Want to make your preaching more relevant? I'm certain you do.
My work operating a Christian counseling center provides a unique overview into the problems facing Christians -- at least, those in my geographic area -- and I have no reason to believe it’s much different in yours.
So, I thought it may be useful to share with you my perspective on the "real life" problems some of your congregants may be thinking about on Sunday mornings as you deliver God’s Word to them.
Here's my top seven problems occupying the minds of the people in your pews.
1. Marriage Problems. Roughly 40-50 percent of calls to our office involve marital problems. If you think no one in your congregation currently struggles with their marriage, has affairs or is currently contemplating divorce, well, you may want to rethink that.
2. Affairs. Did I already mention affairs? Fact is, several hundred people came to my counseling center last year to see me or one of my associates. Of those seeking marital counseling (including professing Christians), many come to address an extra-marital affair. This has really burgeoned over the last decade as social media has broken down barriers which previously made crossing that line more challenging.
3. Anxiety. Another top reason Christians coming to counseling: anxiety. Prolonged stress, perfectionism and trauma contribute to the anxiety puzzle. People show up frequently complaining of panic attacks, racing thoughts and similar symptoms.
4. Depression. Yet another big reason Christians coming to counseling: depression. Many describe depression as this cloud that won’t leave or the inability to climb out of a horrible pit. People complain of depression that interferes with sleep, appetite, and ability to focus. They feel hopeless, worthless and full of shame and guilt. Some fantasize about suicide.
5. Addictions. Alcohol abuse, cyber addiction, and porn addiction often show up in my office. We see many family members in pain because someone they love is addicted. We see those who have lost family and friends to the heroin crisis. Not infrequently we see people with shopping or gambling addictions or with hoarding disorders, which some consider an addiction.
Addiction of some nature is probably the second most common factor we see in marital counseling as well. Again, if you think no one sitting in one of your pews Sunday morning struggles with addiction, you may want to reconsider.
6. Debilitating levels of stress. Many people we see feel stressed to their breaking point. The most common stressors include financial, job or career problems, children’s problems, time and schedule conflicts, and caring for elderly parents.
As you know, most couples both work full time jobs, then spend a significant portion of the evening helping kids with homework in addition to running them to various extra-curricular activities. Some take on the role of part-time caregiver for parents while still raising teen-aged children. Many feel the stress of problems in multiple areas of life.
7. Loss or Trauma. Loss of loved ones, especially untimely deaths of children, parents or other close relationships burdens some people. Those with unresolved childhood trauma seem to have greater difficulty. Other losses that people present to me include loss of health, coping with an empty nest, job loss, and aging.
I also see people who have experience the trauma of combat situations, accidents, losses or other catastrophic events. Increasingly, children experience increased feelings of trauma and fear due to school shootings and other events.
Finally, one additional, significant reason people come for counseling: spiritual problems. Now, Christians rarely cite “spiritual problems” as their main reason for coming to counseling. However, I often hear the following themes as people talk to me:
- Lack of devotional or prayer life
- Condemnation or fear that God is ‘mad at me’.
- Anger towards God and sometimes estrangement from Him along with some version of, “Why did God allow this to happen to me? He could have stopped it if he wanted to!” (This is very common.)
Pastor, likely, you too see these problems in your ministry. Hopefully, this elaborated list can serve to help you be even more alert to the problems the people in your pew actually wrestle with as you preach to them on Sunday mornings and make the Gospel of Jesus their greatest source of hope and help.