7 sermon mistakes

July 26th, 2014

While I have been an ordained United Methodist preacher for almost forty years I spend more time listening to sermons than I do preaching them. I am in extension ministry and part of my role is to listen to other folks preach. Over the years I find preachers making some common mistakes. Here is my quick list of the most common mistakes that drive me crazy about sermons—how about you? What’s on your list?

The sermon is not faithful to the text.

I realize that I am not like most listeners to sermons in that I have a significant knowledge of scripture but it drives me crazy when the “main” point of the sermon either has nothing to do with the scripture OR the main point is not a faithful exegesis of the scripture. And one is quoting scripture all over the sermon which usually means no real exegesis was done in the first place or can be done since the preacher is just finding bits and pieces of scripture that they think illustrate their point(s).

The sermon is not relevant to the lives of the people hearing the sermon.

Most sermons should interact with the human condition and it may be impossible to interact with your specific human condition in every sermon as people may be unique. However, when week after week the sermon has nothing to do with the lives of those hearing the sermon, it is irrelevant.

The sermon does not “hang together.”

I realize that not all sermons must be written as if for an English class with a main thesis that is then explained. But when a sermon wanders here, there and everywhere and cannot be followed the listener quickly disengages and the sermon is ignored. In talking with a few district superintendents lately, this is one of the main concerns they have after listening to “their” preachers.

The sermon is not authentic.

While one can glean “good” stories and interesting illustrations from the internet and literature a sermon needs to be authentic to the preacher. More and more I hear preachers preaching someone else’s sermon and it just does not ring true. Additionally, it is often through the sermon parishioners have an opportunity to get to know the preacher and their faith. Were you called to preach or were you called to read someone else’s sermon?

The sermon does not offer God’s grace.

Need I say more?

A misunderstanding of how the Holy Spirit works.

The Holy Spirit cannot be “controlled” by us. It comes and goes as it wills. Thus believing that you can control or manipulate the Holy Spirit to show up whenever you want it to or whenever you preach is a total misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit. We must prepare mightily in our preparation of worship and the sermon hoping and praying that the Holy Spirit will be found in our preparation and in our preaching.

And lastly

When did “um” or “ah” or “you know” become a significant part of our attempts to communicate with each other?

That's a quick list I put together after hearing a friend try, in a two hour workshop, to help people learn to preach in a Certified Lay Ministry class. What would you add to this list? He did a great job by the way!

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