If God-centered preaching is your goal—if you want to help your hearers focus on God and think on God when they leave your sermon(s)—here are 11 things you cannot do…
11. Over-repeat yourself.
There is repetition for emphasis, and then there is repetition for annoyance. Discern between the two by listening to other preachers. Perhaps you should ask your wife if you over-repeat yourself. Wives are great assets to pastors because they will often tell you the truth. Church members are often overly kind except for the occasional “preaching expert.”
10. Form your sermon points first, then find a text to fit your points.
Rarely will you find a text to fit your points. Instead, in order to make the text fit, you will be forced to pluck the text out of context. The text should form your points, instead of you forcing your points onto a text. If you force your points on a text, it is impossible for the Christians in the pew to submit to your teaching and enjoy the Lord through the specific text you are preaching from. (Granted, you are probably still preaching truth that is found elsewhere in the Bible. At least, I hope!)
9. Be very animated in your body language.
Everyone will either enjoy you or be terribly annoyed. If they leave the service thinking about you, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, your sermon failed. Remember that the goal of preaching is to excellently allow the Word of God to stand on its own. Thus, don’t be distractingly animated, and do not wear flashy suits or style your hair in a flashy way.
8. Be overly boring.
Do not talk in a monotone voice. The goal is to excellently allow the Word to stand on its own, not to make the most wonderful book ever written the most boring book ever written. You may be so concerned with detracting from the Word that you stand up and read in a monotone voice. Don’t do it, because there is no proof in the Scriptures that any of the prophets, apostles or Christ did such things when they spoke.
In other words, when you overly bore so you won’t detract from the Scriptures, you still detract from the Word, just on the opposite end of the spectrum. I must inject a brief note here: If you are a master of the English language like Jonathan Edwards was, you may be able to get away with reading a manuscript in a monotone voice. If Edwards had preached like George Whitefield, he may not have led anyone to the Lord, for sinners would have been too mesmerized by him to get to Christ.
7. Be overly humorous.
The goal is to encourage your hearers to enjoy God through His Word, not to enjoy you. If your hearers leave thinking “what a funny preacher,” then you preached a terrible sermon. The Word of God must be on their hearts and minds when they leave, and if He isn't, then they shouldn’t be able to lay this sin at your feet.
6. Preach your opinion or hobbyhorses instead of what the text says.
How can you excellently allow the Word of God to stand on its own when you ignore how God the Holy Spirit originally inspired the literary makeup of the text in its specific historical context? If the Word of God needs your innovation, it is no longer the Word of God. The Word of God is powerful because of its Author, not because of its messenger (you). Where the Bible speaks, God speaks. Get out of the way and help your hearers hear Him speak by preaching exactly what His Word says, brought from its original context into the context of your hearers.
5. Use Greek and Hebrew to impress.
Do you know Greek and Hebrew? Do your hearers know Greek and Hebrew? If not, then why use Greek and Hebrew in your sermons? Do the exegetical work during your study time and only use Greek and Hebrew in your sermon when it is necessary in order to communicate the text. This rule is true: Most pastors who use Greek and Hebrew in their sermons do not know Greek and Hebrew, and most Greek and Hebrew scholars who are pastors do not use Greek and Hebrew in their sermons.
Here is a good rule of thumb: Prepare and preach your sermon as if the original author of the Scripture is in your audience. If he and God the Holy Spirit can say “amen” to your sermon, then you have succeeded … but remember that both of them know what they intended, and they are fluent in the biblical language in which they wrote the Scripture.
4. Ignore your hearers.
I preach in a rural church in Kentucky, and if you preach in a church in a large city, the language that both of us are allowed to use will be very different. Big theological words are intimidating in my area. By-words such as “crap,” “p*ss” and “s*cks” cannot be said from the pulpit unless you want your people leaving thinking about the dirty words you used.
Furthermore, I’ve heard in certain cultural contexts you can say “sh*t” from the pulpit. I would be voted out of my church before I finished my sermon if I used such language. If it is possible that it will offend, don’t use the language! You will not know what might offend your audience if you do not consider their context. Moreover, your sermon illustrations should be understandable to your audience. If you are preaching to the elderly, they will not understand a reference to the Twilight Saga, Kanye West, Eminem, etc., but you can probably reference Johnny Cash. If you are preaching in a city, farming references may not be easily understood. Consider these realities when preparing your sermon.
3. Neglect teaching your hearers to enjoy God.
Teaching Christians that the value of the Bible is bound up in its literary make-up, cool battle stories or miraculous elements will not help your audience to truly love God. It will merely help them to enjoy the genres or stories of Scripture. Any atheist can enjoy these elements; however, Christians should ultimately enjoy the Word of God because it is the Word of God.
2. Tell a joke or story that has nothing to do with the text.
Why would you use a joke or story that has nothing to do with the text? You want your hearers to think on the text, not on something else. When you detract from the text, you are only doing the devil’s and their flesh’s work for them, because they don’t want your hearers to focus on the text, either.
1. Leave Christ out of your sermon.
The Old Testament details creation, the fall/sin, God’s promised redemption of His people and the gradual unfolding of this plan. The New Testament details God’s salvation of His church through the finished work of Christ alone. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the Prophet, Priest and King in the New Testament, and He’s returning soon to rule and reign forevermore.
Thus, the Bible is a book about Jesus. There’s no text in the Old or New Testament that can be preached as if Jesus has not lived, died and rose from the dead to forgive sinners and reconcile them to God. Jesus should be included in every sermon since He is the point of Scripture.