‘Target Audience’ by Derek Thomas

In the second session of the day, Derek Thomas of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS spoke on the topic of a “Target Audience.” After playfully lamenting his “klunker” topics which were assigned to him (he speaks tomorrow on music), Thomas distinguished his topic from its more popular seeker-sensitive version. God is the one who is seeking worshippers according to John 4:24 and we must be sensitive to Him!

However, Thomas acknowledged that preachers in the Reformed tradition have always acknowledged that we must preach and teach to real people, not imaginary ones. Therefore our sermons must be crafted with particular persons in mind, real people. To discuss this topic, Thomas directed our attention to 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 3:16 – 4:5

Thomas divided his talk under three heads: 1. What is this passage saying?; 2. What does this passage suggest that we do?; and, 3. What redirection needs to be done in order to reach our “target audience”?
First, what is this passage saying? Several observations may be made
  • This passage teaches the Divine origin and character of Scripture. It is God’s outbreathing!
  • This passage also teaches the proper function of Scripture. In other words, who is it for? The first “target audience” is the preacher himself! It is for the “man of God” to be made competent! It is profitable for teaching (instructing the mind), reproof, rebuke (educating the conscience), correcting (molding and shaping into the shape which God wants us to be). Preachers must not only desire these things for others, they must also pray these things for themselves!
  • So we are to do these four things: 1) Preach the Word, 2) Correct, 3) Rebuke, and 4) Encourage!
Second, what does this passage suggest that we do? Thomas laments the fact that counseling has become so specialized that it has been removed from the pulpit. He appeals to the preaching of the Puritans who spoke to different kinds of people and their various situations in their preaching. Their preaching was not merely to educate, but also to counsel.

William Perkins, in his The Art of Prophesying spoke of 7 types of people who may be hearing a message. (1) Unbelievers who are both ignorant and unteachable, (2) those who are teachable, but ignorant, (3) those with knowledge but no humility, (4) those previously humbled, (5) believers, (6) backsliders, and (7) the audience with both believers and unbelievers. Each of these must be addressed from time to time in our preaching. We must think of the gospel hypocrite, the seekers (those not far from the kingdom of God), the young Christians (who need instruction and guidance), the mature Christians (who need encouragement), the crushed and broken-hearted (there is always at least one in every congregation). Their minds, wills, desires and conditions must be addressed. This provides 24 different types of application that may be and should periodically be made in our preaching.

Finally, what redirection needs to be done in order to reach the “target audience”? Thomas provides three areas in which we as preachers must be experts. First, we must be experts in the morphology of sin. Second, we must be experts in the law (and its relationship to the gospel). Third, we must be experts in people!

Thomas then described and exhorted us to the type of ministry done by the Puritan Richard Baxter which is described in his classic, The Reformed Pastor. He ministered not only from the pulpit, but also from house to house.

In closing, Dr. Thomas referred to our amazing privilege as preachers of the gospel to be called to such a high and noble calling. He then pointed us to the day when the church will be presented as a spotless bride to God. Great message and challenge!

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