Here are 5 common mistakes that many preachers make, including me.
Too Many Points
I remember hearing a sermon years ago that had ten points to it. I struggled to keep up despite the fact that I take notes. I was hard pressed to remember even one of the points that night and had to refer back to my notes even then. There were far too many things to remember and if I had not written down some of them, I believe I would have lost all of the pastor’s sermon points. As I write this, I can’t even remember one point in that message. If you give too many points in a sermon then there are too many things for them to remember, let alone one or two. I suggest that pastor’s stick to one main point and at the most, three. There should be a conclusion at the end of the sermon to summarize the one, two or three points in case some people miss it. I believe one point is better than two or more because if they take at least one thing home with them and it’s that one point, then you’ve done your job as a pastor.
Rushing the Message
I have a very bad habit of going too fast and some of the congregants have told me so. I have learned to slow down when I speak and give the listeners time to find the chapter and verse in the Bible. Too frequently I speed through part of the message and leave people frantically trying to keep up. I needed to go slower and give more emphasis on what I did say. Fewer words in a slower pace are always better than more words at a rapid pace. Also, during the message, I give people time to find the chapter and verse, mentioning it a few minutes or so before I actually turn there. This gives them time to find it. Also, I give them a little help if the book is not one of the main books we typically read out of. Books like Ruth or Habakkuk are books that we don’t commonly turn too so I give them a little reference point about where to find these books so that they don’t have to go to the index to look for it. Then, when I start reading the verses, ever few verses or so I repeat where I am at like: “continuing in Luke 8, verse 12” just in case someone’s lost their place. I tend to read Scripture slower because there is so very much in so few words in the Bible. I never want to rush the message, even if I’m excited about it.
Keep it Simple
I have noticed that some of my seminary professors and even some pastors that I listen to on-line use words even above my head. If my listeners have to head for a dictionary to find out what that word was that I used then I know I’ve probably lost the interest of some of the listeners. There is an issue of pride too. When we know the meaning of certain words that the listeners don’t, it can create a puffed up heart that makes the preacher feel superior to the congregation. I like what the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, “Keep the cookies on the bottom shelf so that the kids can reach them.” Young guys coming out of seminary are often filled with idealism and say things in a fancy or impressive way and end up just sounding confused or confusing the listeners using words like propitiation, exegeses, transubstantiation and such. Preaching and the selection of the words you use should be able to be understood by a young child or it’s too complicated. It’s good to remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
Your Own Message in Your Own Power
For some reason, I forgot to pray one time before the message and it was one of the worst sermons I’ve ever given. That sermon tended to be my own message and not from the Word of God. What a fatal mistake that was. To preach in my own power is no better than being a vacuum cleaner salesman going door to door. It is a non-Spirit led message and will only result in human power and ability and that’s not good enough. It takes the Word of God from a man of God with the Spirit of God after prayer to God to reach the children of God. The common theme here is “God!” God will not work through human agents. He must empower us by His Spirit and we must humble ourselves before Him in prayer and crush all of our human pride and push aside every human imagination and effort. Don’t ever make the sermons or the story about you. It must focus on God. God can speak through the pastor but He had better take the time to pray about this and depend on God’s power and preach for the glory of God for nothing else really matters. What I have to say or my own personal opinion is worthless; only God’s message matters and so too does His glory.
Feel Good Messages
These are the types of sermons that are so popular today. People want a real good, feel good message to make them feel good about themselves. This is contrary to biblical teaching because Paul, in mentoring Timothy, wrote to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). Many TV preachers today never rebuke anyone; they only give soothing messages like “God loves you, you’re okay, you’re a good person, come as you are” however a sermon is not about how to win friends and influence people. Paul wrote to Titus that “you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). It is far too tempting to make yourself the center of attention and spring out a joke or two to make yourself liked. No, the Word of God comforts the afflicted but it also afflicts the comfortable. You are not a therapist. You are a preacher of the Word and you should know that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). The Word cuts like a knife. It’s not a backrub. It should cut but it cuts in order to heal but the thing is, it cuts both ways; for the listener and for the speaker!
I hope you have learned a little something in this article. I have learned a lot from my own mistakes. I don’t believe that we will ever arrive in this life. There’s no avoiding mistakes but perhaps now you can avoid giving too many points in one sermon; you can slow down enough so that you don’t leave the audience behind; you can keep it simple enough so that the listeners understand the words you use; you learn to not depend on your power of persuasion but on the Spirit of God and the Word of God; and you are not hesitant about the concern of offending someone because the Word does cut. I have made my fair share of mistakes but I have learned much more from my mistakes than I ever did from any book in seminary. Experience is a great teacher.