By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
You have probably heard the term “preaching to the choir.” For some of you millennials and Generation Z’ers out there, you may not even know what the choir is...because so many churches don’t have them anymore. However, what does the saying "preaching to the choir" really mean? And is it a good thing or maybe a not-so-good thing? Let’s consider this as we move forward.
What Is Meant by "Preaching to the Choir"
To preach to the choir means to preach to those who already agree with you, those who are in your corner.
If you ever have the opportunity to speak to a group of people—whether in church or outside of church—I believe there are usually three types of people you will encounter. Here is how I define them.
The crowd: These are the people that are against you. This will be your toughest audience and your biggest critics. They will be hard to move in their opinions and many times they don’t want to change their minds. They just want to trip you up or look for ammunition from what you say to try to use against you. Think about the Pharisees who would ask Jesus questions to try to trick or corner him.
The congregation: These are the people that will listen but aren’t totally convinced (but neither are they totally unconvinced). They will form their opinion based on what you say. Some may not even have a definitive opinion but they are open to listening. They are usually polite, friendly, and most importantly, willing to receive. You can usually have very good conversations with these people.
The choir: These are the ones who are all in with what you are saying, teaching, or preaching. They are 100 percent in your corner. If you get any "amens" when speaking, many of them will come from this group.
Regardless of whether you are ever in front of people to speak or not, you probably have friends or acquaintances that fall into these categories. (I’m sure some names popped into your head as you were reading these descriptions.)
What Does the Bible Say about Preaching?
When the Bible talks about preaching, it is referring to proclaiming or announcing a message publicly. Usually, it is done with conviction and with persuasion, as in these verses:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? – Romans 10:14
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – Matthew 4:17
Both of these passages use the same form of the Greek word kērýssō which means to herald, proclaim, or preach.
With this in mind, let’s consider the good and the bad of "preaching to the choir."
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The Good In Preaching to the Choir When Speaking or Teaching
If there is a good thing about preaching to the choir it's that you're talking to an audience that will give you agreement. They will often affirm what you say, usually without questioning. After all, this is really the heart of what the saying preaching to the choir means anyway. Because they trust you, they will freely receive what you are proclaiming. It is okay and necessary to preach to those in your corner—they need to hear the truth just as well.
If you think about it, Jesus spent three years preaching to his choir. Remember the disciples were with Jesus day in and day out during this time. However, while it’s good to get affirmation and agreement, you must be careful not to always seek it.
If you do, this can lull you to sleep and lead to the bad side of preaching to the choir.
The Bad In Preaching to the Choir When Speaking or Teaching
One of the dangers of focusing solely on those in your corner is you can try to keep them in your corner. You can sometimes adjust the message because you don’t want to offend or correct people, especially those in your corner, for fear you will lose them. Sometimes “choir” members can be so influential that they can try to force your hand in what you say.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3
If you have been in church for any length of time, you know there are people that can have great influence. Many times the influence is due to time (they've been in the church forever) or treasure (they're big donors or supporters). If you're not careful, you can try to preach to appease these people...which is not the goal or objective. Your job is to sow seed. You can’t control the ground it falls on, but you can certainly control the seed that you are sowing. Make sure you are following the instruction of Paul to Timothy:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. – 2 Timothy 4:2
Whether the “choir” members like it or not, preach the word. That is your responsibility.
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Preaching to the Non-Choir (for Everyone)
Does the saying "preaching to the choir" mean you should only preach to those who are in the choir? What about those who are not in the choir but are in the crowd?
As you go through life, you're always going to encounter people who have a different opinion or viewpoint than you. How do you go about engaging those people? Here are some people that may be in the non-choir:"
The co-worker who has a different religion than you.
The neighbor who may live a lifestyle you don’t agree with.
The unsaved family member in your house who may not like all this “Jesus stuff."
The reality is these people are all around you. I would even bet there are more non-choir people around you than you realize. The way you engage them can make all the difference between moving them closer to engaging with Jesus or pushing them away.
This is all part of being salt and light. If you handle this correctly, the salt will make Jesus taste better and the light will draw them in. There is no guarantee that they will like the light or stay in it, but remember...your role is to shine the light. God does all the rest.
Biblical Ways to Engage "Non-Choir” Members
1 Peter 3:15 - But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect
Proverbs 3:3-4 - Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.
Philippians 2:3 - Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves
Romans 12:14-18 - Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
When you think about what the saying "preaching to the choir" means, you can see there is both good and bad wrapped up in it. Beyond that, I hope you see that the responsibility (whether you're a preacher or not) is not just to deal with “the choir.” We need to make sure we're engaging those in “the congregation” and those in “the crowd.”
At the end of the day, our job is to plant and water...and allow God to do the rest. Can somebody in the choir please give me an "amen?"
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.