When listeners listen to preaching there are many different fatigues that can undermine the effectiveness of our preaching. If we are aware of these fatigues, then maybe we can craft our preaching with sensitivity to the listeners. Let’s jump into the list:
1. Genre Fatigue. Each genre will tend to create a sense of same-ness in a series. Let’s say you are preaching through an epistle for weeks and weeks. Eventually, if we are not careful, the default patterns will prove tiring to listeners. For instance, the description of historical background, the complex sentences in the text, the pattern of explanation and application, etc. can all become a bit too similar week after week. Look for ways to be creative in such a series so that there is variation. (Many of the following “fatigues” will help to see how this variation can be found.)
2. Key Text Fatigue. Many Bible books contain a key text that will tend to be repeatedly referenced throughout the series. For instance, any series in Colossians should probably reference 1:15-20, and maybe 3:1-4, to make sense of the subsequent sections. This can get tiring for listeners, especially if the vocabulary of Colossians 1:15-20 is not really understood by the listeners. Look for ways to reference the key text with variety – simple summaries, variations in wording, different styles of phraseology, but without losing recognition of what is being referenced. Reference it without the reference. Don’t always be overt, but let subtlety in reference to the key text be part of the series too.
3. Main Point Fatigue. A true series of sermons through a book should be reinforcing the main point of the book, not just providing the launch texts for entirely disconnected messages. But beware that listeners don’t get bored or annoyed by the repetition of the main point. Keeping with Colossians, it is true that Paul could hardly do more to point us to Christ as the all sufficient one for salvation and growth, but figure out ways to preach the series so that listeners don’t start getting annoyed at hearing that we need to look to Christ in everything.
4. Preacher Fatigue. After a while your listeners might just get tired of hearing you. You may try to vary what you do, but you will always be you and that creates some limitations for your preaching. Don’t be afraid to share your pulpit. Develop other preachers, invite other local pastors, give yourself a break and your listeners too.
5. Illustration Fatigue. One way we can be predictable is in the use of illustrations. Do you often reference certain sports, or your own family, or the Napoleonic Wars? Beware of tiring listeners with something that doesn’t mean as much to them as it does to you. Some preachers default to the same category of illustration. Others default to a collection of specific illustrations. I’m feeling drained just describing it!
6. Vulnerability Fatigue. Some of us don’t share enough vulnerability in our preaching. But some of us share too much and too often. When listeners start to feel like they are the counsellors for your self-disclosure, they will grow tired of hearing about your constant struggles. Do be vulnerable. Don’t be constantly sharing your struggles. Remember that the spotlight in your preaching is not on you.
7. Contagious Fatigue. If you are preaching fatigued, then it will be infectious. Sometimes you can’t avoid being up all night with a child or a church member in crisis. Be careful that you don’t get into a rhythm of preaching fatigued. If your preparations are draining you, maybe you need to revisit your preparation schedule. Perhaps you don’t get enough sleep, or exercise, or your sugary snacks while you work on the sermon mean you preach in a weekly sugar low? Be careful that you don’t simply preach tired. Listeners will pick up on your lack of energy, or your extra edginess.
8. Outline Fatigue. If your sermons always follow the same structure, then you may well be draining some energy from your listeners. I know some preachers follow a prescribed pattern and claim that listeners love to spot how they make the turn to Jesus. But since every text has its own uniqueness, let’s look for ways to reflect the diversity of the text, and add some variety to sermon structure too. Can you introduce an inductive approach (building to the main idea), or a combination of inductive and deductive (build to the idea and then develop the applications), or perhaps preach an epistle text with a narrative shape?
9. Text-Length Fatigue. If you are preaching through a book, it will be easy to fall into making every text roughly the same length. Half a chapter per week through an epistle can get monotonous. Why not mix it up and cover a larger section sometimes, and a very tight section at other times? Why not introduce, or conclude the series with a big sweeping overview? Perhaps a long series needs a mid-point big picture message?
10. Disconnect Fatigue. Listeners can’t help but grow tired if the preaching goes too long in a disconnected mode. That is, preaching historical and explanatory information without demonstrating its relevance (or even your relevance) to the contemporary situation. The one exception is probably narrative where it can, if told well, grip people for longer than other types of text. Nevertheless, if you make people listen too long without any hint of relevance to them, they will grow tired of the message.
What would you add to this list?