From the first time I read Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson when I was twelve years old, I have made it my quest to be the best preacher I could be for the glory of God. By his grace, I’ve been able to preach thousands of sermons to millions of teenagers and adults all across the nation and in various parts of the world.
But I listen to sermons even more than I give them. I love good preaching and great preachers! Tony Evans, Chuck Swindoll, Erwin Lutzer, Craig Groeschel and Louie Giglio are among my favorites. I won’t tell you who are on my DNR (Do Not Recommend) list, but I will tell you that these not-so-great-even-though-popular preachers have some bad habits in common. I’ve heard them ruin great passages with their lame preaching.
With this as a backdrop, here are 5 ways to ruin a sermon:
- Make it about you, not Jesus.
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel….” 2 Timothy 2:8
The hero of the story of Scripture is Jesus. The hero of the stories in our sermons should be Jesus. It’s fine to share personal stories (I share lots), but, at the end of the day and by the end of your sermon, everyone should be applauding Jesus, not you.
The whole of Scripture points to Jesus. The Old Testament points forward to the person of Jesus. The Gospels tell the story of the life and ministry of Jesus. The book of Acts show the impact of the Spirit of Jesus through the people of Jesus. The Epistles explain the teachings of Jesus. And the book of Revelation shows the victory of Jesus.
It’s all about Jesus.
Are your sermons?
2. Preach stories, not Scripture.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4:1,2
The job of the preacher is to preach the Word of God. When Paul gives his younger protege, Timothy, this charge, he does so in a magnificent, majestic and almost terrifying way. He reminds Timothy that his primary audience, his audience of one, is the same God, “who will judge the living and the dead.”
Being a storyteller by nature and a preacher by spiritual gifting this has been a reality that I’ve had to wrestle with since the beginning. How do I use stories without letting them commandeer my sermon? How do I craft a well placed story to illuminate a Scriptural point, but not become the point itself? How do I use stories to get and keep attention, but consistently take my audience to the Bible?
After decades of struggling through this here’s my philosophy. Think of preaching like a boxing match for the hearts, souls and minds of your audience. A boxer’s jab doesn’t usually knock someone out, but it does get the attention of their opponent. In the same way, stories (both personal and otherwise) are like a good boxer’s jab. They get and keep the attention of the audience. But the knockout blow is Scripture.
How do I preach? Jab, jab, BOOM!
Get and keep their attention with your stories, but consistently deliver the uppercut of truth right on their chins until the sin and unbiblical thinking is knocked out of them (sorry for the violent illustration but I come from a family of literal fighters and have a book coming out in November called Unlikely Fighter…The Story of How a Fatherless Street Kid Overcame Violence, Chaos and Confusion to Become a Radical Christ Follower)
3. Plagiarize sermons, don’t give credit.
“Let him that stole steal no more....” Ephesians 4:28
There’s nothing wrong with using other preacher’s sermons and sermon outlines from time to time, just give credit where credit is due. And make sure that you re-exegete the text yourself and make sure their outline is solid and Biblical!
Too many preachers think they have a “Get out of jail free” card when it comes to quotations, sermon outlines and illustrations because they are God’s anointed. But, it’s because we are God’s anointed (all believers are actually God’s anointed according to 1 John 2:20 btw), that we should be doing the right things in the right way.
Plagiarism is stealing.
Steal no more. Give credit where credit is due. When you don’t, you lose Holy Spirit power in your sermons.
4. Preach your opinions, not God’s.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
My old hillbilly pastor (nicknamed “Yankee” for some reason) used to hold up his Bible and say, “This is God’s truth. Preach it, not your opinions. Opinions are like armpits, everyone’s got them and they all stink. The old opinion that matters is God’s.“
To “correctly handle the word of truth” we must spend time dissecting, exegeting and wrestling with the text. It’s so easy to superimpose our opinions over it. But we must let God’s Word superimpose it’s “opinions” on us and our sermon outlines.
Honestly, my time prepping for sermons comes with a consistent process of repentance. The Greek Word for repentance means, “a change of mind.” My sermon outlines, theology and practice are steadily being adjusted and transformed by the truth of God’s Word.
Our opinions don’t matter. God’s do. Let’s make sure we are preaching God’s infallible truth in our sermons, not our very fallible opinions
5. Give the application, not the Gospel.
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2
There are so many sermons that I’ve heard that I want to call “great” but dare not, because the Gospel was not given clearly. A preacher that doesn’t give the Gospel is like a singer who refuses to sing, a comedian who doesn’t give the punchline and a lifeguard who won’t swim.
As someone once said, “Take your text and make a beeline for the cross.“
Too many sermons are application rich and Gospel poor. They have much for the believer and nothing for the nonbeliever. They give 5 steps to changing your life but not the one essential step for saving your soul.
What a waste.
When I was a pastor I gave the Gospel every week no matter what. And people came to Christ weekly.
When we had guest preachers I would warn them, “If you don’t give the Gospel clearly during your sermon then I will have to get up after you and do it.” And there were times I did.
Whether they were offended or not was NOT my chief concern. I was more worried about God being pleased and the lost being reached.
Just yesterday, I visited my old church (I resigned in 1999 to do Dare 2 Share full time.) My lifelong friend, Rick Long, who planted the church with me in 1989 has been the lead pastor since. Guess what? Many people indicated faith in Jesus during the service because he gave the Gospel clearly…like he does every week. The church now numbers in the thousands and the vast percentage of people who attend came to Christ as a result of the relentless Gospel preaching. Every sermon, no matter what, makes a beeline for the cross!
Preacher, if you are not clearly giving the Gospel every week, then make a commitment to start right now. If you are not willing to make that commitment then ask yourself why.
May these preaching reminders help us all preach the Word with maximum impact for the glory of God!