Preaching Articles

Pastors face a lot of pressure to perform. Some of it, admittedly, is self-imposed.

One of the main places this pressure is felt is in the demand to research, write and deliver a great sermon every week.

In fact, several times in the last few months, I’ve read blog posts that have suggested that every Sunday sermon should be like a TED Talk.

In today’s post, I’d like to do two things that may seem impossible to accomplish simultaneously.

1. Relieve some of the performance pressure

2. Challenge us all toward something better

But first, let me answer a question that many of you may be asking. 

What’s a TED Talk?

TED Talks are presentations made at TED conferences. They’re delivered by some very high-end experts to a roomful of high-level achievers.

A TED conference is so exclusive that you can’t even attend it until you submit an application for them to evaluate. If you’re deemed worthy to attend, you then have the privilege of paying the $7,500 registration fee. No, that’s not a typo. $7,500. And that’s just for the conference registration.

TED started 30 years ago as an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design. But it has grown from that into a leading-edge clearinghouse for the latest ideas and innovations.

So how do I, a lowly Small Church pastor, know about such exclusive things? Because, after they’re delivered, TED Talks are uploaded to the internet where anyone can watch them for free.

We Don’t Expect a Weekly TED Talk

I’ve watched several TED Talks. They’re impressive. For $7,500, they’d better be.

TED speakers have six rules they must follow:

1. Distill your life’s work or experience into a 3-, 6-, 9- or 18-minute talk.

2. Be authentic/vulnerable.

3. Convey one strong idea.

4. Tell a story that hasn’t been told before.

5. Tell and not sell.

6. Absolutely and positively stick to the time limit.

After watching and learning from several TED Talks and looking over that list, I agree that TED Talks are great, the rules make sense and everyone who speaks to an audience can learn something from them.

But how could anyone seriously ask pastors to pull off the equivalent of a TED Talk every Sunday? That’s 40-50 TED Talks every year on a different subject every week, for the same people who’ve heard each of the previous talks.

Sure, points 2, 3, 5 & 6 are something we should always strive for. But points 1 and 4? I think I could maybe put together one TED-level Talk. No, not one a week. Not one a year. One and done. Which is all most TED speakers are ever asked to do.

So here’s the let-the-pastor-off-the-hook part.

No pastor should be held, or should hold themselves to standards like that. They’re easy to ask for, but they’ll kill you if you try to fulfill them.

And they’re entirely unnecessary. No one needs a TED Talk from their pastor every week.

But here’s what we do need. Whether we’re a spiritual seeker, a new believer, a frustrated church member or a mature disciple, we want one thing from our pastor’s sermon above all else…

We Need a Heartfelt God-and-You Talk

When we come to your church, we don’t expect a $7,500 sermon. Given current offering stats, most people aren’t even expecting a $75 one.

We need to know you have a growing relationship with Jesus because you’re willing to share some of it with us every week.

We need you to:

a. Tell us how you struggled with or learned from the Bible this week.

b. Share the rock-solid foundational truths that hold you strong when your life gets hard.

c. Tell us when God and his Word break your heart or lift your spirit.

d. Show us when the Lord shows you something you never saw before.

e. Be real and vulnerable about your relationship with Jesus.

We don’t expect mind-blowing hermeneutical and homiletical acrobatics. Most of us don’t even know what those words mean. Any pastor who’s sharing a new, heart-wrenching spiritual breakthrough or trauma every week should be talking to a therapist, not their congregation.

But what is pastoral leadership if not sharing your spiritual growth with your congregation?

Genuine Matters More that Spectacular

There are too many phony, shallow pastors in the world. We don’t need another celebrity speaker to dazzle us. We need a humble shepherd who’s willing to be vulnerable. We need the real deal.

No, we don’t expect every word from your lips to be original and unique. So yes, we’re OK with you sharing what you learned from someone else’s book or conference. But please don’t cut-and-paste someone else’s research, experience or story onto yours and pass it off as your own.

A genuine expression from where your heart has met or is struggling with the heart of God is more helpful than a finely crafted sermon that someone else wrote.

Your voice matters.

We can learn something that applies to our lives when we hear a genuine expression of your faith and your life through your voice.

We want to be led by that kind of person. We want to be pastored by that kind of pastor.

So what do you think? Have you struggled with unrealistic expectations about your preaching? How do you handle it?

