While the historical and literary contexts of a particular biblical text do not change, the context of the people to whom you preach is constantly changing. The contemporary context, then, should have significant bearing on how the biblical exegesis is shaped and delivered through the sermon. Using language that contextually connects with the specific people to whom you preach is often the difference between a mediocre sermon and a great one.
Contextual connectors are those tactile, imagistic words strategically placed in sermons that earth the values of God’s kingdom within the realities of the listener’s life. These connectors avoid conceptual generalities that can only be heard in the ear but not seen in the mind’s eye. One of the ways to discern the level of your contextual connectivity is to ask yourself regarding the last sermon you preached: Could I preach this sermon to any group, regardless of the age, ethnicity, socio-economics, and education level of that group without changing any language in the sermon? If the answer is “no,” then your sermon is contextual. If you answered “yes” then the following exercises can help you connect with the diversity of people to whom you preach.
-Pray the sermon through the church directory: Once you have an idea of the focus (what the sermon will say), pray the focus through the church directory. As you look at the pictures or names of the people to whom you will preach, pray the sermon focus into the specific situations of their lives. This practice prevents the sermon from becoming some sort of generalized pie in the sky and grounds the real Gospel in the realities of the real people to whom we preach. As you pray for the group to whom you will preach, words and phrases will surface that connect to the specific hopes and hurts, dreams and disappointments of people in your particular preaching context.
-Ask contextual questions: With your sermon focus in mind, prayerfully reflect upon the following questions: How does this sermon intersect with my life? How does this sermon engage the hopes and hurts of the Church? How does this sermon intersect with the needs of my Community, Nation, and World? Carefully pausing to exegete your circles of context (personal, church, community, nation, and world) will only accentuate the power of your biblical exegesis.
So, let’s say you’re preaching from Genesis 3 about the fig leaves Adam and Eve used to cover their sin and shame. The fig leaves also became a barrier to the intimacy they craved with each other and with God. What are the fig leaves we use to cover our nakedness that keep us from the intimacy we crave? Well, the fig leaf should change based upon the context of the specific group to whom we preach. If you’re preaching to teens, the fig leaf might be popularity and possessions. If you’re preaching to white collar, well-educated people, the fig leaf might be accomplishments. If you’re preaching to rural farmers, the fig-leaf might be land and livestock. If you’re preaching to senior citizens, the fig-leaf might be wealth. You get the idea. The context should shape the sermon.
The best preachers are the best listeners. Learn to listen with one ear to God through the text and with the other the people to whom you preach. The listening preacher will be contextual enough to proclaim Christ with pinpoint profundity on Sunday morning.