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Home » All Resources » Articles on Preaching » Mark Batterson, How to Eliminate Boring Sermons

How to Eliminate Boring Sermons

Mark Batterson more from this author »


Date Published: 12/14/2012
There is a world of difference between preaching a sermon and living a sermon.

There is a world of difference between preaching a sermon and living a sermon. No amount of study can compensate for deficiencies in your life. You can “study it,” but if you aren’t “living it,” it’ll ring hollow. The opposite is true as well. Jesus’ teaching was authoritative because it was backed up by his life. You can’t back up your sermons with a seminary degree. You’ve got to back it up with your life. My advice? Don’t just get a sermon. Get a life. Then you’ll get a sermon!

Let me be blunt: If your life is boring, your sermons will be, too.

If you have no life outside of church—no hobbies, no friends, no interests, no goals—your illustrations will feel canned, your applications will feel theoretical instead of practical, and your sermons will be lifeless instead of life-giving.

The greatest sermons are not fashioned in the study. They are fleshed out in the laboratory of everyday life. Now please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. You need to study to show yourself approved and rightly divide the word. So keep studying! In fact, study more. But you can’t just study the word. You need to live it. The most powerful sermons are well-studied and well-lived.

At the end of the day, God won’t say, “Well studied, good and faithful servant.” He won’t say, “Well thought” or “Well said,” either. There is only one commendation: “Well done.”

Now let’s be brutally honest: most Christians are educated way beyond the level of their obedience already! We don’t need to know more, we need to do more. That’s why I think sermons should focus on application more than interpretation. Theological doesn’t mean theoretical. In fact, as you get a life, your messages will be less theoretical and more experiential. You won’t just preach your sermons. You’ll incarnate them!

Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. One church with multiple locations, the vision of NCC is to meet in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the DC area. NCC also owns and operates the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill. Focused on reaching emerging generations, 73% of NCCers are single twenty-somethings. And 70% of NCCers were unchurched or dechurched before attending. Mark is the author of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and blogs @ www.markbatterson.com. He lives on Capitol Hill with his wife, Lora, and their three children.

