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If you want to help your hearers focus on God and think on God when they leave your sermon, here are 10 things that you CANNOT do …

10. Abuse repetition. 

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 few “preaching experts” in every congregation.

9. Form your own sermon points first, and 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 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 from which you are preaching. (Granted, you are probably still preaching truth that is found elsewhere in the Bible; at least, I hope!)

8. Be overly animated.

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. So don’t be a distraction.

7. Bore your audience.

Do not talk in a monotone voice. The goal is to 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 just want to 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, Christ, or apostles did such things when they spoke. In other words, when you overly bore so you won’t detract from the Word, you actually detract from the Word, just on the opposite end of the spectrum. If you are a master of the English language like Jonathan Edwards, then you may be able to get away with this. If Edwards had preached like Whitefield, he may not have led anyone to the Lord, for souls would have been too mesmerized by him to get to Christ.

6. Try too hard to be the funny guy. 

The goal is to get your hearers to enjoy the Word of God, not to enjoy you. If they leave thinking “what a funny preacher,” then you preached a terrible sermon. The Word of God must be on their heart and mind when they leave; and if God is not on their mind when they leave, then they shouldn’t be able to lay this at your feet.

5. Preach your opinion or hobbyhorses instead of the text. 

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, then it is no longer the Word of God. The most powerful interpretation is the interpretation that the text demands, not what we can speculate, dream up or spiritualize.

If the text demands spiritualizing, then spiritualize; however, if there is no warrant from the text, then you do not have authority to spiritualize. If you spiritualize without textual warrant, then you are detracting from the text. If your hearers listen and try to enjoy the Lord through your spiritualizing, and you have gone beyond the text, then it is impossible for them to enjoy the Lord through the text you are preaching.

4. Use Greek and Hebrew to impress.

Do you know Greek and Hebrew? Do your people know Greek and Hebrew? If not, then why in the world would you use Greek and Hebrew in your sermons? Do the exegetical work during your study time; only use Greek and Hebrew in your sermon whenever it is absolutely necessary in order to communicate the text. This rule is true: Most pastors whom I hear using 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.

I recommend not using Greek and Hebrew because if you do not know Greek and Hebrew, then you will probably misuse it. 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 you have succeeded, but remember that both of them know what they intended, and they are fluent in the biblical languages!

3. Ignore the audience.

I preach in a rural church in Kentucky, and if you preach in a church in a large city, the language that each of us are allowed to use will be very different. Big theological words are intimidating in my area. Bywords cannot be said from the pulpit unless you want your people leaving thinking about the dirty words that you used. If it is possible that it will offend, then don’t use the language!

You will not know this, though, if you do not consider your audience. Furthermore, your illustrations should be understandable to your audience. If you are preaching to the elderly, they will not understand a reference to the Twilight Saga, Tupac, 50 Cent 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.

2. Neglect teaching your people to enjoy the Word of God. 

Teaching children that the value of the Bible is bound up in its literary makeup, cool battle stories or miraculous elements will not help your audience to truly enjoy the Bible; 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.

1. 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. Whenever 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.

What are your thoughts? What mistakes would you add to the list?



Jared has served in pastoral ministry since 2000. He is the pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, KY. He is the author of 10 Sacred Cows in Christianity That Need to Be Tipped. Jared is married to Amber and they have four children. He is a teaching assistant for Bruce Ware at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and a  PhD Student in Systematic Theology at SBTS. You can take Jared's Udemy Course, "How to Enjoy God Through Movies, TV, Music, Books, etc." with this link for 43% off. Engage popular culture with Scripture. Enjoy God through popular culture.

 

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Talk about it...

Don Campbell

commented on Apr 3, 2014

Jared, I live in rural Kentucky (Almo) and preach in rural Tennessee (Puryear). I agree with your points. I am neither a Greek nor Hebrew scholar, but I do find that sometimes a Greek word from which we have an English word, can be profitable. For example as in Romans 12:2, "transformed" (metamorphosis). But your point was that the Hebrew and Greek should not be used to impress. I certainly agree. Thanks for the insights.

Chris Hearn

commented on Apr 3, 2014

Great points! #6 is very true for our culture today where people want to be entertained, rather than be changed by the Word of God. I agree with Don that some Greek and Hebrew is okay in a sermon. Just as long as it fits the message. If it's a push, and you're trying to use the languages to build yourself up, the congregation will tune you out.

Zachary Bartels

commented on Apr 3, 2014

I agree with all of the points as you state them in bold, although--between the point and the explanation--you make the leap from "don't use the original languages to impress" to "don't use the original languages," which is of course a foolishly broad statement. Think about the great preaches (Sproul, Piper, Chandler) who sometimes bring in the original language...not to impress, but to help illuminate.

Brad Brought

commented on Apr 3, 2014

Very good advice. I agree with Mr. Campbell as well. I am by far not a Greek or Hebrew scholar; but I will interject the original Greek word if it brings clarity to the text. Thank you for the wonderful reminder.

Jonathan Mbuna

commented on Apr 6, 2014

I am a Malawian and I recall once I learnt of the word 'methodia' I quickly wanted to use it to impress my vernacular audience whom I was supposed to preach on in English but Chichewa! One question that challenged me was ' who do you want to impress?'

Mark Hudson

commented on Apr 30, 2014

Great thoughts, and I plan to use some of them to improve. I would add "avoid your denominational hobby horses" We Baptists, we Nazarenes, etc. See I Cor. 1. 2. the Word should be rightly divided or it comes up short. If I preach Sovereignty and leave out free will or if I am overly intellectual and underly emotional in my appeal, there may be something missing. A lack of balanced theology is the curse of Christianity and cause for many but not all of our divisions. I esp like the thoughts about not being overly or underly animated, avoiding Greek, Hebrew, and fancy nomenclature over the heads of your congregants. We preachers have a tall order. We also need a balance of Word and Spirit.

Minister Sanders

commented on Jul 14, 2014

This is a great article and bottom line we must not say use or do anything that distract people from hearing the Word of God! Let us as preachers and teachers of the Most High God just do what God expects us to do: Simply Preach The Gospel and don't get caught up in the devices of the enemy.

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