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Jason Davis

commented on Aug 6, 2014

I appreciate the desire to take the pressure of performance off of preaching. Here's my thoughts since the author did ask (: Personally, TED talks have helped me to be a better communicator of the gospel. I don't try to tell a new story every week and I don't try to keep it under 20 minutes. Preaching in under 20 minutes would take more preparation than I have available! What I have learned from TED talks is to use less text on a powerpoint and more time being vulnerable about how the passage impacts me (as the author mentioned) and to use strong visuals instead of bullet points (which I hated anyways). Our goal is to remove distractions from hearing the most dangerous message the world has ever known, not wow the crowd. TED Talks are a great example of using technology for impact and not just to show off. I have seen a few powerpoints by preachers that distracted from their message. Less is more.

Karl Vaters

commented on Aug 6, 2014

Thanks for the response, Jason. I agree with you. TED Talks have taught me a lot about speaking as well. The idea of removing distractions from the message may be the One Big Idea behind all of TED's speaker's points, after all.

Stephen Aiken

commented on Aug 6, 2014

I can appreciate the idea of removing performance anxiety from pastors, but I disagree with the premise that every sermon doesn't have to be like a TED talk. TED talks are interesting, attention holding, and usually informative. Personally, before I speak I prepare the message as if someone in the audience has been turned off by church, feels that Christianity is for the less intelligent, and this could be their only opportunity to hear the Gospel clearly articulated. We should strive to make every message excellent and interesting. I imagine the pressure to do this every week is less in a church that is not as focused on evangelism as much as sanctification. That direction would be the responsibility of the pastor. I can tell you this with certainty; the churches seeing the most salvations/baptisms have teachers who bring incredibly creative "TED-like" talks each week.

Karl Vaters

commented on Aug 6, 2014

Hi Stephen. I agree with every one of your points about how a pastor should prepare to preach every week. My issue with every sermon having to be like a TED Talk isn't that that we shouldn't strive for excellence in our communication, but that points 1 and 4 of TED's requirements are impossible to do every week. (Namely, "Distill your life?s work or experience into a 3-, 6-, 9- or 18-minute talk." and "Tell a story that hasn?t been told before.") As I said in the post, ??how could anyone seriously ask pastors to pull off the equivalent of a TED Talk every Sunday? That?s 40-50 TED Talks every year on a different subject every week, for the same people who?ve heard each of the previous talks.? It?s a great thing to strive for, but doesn?t that bar seem impossibly high to you? I?ve become a better speaker from watching TED Talks. And every pastor?s message should be genuine, vulnerable and well-prepared. But comparing every weekly sermon to a once-in-a-lifetime TED Talk is seems unreasonable to me. Thanks for contributing to the conversation, though.

Sheldon Boyd

commented on Aug 6, 2014

Stephan not sure if you meant it that way but what I read in your comment was that if I am not seeing a lot of decisions/baptisms then I am not being "incredibly creative" and that I must just be focused on "sanctification". I do the best I possibly can each week to prepare and deliver a Holy Spirit inspired and (within the gifts and abilities I have) creative message. Not sure if you see this as my "problem" but I am one of those churches that emphasizes "Sanctification" but I do that because it is biblical. I also give an invitation just about every Sunday even though in a small church like mine I don't often see new faces. Guess I'll never qualify for a TED talk but those are not my aspirations anyway.

Russell Shipp

commented on Aug 6, 2014

I own a Rife machine. Anthony Holland did a TED talk on rife machines. It is on youtube. It is free. Not 7500 dollars. I go to church. I am dirt poor. I heal people for tips. I'm blessed if I get gas money. Sometimes the people I help have NO money at all. I heal them too. What would YOU do? Jesus used mud to heal a blind man. I use what knowledge God has graced me with. I didn't deserve it. But know that I now it I'll help all that I can with it. Because it is the right thing to do. And ted talks are free on youtube. Love more. hate less. Some of the last words on the cross was "God forgive them for they know not what they do" And that is eternal truth. If we knew better , we would not do it. Live in love.

William Douglas Johnson, Sr

commented on Aug 8, 2014

I do love to go and get a new perspective, have my batteries charged by a great sermon, by someone who has been there and lived what he's talking about. Thank you for this insight into what we should be doing in and from the pulpit, every time we get the opportunity to stand and proclaim, "thus says the Lord." Great food for thought.

Jeff Harris

commented on Aug 8, 2014

Hi, I have also enjoyed the odd Ted Talk and understand the intrigue and attraction of them. They represent the best of speakers abilities and at times subject and research, but I don't get the connection between that and what we are called to do. Why is there even a comparrison of the two. I try to follow two simple rules. One is that which Jesus spoke, I only do and say what I hear the Father doing and saying(paraphrased). and the second, never presume that I have the message myself but to always avail myself to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Father speaks what He wants to speak, when He wants to speak it and how He wants to say it. My only task in obedience is to be like my Father...not Ted! It's just my thought! Blessing

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