can happen in several scenarios:
1. When there are children in the audience. If the preacher does not have the luxury of a separate children’s program or venue during the sermon, he should proceed with caution. There is a reason there has never been a Song of Solomon themed VBS! Perhaps if the preacher feels it is important to cover a sexual topic that may be offensive to parents who are trying to shield their children from certain truths at an undo age, he can plan ahead. Provide a Sunday service, or perhaps even another scheduled meeting, in which there are planned children’s activities.
At the very least, every preacher should plan ahead and alert his congregation to the coming topic and text. This places the responsibility in the hands of the parents. If they choose not to use the planned children’s activity to shelter tender ears; that is their prerogative.
2. When the preacher paints the picture. The Bible is graphic, but it is not pornographic. It does not describe how to have sex nor does it describe the reproductive organs. The Bible concentrates on themes of trust, intimacy, and union rather than on the biological side of sex. Some pastors choose to use language in preaching that “paints the picture.” I do not feel there is any warrant to do so. As I stated in my last post, “In saying what the Bible says about sex plainly, we should note that the Bible does not describe the act of sex, as in how it is done, perhaps as a biology textbook would. Neither is the Bible pornographic. So if the preacher is faithful to preach Scripture he will not be crude or inappropriate from the pulpit. There is no need to elaborate on what the Bible leaves to the imagination. People get the point without the preacher painting the picture.”
3. Going too far, too fast. Every preacher has convictions and a leading from the Holy Spirit as to how his preaching can serve to mature his congregation. I have a conviction that there is so much sexual dysfunction in the church, especially within marriage, because preachers have not said enough. I will state my case on this point once again. The Bible says more about sex than forbidding singles from having it and condemning homosexuality. The Bible has a very positive and celebrative message about sex for married couples. That celebrative side of sex within marriage is not shared often enough from the pulpit. As a preacher of Scripture, I intend to share that message.
At the same time the pastor cannot be so cavalier in his determination to share his convictions that the message is lost in controversy and offense. As a shepherd the pastor’s duty is to lead the sheep. They will eventually learn to feed in other pastures, but they must be led there one step at a time. I would say this principle applies in many matters of preaching. Just because you say something does not mean people have to believe it, love it, or listen to it. Babies slowly develop an appetite; so do congregations. These moorings on what is palatable and unpalatable are often determined by spiritual maturation, local culture, and tradition. Case in point; Mark Driscoll can say some things to his congregation in very liberal Seattle that would cause most preachers to be executed in very conservative Alabama. I am not a fan of pain (I know my culture), but I am a fan of Mark Driscoll.
All in all, I think the key word in this matter is trust. The congregation must grow to trust the preacher, that he can share sermons about sensitive matters in such a way that they can believe him, be edified, and digest the message rather than choke on it. The congregation must grow to trust that the pastor loves their children and respects their marriage. His word is God’s Word, it is good, and they can feed safely week to week.
In turn, the congregation should respond by giving trustworthy preachers liberty to lead and preach. Some things that are not being said from the pulpit need to be said and heard. It is for the good of God’s church and for the good of marriage.