5 Ways to Preach a Bad Sermon

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Yes, there are such things as bad sermons and sermons that should never be preached.

I’ve preached them, and if you are a preacher, you have preached them, too. They are painful, they put people to sleep, they make people decide church isn’t worth their time (and worse God isn’t worth their time), and they turn people away from the truth.

Now many pastors in an effort to not be accountable for their sermons and/or to not work hard on their sermons love to quote from Isaiah 55:11: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” I rest in this verse as all pastors should, but this verse does not say, “Don’t work at your craft, don’t put in effort.”

So here are five ways to guarantee that your next sermon will be awful:

1. Be unprepared. Walk up to the stage, look at your church and have absolutely no idea what you are going to say. Wing it. Make it up as you go along. Be all over the map. Preach someone else’s sermon and see what happens.

Lots of pastors preach when they aren’t prepared. I’m not talking about the text isn’t still convicting you, because that will never stop. I’m talking about, you didn’t prioritize your sermon prep time, so you aren’t prepared. You let your week get away from you and others decided your calendar, so you are working on it Saturday night when you should be asleep.

Apart from someone dying or some other unforeseen catastrophe, my sermon prep time is blocked out and not negotiable. Why? Preaching is the most important part of my job. It is when I have the most influence over the life of my church. When else is everyone in one room, hopefully listening? Never. Preaching isn’t all that I do, but it is the top priority of my week in terms of my role at my church, and yours too if you are the main communicator of your church.

2. Say what you want the Bible to say. This is incredibly common in a lot of sermons and one I have to constantly work against. Often what the Bible says is not as cool as what we want the Bible to say. What we want to say isn’t as piercing, confrontational or invasive as what the Bible says. But no one changes based off what I want to say; they only change through the power of the Spirit working through the text.

This reason is why I started preaching through books of the Bible. I know pastors build their case through the Bible as to why you should preach through books. I do it because I know my heart and tendency is to decide what I want to say, go find a verse that says that or I can make say that, and then preach a sermon. Preaching through books of the Bible prevents that for me.

I know you think people came to hear you preach, and in a way they did, but what they don’t know or maybe can’t verbalize is they showed up at your church to hear from God. You are just the instrument for that.

3. Don’t talk about Jesus, just give good advice. Another way to guarantee a bad sermon is to simply give out good advice and never talk about Jesus. Most would say if you don’t talk about Jesus that isn’t a sermon, just a talk, which I would agree with. But I digress.

Remember #2, they didn’t show up to hear you but to connect with God. They maybe can’t verbalize that, but that’s their heart cry.

4. Don’t have a main point. This is one of the hardest things to do in a sermon, to boil down your sermon to one point. Not three or five, but one. That is all your church will remember if they remember anything. I know we want them to remember all of it, but they forget about 80-90% of what we say, which is incredibly humbling when you think about it.

To make your sermon last longer than Sunday morning, you must think of ways to communicate it in a memorable sentence.

5. Don’t tell anyone what to do. Pastors love to use Isaiah 55:11 to avoid application. The thinking goes like this: Just get up there, read a verse, say what the Bible says and then sit down and let the Holy Spirit bring the application. Nowhere does this verse even allude to this. This is the one that I often struggle with the most, creating clear next steps. Moving from, “The Bible says this,” to, “So in light of that, go and do ________.”

This is the handle people are looking for to apply the sermon. Do we need to spell it out for people? Yes. Some people will get it on their own and may even get a next step from the Holy Spirit you don’t give them, and that is great, but most people are waiting for you to answer the “now what” question. Like #4, if you can’t tell them a next step, the sermon isn’t ready to preach.

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Most Read Posts of the Last Month

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In case you missed them, here are the most read posts for the last month:

  1. 18 Things Every Husband Should Know about His Wife
  2. 10 Ways to Know if You’re Putting Your Kids Before Your Spouse
  3. 12 Ways to Keep the Passion Alive in Your Marriage
  4. 11 Ways to Know You’ve Settled for a Mediocre Marriage
  5. How to Make it to ‘Til Death do us Part’
  6. Pastors Can Make the Worst Friends
  7. 10 Questions You Should Ask Your Spouse Regularly
  8. Your Goal for Parenting Makes all the Difference
  9. Want to Work at a Church? Go to a Church.
  10. New Worship Music I’m Digging

Book Notes: Scary Close, Brain Savvy Leaders, The Best Place to Work

I have been blogging less lately as a lot of my writing time has been taken up by book edits. So instead of long book reviews, I wanted to give some quick hits of some great books I’ve read recently. I thought this would be great timing if you are looking for a good book to read on vacation or a long weekend (like this weekend)!

bookScary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy is Donald Miller’s latest book. Like all his books, it is funny, sad, heartwarming, encouraging and convicting all at the same time. I appreciated his journey through intimacy and letting people in. I resonated with a lot of what he had to say in terms of the struggle men have with intimacy. Easily the biggest takeaway was the chapter where he describes the three circles (which I used in a sermon not long ago). The outer circle is the me I want you to see; the middle circle is my shame; the inner circle is the me God created and called me to be.

bookBrain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry by Charles Stone was fascinating. I love reading his blog, and the connection of ministry and the brain is very interesting and often overlooked. There was a lot of science in this book that Stone tried to make accessible, which is difficult, but the takeaways for pastors are numerous. Section three is worth the price of the whole book as Stone shows how your brain keeps you from being productive, what is going on in your brain as you deal with ministry hurts and emotions, how to move change through your church, how that change is affecting the brains of people in your church and the science of brains as it relates to teamwork. I kept reading and seeing things that didn’t make sense before or why someone reacted the way they did or why something affected me the way it did. Walking through this book was like a big light bulb coming on.

bookThe Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace by Ron Friedman was another great book I read recently. In it Friedman shows how to create the best place to work. What makes this so relevant to churches is that many churches are not a great place to work. The teams can be toxic, and staff can feel overworked and under appreciated. As a Type-A personality, the chapter on why forceful leaders can develop the least productive team was eye opening and convicting.