Jesus Sigala
December 18, 2012
I believe their has to be a balance. We should be reading scripture and interpreting it correctly. However, we must also ask God to help us apply it to the flock that we are leading. If we are truly taking care of our flock, we should know whats going on in their lives. That will assist us in the application. [delete comment]
I believe that every single sermon that is preached should be based on Scripture. The Bible has been, is now, and will be the final authoritative basis for salvation. Having said that, I also believe that we who preach the word MUST make clear to our hearers not only what the Word says, but also what it means. Even if we preach in an expository fashion, our audience has to know what God wants us to do; not just what He wants us to know. Do I preach expositorily? Yes. Do I preach applicably? Yes. I see absolutely no reason why I can't teach what the Bible means in our lives while I'm teaching what it says. I'm also not implying that I have hobbies to improve my sermons. To me, that is taking things a little too far. Do I have hobbies? Yes. Why? Because I enjoy them and they help me clear my mind. Do I use my experiences in my sermons? Sometimes. It depends on whether they're relevant or not. But I'm not going to go out just for an experience to add to my sermon this Sunday. I will shut up after saying that most of my hobbies let me spend time with members of the congregation. To me, that is also a blessing. [delete comment]
Stan Roam
December 15, 2012
I totally agree! You cannot give what you do not have. The gospel must not only be preached but lived out in the world! to be authentic when one speaks. Thanks! [delete comment]
Bill Williams
December 14, 2012
@Tim, you wrote that the author is "saying, if you can't make 20 something's think you're cool then your sermons will be boring." No, he's not basically saying that, at all. I suspect some are reading too much into the author's "if your life is boring" comments. He is simply saying that it is good for preachers to have a life outside of church: hobbies, friends, interests, goals. He doesn't say these things have to be "exciting" or "cool." The author doesn't mention anything about wake boarding or movies or hunting. In fact, he may have intentionally been generic about what these hobbies, interests, etc. may be, for the precise reason that it will vary depending on the person. He is simply saying that a preacher must have opportunities outside of church in which to live out the Scriptures. You said that people need someone who practices what he preaches, and THAT is what he is basically saying. And it is precisely in his hobbies and interests, and with his friends, etc. where he can practice what he preaches. I have a good relationship with the pastor at the church I attend. He and I play golf every now and then. That is an interest of his. He's not that great, but it gives him something to do on his day off! Believe me, golf is not the type of hobby that impresses most of the 20-somethings at our church. But it's interesting to him. And it gives him to opportunity to spend time with some of my unchurched friends that play with us and live out the Jesus-life in front of them. Golfing is a wonderful way to practice things like patience, humility, and guarding one's tongue! [delete comment]
Bill Williams
December 14, 2012
@kb, likewise, the author is not suggesting that study is not important. He writes, "You need to study to show yourself approved and rightly divide the word. So keep studying! In fact, study more." Nowhere does the author say that life experience is more important than study. He is saying that study is worthless if it is not lived out. Do you disagree with that? Again, from the article: "The most powerful sermons are well-studied and well-lived." He is not advocating "either...or", but rather "both...and". Like Charles said, both are important. [delete comment]
Geary Martin
December 14, 2012
Some of you are way over thinking this! Put simply...if I live God's Word in my life, then when I preach, I can help my congregation understand the word and relate better how they can apply these principles into their lives. Hey, LIVE what you preach! [delete comment]
I appreciate this article, and I feel that Jesus was a good example of study and knowing scripture and living and doing what it says. Both are important - not one or the other. And I rarely find the Bible boring unless someone makes it that way. [delete comment]
Rev Alfred Gainey Jr.
December 14, 2012
Jesus taught by using those life applications that pertain to his audience, not by using His own life experiences. If we truly preach the WORD, the Spirit of God will make the impact on our sermons. [delete comment]
Sounds like another installment of the never ending battle of "application preaching vs. expository preaching." I wonder if there has ever been a study of the growth patterns of churches that focus on application preaching and the ones that focus on expository preaching, not to see which churches are larger, but on which churches are seeing people come to Christ and become disciples. [delete comment]
Tim Nissly
December 14, 2012
The power is in the Scripture not my take on it or what I think it means to me. I get what the brother is TRYING to say...and yes our sermons are pointless if we aren't willing to live them...but to say that if our lives are boring our sermons will be too would be agreeable if in fact he hasn't added "If you have no life outside of church?no hobbies, no friends, no interests, no goals. He's basically saying, if you can't make 20 something's think you're cool then your sermons will be boring. People don't need to know that their pastor can do a superman off a wake board, just went to see the newest instalment of the Bourne thriller, that their pastor can hunt. They need to have a man that practices what he preaches, which has nothing to do with hobbies, friends and goals. But on another note...who determined that having a hobby equated having a life? What if the pastors hobby is reading deep theological books before turning the light out at night. You can say that's boring but what you mean is that they aren't doing what you think is cool...therefore you are boring. That's just narcissism. [delete comment]
Tim Nissly
December 14, 2012
Doug...read the book of Romans or Ephesians or Colossians...there is very little Paul and very much Gospel. So, yes Paul did use SOME life experiences but the main part of his message was not wrapped around his life experiences. He was the least and he kinda liked to keep it that way (ie. 1 Corinthians 1 maybe?) [delete comment]
Manuel Parcon
December 14, 2012
i agree that application is important in a sermon, but i also believe that proper or right interpretation is needed BEFORE the application. IMO, application is based on the careful interpretation, once you do have the right interpretation, im very sure we'll get to know how to apply it in our life. i believe balance between study and application is the key not to have a boring sermon. [delete comment]
Keith B
December 14, 2012
Doug, there is always room for illustrations. Nobody is suggesting otherwise. But when Batterson writes an article telling us that life experience is more important than study? That bothers me a bit. Church is about Jesus -- not us. [delete comment]
I don't comment often, but I have to say this...A lot of people are going to hell if all we do is "feed the sheep". Of course, this, in itself has a personal interpretation of what it means. Today's preacher, for the most part are lax when it comes to encouraging the Church to actually live like the Church. Most seem to want to let their "sheep" know where the sweet pastures are, but will not go the extra step in helping them get there. I am forced to ask myself, "How did Christ teach?" Was it not by taking life examples and applying them to His teachings? And did not Paul use his experiences to show others the true Way? I've listened to lectures that give facts and sermons that give hope and encouragement. Most of today's preachers are pathetic, self-righteous Christ wanna-bes who are such poor leaders that the Church has no meaning in the world, anymore! If all we do is sit on our Pharisaical laurels, the Church is a dunsel! [delete comment]
Joe Mckeever
December 14, 2012
I expected this to be the shortest article in the history of sermoncentral.com. Long title, then: "Quit preaching." :-) [delete comment]
Keith B
December 14, 2012
The pastor is not called to entertain the sheep with stories of his life. The pastor is called to feed the sheep. Should it surprise us that the author of a book exegeting the story of Honi the Circle Maker is telling us that studying God's word is not as important as having an exciting life outside of the church? [delete comment]
good points, brother. I was ready to squash this article till I read it. We must DO. I agree. [delete comment]

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