On the HeadHeartHand blog, David Murray lists what he considers the top ten mistakes preachers make:
1. Cramming: Squeezing all you have ever studied about the Bible over the years into thirty minutes.
2. Skimming: Taking too many verses and simply skimming over the surface of the text, teaching nothing that someone with average intelligence would not have themselves have got from the text.
3. Floating: The preacher says many things that relate to the text, floating or hovering above the text, but fails to show how they are anchored in the text.
4. Proof-texting: Including lots and lots of texts from all over the Bible, and sometimes diverting hearers by expounding the proof texts as much as the sermon text.
5. Quoting: Too many quotes from commentators, theologians, and other preachers from the past and the present.
6. Lecturing: It’s difficult to define the difference between preaching and lecturing, but you know it when you see it/hear it. It’s about passion, eye-contact, persuasion, urgency, etc.
7. Assuming: Our own over-familiarity with the text results in us assuming that our hearers know the background of the text, the meaning of basic key words and concepts, etc. May also result in Mach 7 preaching speeds. And don’t assume your hearers are all converted either.
8. Confusing: Hearers are left confused usually because of a lack of structure or too complicated a structure (main points, sub-points, etc.); or sometimes there is a good structure, but it’s not sufficiently highlighted and emphasized so that hearers know where they’ve been, where they are, and where they are going.
9. Spraying: Lots and lots of data, but no single dominant thought; it’s the difference between a shotgun and a rifle.
10. Complicating: Instead of explaining the text, a preacher can actually make it more obscure. Usually involves words too big, sentences too long, concepts too abstract, language too philosophical/theological.
He’s right. Those are common mistakes. I would add a few more, that I think are prevalent:
11. Failing to connect with the listeners’ needs. In the first few minutes of any sermon, the speaker has the listeners’ attention, if only out of courtesy. That attention will quickly disappear, however, if the preacher doesn’t quickly–in one way or another–connect with a felt need, and help the listener expect that the sermon will answer that need.
12. Neglecting a practical application. Many, many sermons end with me longing for a practical application to my life, my habits, my situation, my practice. An attentive preacher will give me at least one practical way to apply the text, something to do, something to pray…SOMETHING.
13. Regurgitating. This is related to #2, above, but a good sermon will make it clear that the preacher himself (or herself) actually discovered something new, something exciting, some new insight or application in the text, during his or her study for the sermon. Too often, the sermon simply features information the preacher has known since seminary (or VBS, even!), rather than fresh interaction with the text, and the Spirit who illuminates it.
I could go on, of course, but that’s a baker’s dozen of mistakes I have made myself, and mistakes we preachers too often make.
But we can do better.
And we must.
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