Maybe it’s because I’m naturally a pessimist, but the most natural way for me to figure out how I can grow as a preacher is to identify what mistakes I most commonly make and try to work on improving those, by God’s grace. For the purpose of self-evaluation and ‘fanning into flame’ the preaching gift that I have, I decided to list out the mistakes I most often make in sermon preparation and delivery.
I imagine that I’m probably not the only preacher who makes some of these mistakes with regularity, so I thought I’d share them here in case my list ends up helping any of you brothers who are working on preaching evaluation / improvement as well.
Top Mistakes I Make in Sermon Preparation
1. I Don’t Pray Enough
This one is simple. There are more weeks than I care to admit when there is very little by way of earnest, extended times of prayer for the ministry of the preached word. This reflects self-reliance, and a disturbing amount of trust placed in my gifts rather than the one who actually has the power to do spiritual work in the hearts of the hearers. This one is first because it’s clearly the worst offence.
2. I Don’t Study Enough
This doesn’t happen quite as much for me, but sometimes I think my sermons are lacking in power because I just simply haven’t studied broadly enough. If I’m not absolutely confident that ‘this’ is what the text says, then I can’t preach it with absolute conviction.
3. I Study Too Much
This happens to me fairly regularly. The issue here is not so much that I study the text too much, but that the bulk of my sermon preparation goes to studying so that there is far too little time left to actually write the sermon. When this happens illustrations becomes sparse and obscure and application can seem forced. When this happens my sermons include very little by way of helps for the hearer.
4. I Don’t Spend Enough Time ‘Snacking’
Great sermons are personal. They reflect the reality that the preacher has soaked in the text, has drunk deeply of it, and been changed by it. I once heard a preacher (lovingly) talk about his ‘large’ grandmother. She was always cooking, he said, but never ate with the family. He couldn’t figure out, as a child, how she could be so large if she never ate. Then, one day, he watched her in her kitchen. As she cooked, she snacked. All day. This preacher said that we, as preachers, ought to be like his grandmother. We must be constantly snacking on the food that we’re preparing for others. When I do this, I think my sermons are more personal, more practical, more warm, and easier to hear. I just don’t do it enough.
5. I Don’t Consider a Broad Enough Audience
Often times when I think about the point of a text that I’ve been studying I think of a particular demographic that this point applies to, and then I gear the sermon to them. I don’t do that consciously, but I think it happens subconsciously a fair bit. That may be appropriate in certain contexts, but when I’m writing sermons for public consumption, I need to think about more of a broad audience so that people can more clearly and easily see the relevance of the text for them.
Mistakes in Sermon Preaching
1. I Preach Too Long
Hear me on this: people need to hear preaching and Christians need to cultivate the spiritual discipline of listening to God’s word through preaching so that sermon-listening becomes an act of worship. I don’t think that one hour per week is too much to ask of God’s people. I think if we sit through movies and sporting events and TV shows for hours on end, God’s people can and should be disciplined to sit and hear from God. The people at Grace Fellowship Church get this, and I love that about them. They love to sit under the word and never complain about length of sermon. That being said, I do want to consider that sometimes talking too long diminishes the power of what’s actually being said. I need to work on correcting this.
2. I Preach a Commentary Rather Than a Sermon
This relates to a couple of the points above. Too often I think that merely understanding what the text says is the same this as having a sermon to preach. I can default to thinking that merely explaining the text is the same thing as applying. That is simply not what is most helpful to people.
3. I Give Too Much Detail / Information
Christians love the word of God and want to study it deeply. But no one can drink from a fire-hose. And too often I take what took me 3 days of study to understand and try to force-feed all of it to others in under an hour. People need truth that is deep, but they also need truth that has been distilled.
4. I Don’t Sit Under the Word While I’m Preaching it
I’m embarrassed to even think about how many times I’ve preached a sermon without realizing in the moment that the one person in the room who needs to hear this particular word from God the most is the one preaching. Some of the most effective preachers I’ve heard also happen to be the most affected preachers. And that’s not because they’re dramatic (it’s fairly easy, I think, to tell the difference). Effective preachers are affected preachers because they themselves are sitting under the word that’s being delivered and are experiencing the ministry of the Spirit of Truth even as they speak. I need to cultivate more of a spirit of humility and neediness so that when I preach I also listen to hear what God would say to me.
Am I Alone?
Anything else? What are some common mistakes you make when you preach or study to preach?