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?