Often when I am preaching or teaching, I find that I am focused on how a particular listener in a crowd might be responding to what I have to say. I find that sometimes I am scanning the crowd looking for a specific person or persons, anxious for their response. Whether this is a good thing or not, depends upon what is going on in my heart.
Sometimes it is because I am afraid. I know that what I am going to say might not be appreciated by the person that I have in mind. I am anticipating that this idea or statement is going to pinch and so I am looking both to measure and to soften the impact on the listener. Having located the listener somewhere in the crowd, the temptation to modify the message is very strong. This may be out of a desire to avoid, limit, or mitigate the anticipated damage. It might also be because I am feeling needy in my heart. I long to win the approval of specific people and so I find that I perform for them, speaking in a way that I think will encourage their appreciation, not for their benefit or for the benefit of the gospel, but to address a deficit in my own needy heart.
Other times, however, my focus on individuals might be much more positive. I may be aware that something I have in mind to say will be particularly appreciated by a specific individual. I know something about their lives and I know that I am going to offer something particularly helpful. In these cases, my focus in a little like when I give a gift on Christmas morning. I can’t wait to see how the person will respond to the gift that I have given. My searching out of the listener comes from a generous heart, anticipating the positive impact on the listener.
In general, paying attention to the individuals in a crowd is a good move. Anytime we can personalize the crowd, seeing individuals instead of masses, we are going to preach more effectively. The congregation is not a monolith. It is the gathering of individuals in community. Preaching with a heart for the specific people in the crowd will make for a greater, more powerful impact.