I have long written and taught about the value of investing sermon time developing “the problem.” By that I have meant that preachers ought to utilize “the listener’s voice” to identify with the hearer’s struggle to embrace the big idea of the sermon. We can’t always be telling people what they ought to know, believe, and do. We ought to spend some of our time appreciating the struggle that such things involve. Doing this doesn’t undermine our preaching – it deepens it.
What I hadn’t thought enough about is how such an approach might be received by the more than half of the congregation that is female. According to Pam MacRae, in The Moody Handbook on Preaching, women are particularly interested in this use of their own voice in preaching. There may, in fact, be a gender difference on this point. Given that most preachers are male, this aspect of the sermon might be even more important than I had thought. Let me quote MacRae at some length…
“Women typically have deep emotional waters and want to be understood. In the classic scenario, a woman wants to talk about a problem she is facing with her husband, only to get his quick response telling her how she should fix it. Her frustration and irritation shoots through the roof. She wanted him to listen to her and understand how she was feeling. He thought the best way to be helpful was to tell her how to fix it.”
“Generally, it is enough for her to feel heard and understood, which is of great value to her. She may eventually want help, but what she really wants is to feel validated in her experience, and then perhaps hear something soothing and comforting.
“Tannen notes that men are sometimes confused by the various ways women use conversation to be intimate with others. One of these ways she calls ‘troubles talk.’ She says, ‘For women, talking about troubles is the essence of connection. I tell you my troubles, you tell me your troubles, and we’re close. Men, however, hear troubles talk as a request for advice, so they respond with a solution.’”
“Conversations with the pastor give a woman information about the level of understanding he has for women in general. Does he offer quick solutions, answers or comments? Or, does he really listen to her? When a man offers an off-the-cuff solution, a woman may feel he is trying to diminish or dismiss her problem. He is communicating that he does not get her. This does not build trust and can profoundly affect how a woman hears the pastor in the pulpit.”