This blog post is mere hypothesis, of course. You clicked the link for the same reason you skim a first–hand account of climbing Everest. It’s not that you’ll ever experience what you read, but you’re curious what it’s like. That is, what if you didn’t emotionally soar off the platform following each sermon? What if your wife didn’t consider you the finest communicator in the land, gathering the children the moment your podcast drops?
So, it’s understood the ideas below might be foreign. Nevertheless, please keep reading. Maybe you have a friend you can email it to.
One of my friends used to be my boss. He was twice my age and three times as wise. Fortunately, because he liked to listen to preachers and our job could be done with the radio on, we’d hear two or three sermons a day.
While working for him nearly ten years ago, I was offered a Sunday night preaching slot at my church. My boss knew this was the first time I’d preach at South Woods. He also knew something of how hard I’d worked on the sermon, since we spent a good bit of time together. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to come that night and he asked that we include the sermon in our regular listening routine. I grabbed a compact disc from our sound guy, took it to work, and pushed play.
As best I recall, after I’d read Matthew 5:1–2 and a portion of the sermon intro, he asked me to turn it off. We were three and a half minutes into the exposition. He then looked at me and asserted, “You’re not as good as you think you are.”
Now, years after the fact, I realize my former boss’ blunt analysis was some of the best preaching advice I’ve ever received. Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t my final subpar effort.
Though you may still be reading out of mere curiosity, here are three questions the occasionally lousy preacher should ask himself:
Was I faithful to the text?
Our hearts can deceive us in all things, including pulpit assessment. While the middle–schoolers sat on the edge of their seats, your logic thrilled the rhetorician on row three, and thirty-five kind–hearted souls clogged the narthex to express that your sermon was “exactly what they needed to hear,” it’s possible you completely misunderstood the Apostle Paul. You might feel exceptional about a sermon’s delivery, but it’s always possible you whiffed on the text.
However, because the heart deceives in a multiplicity of ways, the converse is true as well. Some texts are just harder to preach than others. So, maybe this week the sermon’s theme failed to crystalize like the week prior. Or maybe the outline had the movement of a monograph. Nevertheless, you’re still able to say, “As best I understand it, I was faithful to the text.” An affirmative to this question covers a multitude of missteps in delivery.
Were you faithful with your time?
Faithfulness with your time doesn’t necessarily mean the sermon went perfectly, of course. Recently, while my primary co–laborer was out of the country, one of our church members had to be rushed to the ER on a Friday morning. I gladly ended up spending much of that pre–determined sermon day visiting with her and her family in a waiting room. I’m convinced to have done anything else would’ve been unfaithful.
Yet, there’s no way to miraculously manufacture a lost four hours of sermon prep on a Saturday, unless you also neglect some God–given responsibilities at home. That’s why this question is helpful. Some weeks, you’re staring down a Kershaw curveball. Rather than swinging for the fences, faithfulness is putting the ball in play.
But probably more often than not, we’ve not been faithful with the time the Lord’s given us. Maybe, rather than memorizing your text, you read too many first–person accounts of an Everest climb. Or maybe, you only need one hand to count the number of minutes you spent praying for the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
It could also be that you wasted precious time doing otherwise good things, like reading too many commentaries. Because you read too much, you didn’t start thinking of outlines, illustrations, or applications until it was late in the week. In the preaching process, F. F. Bruce and Facebook could both be poor calendar decisions.
So, after a sermon you’re displeased with, review your week. Don’t waste your dud. After a subpar sermon recently in John 17, I realized I should’ve completed a first draft of that sermon earlier in the week, no matter how atrocious the sentence structure. Oddly, on my computer, a decent sermon won’t emerge from Microsoft Word until I’ve stomached a really bad one. I’ve wondered if reading such horrific expositions from my own mind jumpstarts the process via mere terror.
Regardless, I do know I need more than mere moments for the framework of the outline and the development of the exposition to simmer among my synapses. In fact, the last time I preached, one of the key illustrations came on Saturday while mowing the lawn. If I’d started writing a day later, it’s possible that idea would’ve arrived Sunday afternoon on the drive home from preaching.
So, after your less than stellar sermon, were you faithful––even strategic––with your time?
Maybe you’d conclude that you were faithful to the text and faithful with your time, nonetheless the sermon never clicked. Here’s a third question:
Where is your identity?
Preachers often preach against works righteousness while simultaneously attempting to accrue it. Be thankful: Jesus doesn’t love you to the degree you gain the nod of the masses. Nor does He love you less when they nod off. After you preach the gospel, hear the gospel.
My former boss––who remains one of the key influences on my life––told me later that one day that the vast majority of preachers never improve because they don’t actually care to. It seems they get the job done week in and week out. Only a few years into ministry, they’ve probably preached hundreds of passable sermons. Therefore, in their mind, what is there left to hone? If this blog post remains purely hypothetical for you––you don’t identify with the title–– it's possible you need more honest friends in your pews.
But, if you’re planning to spend all week with last Sunday’s lousy preacher, answer those questions. Then, stand up and preach again.