I preached a bad sermon this past Sunday. It wasn’t the first, it won’t be the last. No, I didn’t preach heresy or accidentally let an f-bomb slip; I simply didn’t say what I wanted to say and realized it the moment I finished.
When we first planted the church, I regularly experienced a Sunday afternoon depression. Immediately following the sermon, my mind would be filled with all of the things should have said, shouldn’t have said, or should have said differently. It didn’t matter if people criticized or cried in response. Silence only confirmed my “sucky” suspicions and compliments were perceived as sympathetic pity. Meanwhile, my mind, heart, and body would be filled with an overwhelming sense of discouragement as I replayed the prophetic monstrosity over and over again in my head. I had this same experience Sunday, and I hated it.
And while I’m certain that someone probably needed to hear the creative chaos that I puked out yesterday, I am fairly convinced it was one of my worst sermons ever. Of course, descriptions such as “best” or “worst” relative to my own sermons reaks of pride. It also demonstrates one of the greatest temptations for preachers–believing that your value or approval is somehow tied to how well you preach on any given Sunday. The sin in me creates feeling of embarrassment because I wasn’t at the top of my game–now perhaps they think less of me. And, though I am tempted to believe the lies being whispered in my mind, I know that God is not disappointed in me. But, for whatever reason, God has allowed me to be a bit disappointed in myself.
I feel like an athlete who for some reason didn’t have his best outing on game day. He’s allowed this, I believe, to make me train better, and perhaps to meditate on how to avoid “bad” sermons as much as it depends on me. I say this because I followed all the advice I am about to give…and still messed up:
1. Pray before, during, and after: We need to talk with God about what we are going to say, and how. There is a war waged every time a sermon is prepared and preached. It is not fought against flesh and blood.
2. Prepare and work like an Ox: Even though we pray, we don’t just “let go and let God.” We work hard to read, study, write, edit, etc. Our efforts are not primarily say “it” perfectly but, rather, to say what God deems perfect for the given moment and audience.
3. Let the Scripture lead: This is the strength of expository preaching. The people need to be in the Word of God because that is where the power is. Commentary about God’s Word is important, but one could do a lot worse than have a sermon filled with more of His Words than our own.
4. Make it personal: There is a tension between talking too much and too little about yourself. Sometimes your audience needs to know who you are, but sometimes it can become less of a proclamation of God’s Word and more like a personal bio. Making it personal means revealing how the TEXT has impacted you personally so that you can preach it honestly.
5. Let the Spirit Lead: In other words, done predetermine what you’re going to say. This can happen when you write a sermon based on a person or a people who YOU think needs to hear ____________. When you go into an opportunity to preach with an intention to teach, you might miss what God actually wants to say. In all sermons, God preaches to the preacher before he preaches to anyone.
6. Less is more: More than once God condemns “verbosity” in the Bible. Fewer words will always be better in nearly every situation. Granted, there is a tension between figuring out what is too short or too long. There is no perfect length. There is, however, something to be said and it need not be said three different times in three different ways. When in doubt, say it with less words.
7. Preach Jesus as the hero: When all is said and done, the sermon should lead people closer to the cross in one way or another. There are many other places that sermons can lead people to, most of which are centered on man-made religion. If the entire Bible is about Jesus, then every sermon preached from the Bible should lead to Jesus. This is more than adding a gospel message at the end. It is exploring how our sin causes us to reject the truth being preaching, and how Jesus makes all things new.
Looking forward to next Sunday.