Ministering to an Audience of One

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  • One of my former professors preached for me one Sunday morning. As we chatted between services, he asked me about an upcoming speaking event announced in our newsletter. I was scheduled to speak the next five nights at a state convention meeting. It was a rare opportunity.

    My professor and I joked about the challenges of preaching to preachers. Then the conversation turned. I admitted that, although I was grateful, honored, and excited about spending a week ministering to pastors and church leaders, I was very nervous.

    Prof assured me that all would go well.

    I agreed, because I had a strategy for overcoming my fears about the preaching setting. Or so I thought. (Warning: It is not wise to try to impress a former professor.)

    I explained by telling him of the first time I preached before many preachers. I was just a boy preacher. But the experience was still vivid in my mind. It still is.

    I was invited to preach the closing night of a citywide revival meeting. It was youth night. But I still had no business being the main speaker. Most of the other scheduled speakers had been preaching longer than I had been alive.

    Before we drove to the event, my host gave me a piece of advice. “Don’t worry about the preachers in the room,” he counseled. “Just focus on the people in the pew as you preach.”

    This advice would prove beneficial. When we arrived for the service, the first room we entered was filled with preachers. I dutifully went around the room shaking hands. Several pastors I greatly admired were present. As I greeted one and thank him for coming, he casually responded, “We came to see you die tonight.”

    I was stunned.

    When I entered the service, there he was, seated on the platform near my seat. I guess he was going to have the best seat in the house to witness this epic preaching disaster.

    Fortunately, I didn’t “die.” I followed my host’s advice. I preached to the congregation, rather than trying to impress the preachers. And the Lord was gracious to help me.

    This would be the approach I took at the upcoming convention meeting, I told prof.

    “That’s a good thought,” he replied. “But I think about these kinds of events somewhat differently. When I stand to preach, I don’t focus on the preachers or the congregation. I just preach to an audience of one.”

    This gracious rebuke tasted like bitter medicine. But it had a healing effect. And it is medicine I keep in my cabinet, as I am constantly in need of another dose.

    Who is your target-audience when you stand to minister?

    Of course, we inevitably minister to people when we preach and teach. But we must not do it for people. We are to live and serve for the glory of God, not to win the approval of man.

    We should be like the young pianist who had his first recital. He played a song. The audience clapped enthusiastically. He played another song. They applauded again. But he kept playing. Another song. Then another. You see, he was not playing to win the applause of the crowd. He knew his teacher was sitting alone in the balcony. So he continued to play until his master applauded. His teacher’s approval was all that mattered.

    Which audience are you playing for?


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.