This morning a pastor friend told some of us the sermon he is working on for next Sunday. The challenge, he said, was that part of the text is very difficult. “How to convey its message without getting too theological is my problem,” he said.
My own skeptical nature translated that as: “How to preach it without boring my people to death is what I’m up against!”
Earlier this week, on this website we addressed the question of what a pastor is to do when his guest preacher is boring the congregation. But there is a more urgent question….
What should the preacher do when his own preaching is boring the people in the pews?
If he discovers that in the middle of a sermon, there’s little he can do other than to shoot up an emergency prayer-flare for divine help.
But if he is preparing adequately for his pulpit work, he will know early on that this sermon has great potential to bore his people and can take steps to head off that peril.
Question: How does a pastor know on Tuesday that next Sunday’s sermon will be boring?
Here are some ways he can know for sure that this sermon is not going to connect with the people in the pew:
–the very subject is boring to him.
–he is unclear about the message he wishes to convey.
–the sermon is long on exegesis and short on application or relevance.
–he’s getting into doctrinal areas he has not worked out in his own mind.
–the word “Jebusites” can be found anywhere in the body of the message.
Okay, I just dropped that last one in as a little tribute to Harry Emerson Fosdick. He famously said once that “no one comes to church on Sunday wondering what ever happened to the Jebusites.” Indeed. (The ironic thing about this is that some of us love the details of biblical history to the point that we would welcome such a sermon! All the more reason to be reminded that no one in the pew shares this affliction.)
So, the pastor has decided on Tuesday that next Sunday’s sermon has all the potential for putting Sleep-Eze out of business. What is he to do?
Here are some remedies we strongly recommend….
1) Stop all preparation on this message and drop to your knees. It’s prayer time!
An evangelist friend commented on my blog as to why so many hard-fought, strongly-believed and well-studied sermons are dead on delivery. “A lack of prayer,” he said. “The Holy Spirit is the One who breathes life into a message. And He works by prayer.”
So, let us ask Him what He wants to do about His message.
2) After praying, take a walk around the block. Talk this sermon out to yourself. What is it about this subject that captivates you? Try verbalizing it.
That, incidentally, is also the best sermon preparation I ever do. When the sermon is well into development, I take a long walk on the levee beside the Mississippi River and talk the message out. I actually speak it out, although not very loud. I carry a sheet of paper folded over several times and a pen. Preaching the sermon will suggest additional thoughts and insights and sometimes a detour or two to avoid. Unless I jot them down on the spot, those flashes will have vanished by the time I return to the study.
3) Figure out what the primary thrust of this sermon should be and cut out all the stuff that does not advance your theme. Stay with your original purpose, the one the Holy Spirit used to bring you to this subject in the first place.
I know what happens in the study. You are driven to a text by a burning desire to make a point the Lord has laid on your heart. But as you study and dig, you keep unearthing more and more good insights and inspiring points to make. Pretty soon, the original thought that brought you here is buried under a ton of great insights. When that happens, it’s time to stop and dig out the Lord’s message and shine it off and get back on course. Stay with the plan.
4) If the sermon still isn’t coming together, call a friend. Every pastor should have one or more older ministers whom you can call on in a moment’s notice.
By this point your sermon needs the objective assessment and suggestions on how to make it work from an outsider, one who knows you, loves you and sympathizes with what you are trying to do here. You need a mentor.
5) Now, if it still isn’t working, it’s time to lay this sermon aside for the time being. Next Sunday may not be the right time for this sermon. It may need to marinate.
6) Eventually, if you cannot find the key to unlocking the heart of this message and making it work as a sermon, it’s the better part of wisdom to walk away from it until the Lord opens it up for you. You will know when He has pulled it from the recesses of your mind and heart and put it on the front burner once again. (Hey, I can mix metaphors with the best of them!)
In response to the earlier message, where I was suggesting what a pastor could do when his guest preacher was boring the congregation, a friend known only from the internet challenged me. “What command of the Lord does this violate?” he wanted to know. “Perhaps the Lord told that preacher to say these things.”
Good question. And it deserves a good response. The best one I know is found in John 21. Three times the Lord told the Apostle Peter to “feed my sheep.”
The boring sermon–the one that misses the people, that dulls their minds and lulls them to sleep–is surely closer to straw than it is to grain. Jeremiah 23:28 comes to mind: What does straw have in common with grain?
Even the best preachers will sometimes fail to live up to his own standards. Figure out who your favorite preacher is and I guarantee that his people will tell you sometimes he hits it out of the park and sometimes he strikes out. No one is at his best all the time.
Two things about that need to be said….
One. Give yourself room to fail occasionally. Or, perhaps better said, “Give yourself room to be average.” Once in a while. But don’t get too comfortable delivering sub-par messages. Go for the best. You are doing the finest work in the universe and it deserves the best you can offer.
Two. As sharp as you are and as knowledgable about your own preaching as you have become, sometimes the sermon you think bombed was more effective than you know. Case in point….
My pastor felt that way about last Sunday’s sermon. His wife was out of town, he told me, and so there was no one readily at hand to allay his fears about the message he had delivered. He was feeling pretty low about it until two things happened. A church member called him the next day to say, “Pastor, I used your message yesterday and led a fellow to faith in Christ this morning!”
And the next day he received a note from a family who had been visiting in the services. “We felt everything in Sunday’s service was outstanding–the music, the interview with the mission pastor, and the sermon. We have found our church!”
Music to a pastor’s ears. Nothing boring about that!