Eight years ago I was sick of my own preaching. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. My instinct was to focus more on the delivery side of preaching. In hindsight, my instinct was wrong. I needed to refocus on the fundamentals of preaching.
Here's my belief: Get the fundamentals of preaching right, and everything else will take care of itself. If the fundamentals aren't sound, it doesn't matter what else you do. You won't have a solid sermon.
When I teach preaching, I don't care very much about delivery. Delivery will improve over time if a preacher is teachable. I care about the fundamentals. Get the fundamentals right, and you have a framework for an effective preaching ministry that can last a lifetime.
I don't know anyone who's done a better job of expressing the fundamentals than Chris Brauns in his new book When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search. According to Chris, "A sermon should be a biblical bullet fired at the life of the listener.” If you unpack this sentence you have four keys to good preaching:
- Preach biblically - Preach the text. Let it shape the content of your sermon and its purpose.
- Preach a bullet - Find the main idea or burden of the text and preach that.
- Preach with fire - Seek God until you have unction, boldness, and urgency.
- Preach to the listeners - Preach to the people in front of you. Apply the message to their lives.
That's it. The only thing I'd add (I think it's implicit) is that the sermon should bring us to Christ and show us the truth of the passage in relation to him.
There are lots of things to learn about preaching, but in terms of fundamentals there are only a few. If the fundamentals are sound, delivery and everything else will develop over time. If the fundamentals aren't there, delivery and everything else won't matter.
I'm no expert in bad preaching, but I've done my share. I've observed that there are countless ways to preach well, but there are only a few key steps you need to master if you want to preach poorly. Anyone can do them.
- Skip on exegesis - Preaching preparation is half exegesis and half homiletics. If you want to save time, skip the exegesis and spend all your time on the homiletical side. Your schedule will thank you. (Nobody else will.)
- Forget the big idea - We've been taught that sermons should be bullets, not buckshots. It takes a lot of time and work to come up with the main burden of the text. If you want to preach poorly, then remember, clarity about the big idea of the text must be sacrificed.
- Come up with your own purpose for the sermon - Sure, there is such a thing as authorial intent. And yes, in theory, our sermon's purpose should match the text's purpose as much as possible. But if you stick to the purpose of the text, you're robbing yourself of the ability to come up with all kinds of clever messages that may not be strictly biblical - but do they ever preach! (They sell books too.)
- Prepare at the last minute - We've all tasted food that's simmered. And we've all tasted food that's been microwaved at the last minute. If you want to preach poorly, then don't allow yourself the luxury of simmering. All it takes is one or two good sermons for your people to lose their taste for microwaved sermons. We can't let that happen.
- Preach moralism - Spurgeon said, "Whenever I get hold of a text, I say to myself, ‘There is a road from here to Jesus Christ, and I mean to keep on His track till I get to Him.’” But really, have you seen some of these roads? If you want to preach poorly, it's far easier just to tell people they should be better and let them figure it out.
- Preach to everyone in general - Don't preach to the people in front of you. Preach to some generic audience. That way your sermons will be just as bad in your next church too.
This is the best advice I can give you on how to preach poorly. I'm open to learning from you. Is there anything I've missed?
I returned to work this week after a short vacation in Florida. To be honest, I was a bit bummed on Tuesday morning: tired, longing to be back on vacation, and dragging myself through the day.
At one point in my study I found myself enjoying the task of studying Scripture. It hit me: I get paid to do what I love. Who gets paid to study Scripture and to teach it to others, seeing the Word change lives through God's power? I do. I don't always remember it, but it is a huge privilege to be a pastor. I think we're supposed to find joy in the work, even in the middle of all of the challenges.
I love this quote from Philip Brooks:
I think, again, that it is essential to the preacher's success that he should thoroughly enjoy his work. I mean in the actual doing of it, and not only in its idea. No man to whom the details of his task are repulsive can do his task well constantly, however full he may be of its spirit. He may make one bold dash at it and carry it over all his disgusts, but he cannot work on at it year after year, day after day. Therefore, count it not merely a perfectly legitimate pleasure, count it an essential element of your power, if you can feel a simple delight in what you have to do as a minister, in the fervor of writing, in the glow of speaking, in standing before men and moving them, in contact with the young. The more thoroughly you enjoy it, the better you will do it all.