If Christian preaching is going to be effective, it has to be relevant. That is, it needs to connect to people’s lives so that it leads to greater self-awareness, spiritual enlightenment, a change in perspective, altered behavior, or even a resolve to take up new responsibility.
But most preachers have discovered that the gospel doesn’t need to be made relevant. It already is all on its own. The evidence of this is provided to me over and over when I learn how my sermons speak directly to people’s questions, needs, hurts, and challenges in ways I never would have expected. While I’m glad to use examples from the news or personal experience that obviously illustrate the messages I am given, I don’t spend a lot of time looking for ways to connect the gospel to “real life.” My primary concern is to be faithful to the biblical text. Experience has taught me that the Holy Spirit has more to do with applying the truth of scripture to people’s lives than I do.
Usually, the result of this process is appreciated. “I felt like you were speaking directly to me today, pastor,” isn’t a complaint. It’s an expression of gratitude. But sometimes, the gospel is so relevant it hurts. People feel stung by a truth that confronts them with their unexamined biases, faulty assumptions, or lack of compassion. When that happens, they will either reflect prayerfully on what they have heard, or they will dismiss the message by saying to the preacher – or to somebody else about the preacher – “That sermon was too political.” (Translation: it made me uncomfortable.)