The Hurt Challenge: Why Brokenness and Suffering in the Pew Makes Preaching Difficult
Someone has said, “Preach to hurting people and you will never want for an audience.” Suffering is universal. Adam brought sin to the human race. Suffering is the byproduct of sin. Even when suffering is not associated with sin, it is because of sin that suffering came into the world. All of us experience pain in our lives. Sometimes the hurt is physical. Sometimes it is emotional. Brokenness can be the end or the beginning of usefulness to the Lord.
When preaching to those who are broken or suffering, difficulties can arise. This is especially true with larger church pastors or guest preachers because they may be unaware of who is listening to the message. Even in smaller membership churches, there are people who silently suffer. This scenario leaves the preacher unable to directly address their need. Let me give two examples of when a preacher may miss the mark in ministering to a person’s pain.
People may be suffering and the preacher has no knowledge of their trial. The preacher could be preaching from a text that seems insensitive to someone’s suffering. It might come across as harsh. A second hurdle is that a preacher may not be able to empathize directly with a listener’s specific trial. The preacher’s lack of experience with a particular trial may cause him to preach in a way that seems uncaring. The ability to empathize is greatly hampered when the preacher has not traveled the exact road. It is beyond the scope of any one individual preacher’s ability to feel the pain of all suffering.
As much as the preacher tries to be caring and loving, there will be occasions when the tone or the text seems to miss the mark in the life of the person. This is when the preacher must depend on the Holy Spirit to apply the Word of God to the individual. While it is difficult and sometimes impossible to address every trial taking place in the congregation, the Word of God never returns void.
My answer to the challenge is 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (NKJV) By being a part of the human race, preachers suffer too. It is through the trials of life that God fashions us to be instruments of His grace. We can care for people because God has cared for us. We can comfort people because others have comforted us.
Ultimately, we are to point people to Jesus. Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (NKJV) Jesus was tempted of the devil in the wilderness. He passed the test. He was sinless. Yet Jesus suffered more than anyone. Jesus is the only one who can minister to the suffering. Those who are broken can be put back together by our Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter. When no preacher can provide the exact word for the moment, the Holy Spirit can take the Word of God and point people to Jesus who is the Healer.
My advice is to preach the Word! Preach it compassionately! Preach Christ! Preach in the power of the Comforter who can do the work in the lives of the broken and suffering!