Preaching Articles

(Editor's Note: Readers are encouraged to add their own preaching dos and don'ts in the Comment section at the end of this article.) 


The following are tips on preaching gathered from a variety of people around the church who have some sense of what does and does not work in sermons.

1. Did Jesus need to suffer and die for this sermon to be preached? If not, don't waste your time or ours with it. It's probably just clean mental health for religious people.

2. Never speak of yourself in the tub, shower, or in bed. It's hard enough for parishioners to follow a sermon without imagining the preacher in the altogether.

3. Never start your sermon with "When I was asked to preach..." Drawing attention to your effort preparing the sermon will create too much interest in whether or not it was worth your time or theirs.

4. Never start a sermon with an I. It's God's word you're proclaiming, not your own. A way to check how you're doing is to count the number of times you say, "I." Remember there is someone sitting out there doing just that.

5. Never say, "It's hard to find any gospel in this text." It will make you seem like an athlete of the text if you happened to find some, giving the impression that you are going to do something really hard, for which you, not God, should be praised.  God wasn't clear, it implies, although you are.

6. Never begin, "Her name was Jill" or "The water rippled brightly as we stepped into the lake." It's the homiletical equivalent of "It was a dark and stormy night."  If you can tell stories well enough to keep a congregation interested for 10 minutes, you're in the wrong business.

7. Never tell a bathroom or bedroom joke in the pulpit, especially on Ash Wednesday or Maundy Thursday. It is always inappropriate, but on these days it really wrecks concentration.

8. Never preach on love after you have had an argument with your congregation or even one person in it. Even if you think you were in the right, it sounds like special pleading and usually burdens the conscience of your opponent. Any group will have its disagreements. Disagreements are not sins that you have been given the keys to bind and release. Most sermons on love turn out to have the sub-text, "You haven't been very nice to me." Your work is to relieve the burdened conscience with the forgiveness of sins. Burdening the consciences of your people so you can come out in the right is an abuse of your office.

9. Never start a sermon with "And now we begin our Lenten journey."  The gospel is not a mood piece set into the more important liturgical year. You are preaching the word, not the season.

10. Never preach an Easter sermon dressed up like an Easter bunny. Or use any secular holiday trimmings for a high holy day. A long time ago, Christians thought these symbols were pagan, or at least inappropriate for church.

11. Remember the bon mot: "Other people's love is disgusting." You may think you are the most interesting person in the world, but how interesting you are to others tends to diminish, usually, the further away you are from their blood line, unless you are a movie star or a royal.

12. Always assume someone is listening to you for dear life. They may be dying, or helping someone who is. Don't assume all the hurting people have stayed home and those sitting before you have come to be told they need to do more for others.  They may, in fact, have come to be strengthened for the work they are already doing and don't know how they can manage.

13. Always remember no one hears a thing you say after the noon whistle blows.

14. Always assume that someone out there is counting to 100 five times to make the time pass more quickly.

15. Always mention the name of Jesus at least once. Assume when you preach that there is a life and death struggle going on in the heart of someone in your audience who needs Jesus Christ.

Gracia Grindal is a professor of rhetoric at Luther Seminary. Her books include: A Revelry of Harvest (Writers Showcase Press, 2002), Hymns Of Grace (Sing The Faith Bible Study Series, 2002); We are one in Christ (1997); Speaking of God (ALCW supplementary study, 1986); Scandinavian Folksongs (1984); Singing the Story (1983); Sketches Against the Dark (1982); and Pulpit Rock (1976). She also has published many articles on the history of Scandinavian-American Lutheran hymnody, and the women of the Norwegian-American Lutheran churches.

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Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

John Modgling

commented on Jun 13, 2012

The name of Jesus only once?

Alexander Shaw

commented on Jun 13, 2012

Read my 'old' New Testament Professor's book, on 'Preaching' - Rev James S. Stewart - it was first published under the title Heralds of God and was the substance of The Warrack Lectures - it would be hard to find better advice.

Keith B

commented on Jun 13, 2012

Outstanding article.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Jun 13, 2012

John Modgling, no, not "only once"; rather, "at least once." There's a big difference between the two phrases. He's calling us to point people to Jesus through the sermon, not limiting the number of times his name is mentioned.

Michael Hasselbring

commented on Jun 13, 2012

Only say I once... I'm not sure I agree with that. Wait I said I too much. What if your personal story can be used to point people to God's story? And number 6? What business should you be in? What if the story is a Biblical narrative?

Keith B

commented on Jun 13, 2012

@Michael...maybe the point that the author was trying to make is that if you listen to a lot of pastors today, they spend too much time talking about themselves--or about how the Bible means we can be healthy, wealthy, or wise. It's not about us. Don't make a metaphor out of a struggle that the ancient Israelites went through and suggest that we can conquer our problems the same way.

Paul Wallace

commented on Jun 14, 2012

I thought Jesus was all we preach. Acts 5:42; 2Cor 4:5

Charles Wallis

commented on Jun 16, 2012

Good article - I think #12 is the big one for me. I also feel that stories are very powerful - Jesus told many stories usually about other people (not himself). Another SC article topic is on preaching to the heart - which relies on telling stories of faith overcoming struggle. My biggest struggle and advice is knowing what not to say and not trying to say it all in one sermon.

Joshua Parsons

commented on Jun 19, 2012

"If you can tell stories well enough to keep a congregation interested for 10 minutes, you're in the wrong business." I don't think I agree with this. I'm not suggesting that preacher's just tell long stories in place of preaching the text. But this statement condemns preachers for being gifted story tellers.

Keith B

commented on Jun 19, 2012

@Joshua....the point is that we aren't to be telling "stories"....we are to be preaching. If you have to tell cutesy stories to keep their attention, then they're not there for the preaching...they are there to be entertained. Yes, it's good to not be boring...but first and foremost they should expect to hear the Gospel.

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