It's important that we begin with a few basic assumptions. First of all, no preacher intentionally strives to preach a “bad” sermon. Why would anyone intentionally get up to the pulpit and preach a dreadful sermon? Second, there is no perfect sermon formula that will allow you to always preach an engaging sermon. No matter if you have preached for 30 years or 10 there will be a few sermons you wish you could have back. Third, sermons don’t stop. What you may perceive to be a bad morning message does not cancel out the necessity of another sermon that week from the pastor. Fourth, as a rule a sermon you think is “bad” will tend to help you less than what you think is a good sermon. Personally, I believe this is a great danger for most people in the church. Just because you don’t like the sermon that day doesn’t mean there was nothing there for you to learn.
So what makes a sermon “bad?” The most natural answer to this question is that a “bad” sermon is when the preacher was especially boring that day. His illustrations may have been dry or his applications were weak which resulted in a general closed eyes reaction from the crowd. For many people the words “boredom” and “preaching” are an appropriate pair like, “baseball” and “diamond.” A typical pulpit committee will top their list of requirements for the new pastor with “good preacher.” No one wants a boring preacher as their pastor and yet everyone expects that most sermons are just plain boring. This general assumption that sermons are boring has tainted the status of preaching. Indeed, the word “sermon” like that of “politics” is now a noble word with a tarnished reputation.
Ironically, most of the objections to boring preaching are not because we expect to little from the preacher but because we expect far too much. We want to be entertained by the preacher. A good sermon for most of us has engaging illustrations, a couple funny one-liners, and some compelling applications that leave us wowed by the preacher’s oratory skill. This kind of expectation means we will normally be sorely disappointed by the presentation of most sermons. The simple fact of the matter is that preaching wasn’t intended for you to be entertained. Yes, the preacher should do his best to captivate his audience but that should not be his primary focus. The question we should all be asking is not “Did that sermon entertain me?” rather, we should be asking, “Is that true about God? How does that apply to me today?” We may joke about the boring sermon but most of the time we are the real problem. No matter how dry the delivery, if the preacher properly exegeted and applied God’s Word there is something to be learned.
Why is it then that the biggest objection to church is that the preaching is too long? Many have argued that this is simply a result of a changing culture. The modern sensory and visually stimulated society has a difficult time sitting through even a 20 minute speech let alone a 40 minute sermon. Sermons today seem to be too long, too slow, or not engaging enough for our modern YouTube, Facebook, and twitter obsessed culture. This charge against preachers may be persuasive if it was a new attack. The reality is that people have always struggled to stay engaged in preaching. It’s also interesting to note that when you look on sites that publish preaching (like sermon audio) you see that the average time span for preaching is actually growing rather than shrinking. A most shocking observation is that many of the tech-savvy churches actually have longer sermons.
There seems to be a general consensus that many people, but especially the millennial generation, don’t like preaching. The modern preaching conferences and sermon websites, however, seem to refute such a claim. Preaching has not faded into oblivion or waned in interest. Rather, there has come to be a greater expectation of what makes up a good sermon. This modern expectation of preaching can fall into two major camps. Either you will become the back row critique or you will seek to learn from God’s Word no matter what the delivery.
So what should the chronic boring preaching do about his sermons? None of what was written above was meant to say that preacher has no responsibility to keep his audience engaged. It is imperative that a preacher seeks to do his best to make his sermon interesting. He must study the Word, communicated and not just speak, use good illustrations, be enthusiastic, and use variety. There are several traps that the boring preacher must avoid. The preacher must first of all avoid thinking, “It’s not me it’s you.” It’s really easy to blame the listener. Call out their short attention span or their media obsessed mindset. Of course there are is some truth in saying that people these days have a short attention span but this is not an excuse for the preacher to not strive to be engaging. Second, the preaching must avoid thinking, “If I can say something in a catchy way it will be more engaging.” Communication tools such as alliteration, assonance, and rhyme can be very helpful in certain situations. Unfortunately in an effort to keep their sermons engaging many preachers have fallen into the trap of over using this communication tools. Be very wary that your sermon is not cluttered with unnecessary alliterations. You could just say, “Always avoid alliteration – Always.” Third, the preacher must avoid thinking, “I’m preaching now so I must sound more aloof and put together.” The truth is that God has chosen to use the communication of man to declare His Gospel message. He never asked for your Shakespearean English or fancy dialogue to get His message across. The sharpest thinkers in your audience actually prefer simple, clear communication.
In conclusion, the balance between bad and good preaching rests on the shoulders of both the audience and the preacher. The listener must be ready to listen and learn no matter what the delivery and the preacher must strive to be engaging with his message. The danger is that we will constantly point to the other person as the source of the problem.
Posted by Caleb