Engaging the Audience’s Emotions

 |  January 18, 2019

C. W. Brister,[1]C. W. Brister was a professor of Pastoral Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX for 47 years. During this time it was said that Brister instructed more men in pastoral ministry than any other in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. in his work Pastoral Care in the Church noted, “Each Lord’s Day the preacher addresses persons who are experiencing hazards and decisions, joys and sorrows, physical pain and mental anguish, conflicts of conscience and epochs of growth. In every congregation, there are those who feel that their lives do not amount to much. Some have proof of their personal failure; others suspect that in quiet ways, life is slipping unchallenged through their fingers. Others feel trapped in a history they cannot change. The burdened are there hiding the secret sadness of sin and longing for escape from some blind alley. Some worshipers face uncertain futures. Most of them will go from church to bear great responsibilities in family, educational, vocational, or civic tasks. The sensitive minister will not be content to mumble inaudible prayers or chatter about mundane matters. Too much is at stake for casualness with the Holy!”[2]C. W. Brister, Pastoral Care in the Church, rev. ed. (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), 140. How is it that one could preach and engage this gamut of human emotion? Preaching that engages the audience’s emotion requires three things of the preacher: care, consideration, and connection.

First, for a preacher to engage an audience’s emotion they must care about the audience. C. W. Brister defines care as “the fundamental capacity to cherish a person, family, group, idea, program, or cause to the degree that one acts willingly in the object’s behalf. Care both sensitizes one to need and spends itself on behalf of persons, causes, ideas, or structures affecting life.”[3]C. W. Brister, Take Care (Nashville: Broadman, 1978), 14. For a preacher to truly engage the emotions of his audience he must objectively care about them. Engaging the emotions of the audience does not begin with a word out of the preachers mouth on Sunday, but with a burden in his heart every day for people.  The preacher that cares views his sermon as an opportunity to administer hope and healing to a mass of individuals in a public setting. The preacher that care is well versed in the specific needs and emotions of the people to who he ministers, well acquainted with the woes of society, and well versed in applying the power of the Gospel to these points of tension.

Second, for a preacher to engage an audience’s emotion they must consider the emotion of the biblical text. Text-driven Preaching is defined as preaching that represents the substance, structure, and spirit of the biblical text. Text-driven preaching doesn’t seek to only recapture the exegetical nature of the biblical text, but the emotional nature of the biblical text as well. For a preacher to understand the spirit of the text they preach they must be well versed in it. Though there are many ways one may become aware of the original spirit of a particular text, I have found the most tried and true method to be repetitive reading of the text in its immediate context and careful study of the historical occasion of the book’s writing. As the preacher reads the passage over and over the words seem to settle in their heart and with the historical occasion of the text in mind the spirit of the text becomes clear to the author. The task for the preacher is then to preach the text in a similar emotional tone to the author’s original intent. When the original text speaks in a tone of rebuke, the text-driven preacher speaks a word of rebuke. When the original text speaks in a tone of awe and wonder the text-driven preacher speaks in a tone of awe and wonder, how the text speaks the preacher speaks.

Third, for a preacher to engage an audience’s emotion they must connect the emotions of the people with the truth of the biblical text. At the intersection of these emotions Brister writes that, “The Christian preacher’s goal is to challenge boldly all of human life with the truth of God’s Word. God’s story is placed alongside human stories so that existence is viewed in the context of salvation history. The preacher is concerned not merely to mirror the demonic depths of life destitute of hope, but to illuminate the human darkness and despair with the light of life.”[4]Brister, Pastoral Care in the Church, 140 The preacher, in his application, seeks to connect the emotion of the people with the truth of the biblical text. Where the audience’s emotions are misguided the preacher seeks to correct and conform to the biblical example. Where the audience is hopeless, the preacher seeks to encourage hopefulness in the Good News of the Gospel. Ultimately, emotions guide actions. By challenging misguided emotions the preacher is guiding the audience toward life and godliness. Preaching that engages emotion is preaching that is pastoral. Brister writes, “A preacher is addressing the congregation pastorally when keeping the burden of the Lord and problems of the persons in tension in the dialogue of the sanctuary.”[5]Ibid., 130. Just as a doctor or nurse administer a salve to a wound, so the preacher administers the truth of God’s word to the depth of human emotion. For a preacher to do this faithfully he must exhibit care for his audience, consideration for the spirit of the text at hand, and he must connect the truth of the biblical text with the emotion of the audience. As C. W. Brister reminds, “The gospel is at home in every situation of human need,”[6]Brister, Take Care, 21 and it is the preacher’s job to make this connection each and every week.


Garrison Griffith is the Dean of Students and a PhD student in Pastoral Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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