A FELT NEED
T. Pierce Brown
In the last few years we have seen several articles by various persons commenting somewhat caustically about the fact that much of our preaching produces no results because we preach in such a way that we meet “no felt needs” or as it is often expressed, “we are answering all the questions that nobody is asking.” This is presumed to be what makes our preaching irrelevant, insipid, banal, innocuous, etc.
I have no doubt that much preaching is that (and there are even half a dozen other appropriate negative adjectives which would probably apply), but I strongly suggest that it is not just because we are not preaching to a “felt need” or because we are not answering the questions no one is asking. Good gospel preaching is that which points out the need, no matter whether or not the audience has felt it. Then it either raises questions or so presents the facts that intelligent minds are prompted to raise pertinent questions that the audience was heretofore too ignorant or indifferent to ask.
When Peter began his preaching in Acts 2, did the audience have a “felt need” for a Savior who died on the cross for the remission of their sins? Were they asking the question before he preached, “What shall we do?” The answers are too obvious to deserve a lengthy reply.
One of the ultimate results of following the philosophy of preaching only to “felt needs” and answering only the questions that people are asking is that instead of preaching God’s Word, which shows mankind what he really needs, we will be preaching the vain philosophy of man which is designed to satisfy the wants and cravings of depraved man. How does an unborn child know what he needs, anyway? Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:4, “Preach the word.” That will meet their needs, whether felt or not. Sometimes a person dying of a disease feels no need to go to a doctor.
Can you imagine a school where the teachers taught only information that the student felt he needed, and only answered the questions the student already had in his mind? Most of us surely know that the purpose of a school is to cause a person to know what his real needs are, then show him how to meet those needs. It is to teach him things about which to raise questions, then stimulate him to ask them, and help provide him the means for finding the answers. In view of that, it is amazing beyond understanding that a large number of otherwise apparently intelligent preachers can not see that this applies to the preaching and teaching of the gospel.
There is no doubt that we fail in our preaching if we preach sermons that fail to meet their needs, and fail to answer pertinent questions. But they may not be the needs they felt, nor the questions they were asking.