I grew up in a church tradition that focused heavily on two members of the audience most services: the unsaved and the wayward believer. Every message ended with an attempt at conviction. You should be convicted that you are not saved, so you can get saved today; or, you should be convicted that you are not following God, so you can get right with Him today. People, saved and unsaved alike, would go to the altar and pray every service. It seemed successful, but it rarely accomplished an important aspect of teaching: I rarely left feeling encouraged. I often felt like I wasn’t doing enough and wondered if I ever would.
This is the style I learned to preach, too. Many of my early messages would end emotionally high, pushing everyone to respond in whatever way applied to the message. I assumed I was doing it the right and only way. That’s another thing about the church culture I grew up in: we believed the way we did everything was the only right way to do anything. We weren’t bashful about it, either. So, although I strayed from some of what they did and believed, I held firmly to my teaching and speaking style. I felt that if anyone could listen to me preach and not feel convicted, I must not have done something right.
This carried over into conversations, too. It was like I thought the Holy Spirit had personally employed me to be His convicter. I was quick to point out where people needed to follow God more closely, trust Him more, lean on Him more firmly. It didn’t matter what the person was saying or going through. I always wanted to push them to go deeper, to do more.
Several years ago, I went to a conference in Lansing and listened to John Piper speak. It was a message to only pastors. He talked about the different audiences in the room every time you teach and how we should address them. I don’t remember his exact wording or even all of the different groups, but I remember some of the breakdown. He said you would have the unrepentant sinner, the repentant sinner, the wayward Christian that needed convicting, and the tired saint that needed encouraging. He noted that most of the time the church only spoke to the unsaved and the wayward Christian, leaving a lot of weary saints unaddressed and unencouraged. He encouraged us to pay attention to the audience and speak what needed to be spoken to each group. I found that enlightening and convicting.
I know that most of you reading this don’t preach often or at all, but I think it applies to regular conversation. You’ll run into all types of people inside and outside of church. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all mentality on how to speak to them. As they say at Starr Elementary, you need to speak with good purpose. Know who you are speaking to, and speak to them where they are. Some may need to be corrected, but others may need to be encouraged. Some may need to be lifted up. Everybody needs something, and we should use our words to be of help.
1 Thessalonians 5:14
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.