So You Preached a Lousy Sermon

June 17th, 2014

You're standing in the narthex waiting for the people to file out of the sanctuary to greet you. And you know that you just gave an awful sermon. It wasn't due to a lack of preparation or prayer. It felt good when you rehearsed it. It just fell flat for various reasons.

As the people come to greet you, it takes everything you have to not apologize and say, "It'll be better next week, I promise. Please come back again."

The people are ever so graceful.

"Nice message, Pastor."

"Lovely service."

"Well said, Pastor, well said."

A part of you thinks, "Wow, they really know how to lie right to my face." Or, "Is this what pity feels like?"

Some are as honest as they can be.

"That was... that was good," accompanied by heavy nodding and head bobbing.

"That was..." and your mind races to finish the sentence: "Awful? Boring? Dreadful? Waste of time? Stupid? Not worth it?" but they finish with, "Interesting."

Face it, preachers. No one's immune to a bad sermon.

I take giving a bad sermon a lot harder than I should. I overly obsess with it. Every word. Sentence constructions. Ordering of the message. The closing. The opening. I rerun the sermon in my head. I dread the thought of that sermon going up on the website. Sometimes, I don't put up the sermon because I'm embarrassed about it. I don't want to be associated with those 20 minutes. I desperately want to redo the sermon, then re-record it and put the newer (better— assuming it can be better) sermon on the website and tell folks, "Please re-listen to the sermon from the past Sunday. This is the way it was supposed to go."

But I really can't find the time to do all that. And I don't want to come off as needy and insecure. Mostly, however, it's the time thing. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that the next sermon is not only a home run, but a walk-off grand slam.

A lot of times, I pull it off. Other times, I overcompensate and the sermon falls flat, making it two bad sermons in a row. Making me more neurotic and obsessive.

My original intent in writing this post was to hear how other preachers cope with a bad Sunday. I even asked people this question on Twitter and Facebook and their answers were helpful and insightful. The general consensus of the responses were: "It's not about us."

I don't even want to try counting the variations of I that I used in the previous paragraph. That paragraph was all about me and my response to my bad sermon.

And, perhaps that's my problem. I make it too much about me. It's simply not about me. Nor is it up to me to rattle sense and forcefully click on the light bulb in their hearts and minds and get them to be good and faithful Christians through my words.

The truth is, though I may have a hard time trusting the nice things people say about my sermon after a bad sermon, God may have used my words to make something click within them. We have no idea how God will use the words we speak from the pulpit. God can reach hearts through a sermon that we thought was useless.

Also, just because we thought we preached an excellent sermon, that doesn't mean the ones hearing it felt the same way.

God will find a way to reach the hearts of his people. If God can breathe life into dead bones, God will breathe life into my dead words.

That's not to say I forgo doing my part, trust in God's Spirit, and just wing it every Sunday. I still want to do a good job. More importantly, I want to be faithful in doing my job. I want to be faithful to God and to the community I serve by diligently putting time, effort, and prayers into my sermons.

But I'm learning not to obsess over what results or impact my sermons may have. And I'm trying to let go of the notion that perhaps my worth to my community is based upon my "performance" from the pulpit.

God works in mysterious ways and will find ways to use our sermons — to use us — to reach the hearts of his people.

It's not up to us, and it's never about us.

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