When Grace Isn’t What You Expected

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I’m reading The Wilderking Trilogy to my kids, which is based on the life of King David. There is a great line in the second book where the prophet describes King Darrow (representing King Saul), and he says about him, “He’s thrown away the grace he was given because it’s not the grace he had in mind.”

I think this happens so easily to us in real life. Grace is extended to us by God and by others, but it often doesn’t take the form we expect or turn out how we expected it.

Many times we want grace that doesn’t involve consequences, but there are consequences to our actions. Grace is given to us by God in the form of gifts and talents he’s given to us, but we often refuse them by not developing them or wishing we had different talents and gifts (i.e., Why can’t I be a better speaker or more organized like so-and-so?).

At the same time, when we extend grace, we have expectations for it, and we miss the beauty of grace. We want someone to feel more sorry than they are or we want retribution while giving the impression of grace.

While grace gives us the chance to start over and make things new, grace doesn’t take away the hurt of a situation or the memory. It is still there. It is still part of our journey and story. Yet grace gives us the chance in starting new for that situation or memory to no longer be who we are.

This is crucial and often missed.

I think this makes grace so difficult to handle and live in. Our hurt, memory, bitterness and identity become so wrapped up in what happened. We struggle to separate a hurt or sin from our identity and we miss the grace extended to us.

This is what makes grace amazing and why we sing about it and why grace is central to the message of Jesus. Grace does what we can’t do, what we hope will happen but never thought possible.

Grace gives us a new start, a new chapter. Grace is that picture of the page turning and things not being as they were, but as God intended.

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Links for Your Weekend Enjoyment

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Here are some interesting posts I found this week that I thought you’d find interesting:

5 reasons pastors fail morally and how to protect your life.

Twice this week so far, I’ve heard of church leaders who are moving out of leadership because they had affairs. Last weekend, another well known pastor had to step down after admitting to having had an affair. Yesterday I got a call from someone about another leader who had an affair and is stepping back. It’s heartbreaking.

Is blogging dying?

Moreover, our brains process words on a screen differently than words on a page. According to Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid, reading online tends to impede our ability to read challenging novels and other longer works. With the constantly changing and endlessly available content, and the pressure for writers to garner as many “clicks” as possible, the Internet lends itself to a loss of storytelling, and a loss of careful thought.

How to lead a team of 5 people.

So, you have a team. What do you do now? How do you get started leading your team? How can you lead your team to success? Follow these seven steps for leading your team to success.

20 facts about the unchurched people who visit your church.

 

Why Pastors Are Afraid to Preach on Marriage

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That may seem like a weird blog title, but I think pastors have some genuine fear about preaching on marriage and relationships.

In the past few weeks as I have talked with pastors about our series through the Song of Solomon, many of them have expressed how they would never preach through that book. In fact, I looked at the websites of churches who “preach through books of the Bible verse-by-verse,” and the Song of Solomon is one of the books most pastors skip.

I’ve already detailed why a pastor should preach on marriage, relationships and singleness on a yearly basis, but why don’t they?

Here are a few reasons:

1. Their marriage isn’t what it should be. I think this is the reason pastors don’t talk about marriage, relationships and sex in their sermons. Their marriage is falling apart. They aren’t happy, their wife is miserable, maybe they are having an affair, are addicted to porn. In short, if they preach on marriage they would be a hypocrite. Honestly, I’ve had a number of pastors tell me this is the reason they don’t preach on marriage, and every time I hear it, my heart breaks. Not only for their church and what they are missing, but also for the pastor and his wife.

They are stuck, and they don’t know what to do. They are sad, heartbroken, miserable, angry with each other, fighting off bitterness, maybe considering a divorce (but they don’t know how to support themselves if they get divorced). They may even be considering cheating on their spouse.

If this is you, you shouldn’t preach on marriage, but you also need to not walk through this alone. You need to take a break from ministry, involve your elders, see a Christian counselor. Something. Anything to work on your marriage to get it on the track it needs to be.

2. Marriage, being single, divorce are all private matters, and many pastors fear private matters. Many pastors, believe it or not, are fearful of diving into the personal matters of your life. Money and sex are topics pastors are afraid to talk about, often because they think their church doesn’t want to hear about those things. Honestly, what the Bible says about these two topics is probably something everyone in your church wants to know.

It is difficult to wade into the waters of porn and sexual addiction, divorce, unhappy marriages, and brokenness. It is uncomfortable and not very fun. But as a pastor, that is where your people live and need your help.

3. They don’t want to exclude anyone. This is a real reason why many pastors don’t preach on marriage and relationships, and I understand it. It is hard when you talk about roles in marriage knowing that a single person is sitting there who finds this completely irrelevant, or a divorced person who begins feeling guilty about their failure. It is hard to talk about being single and purity as your married couples sit there and think, “What does this have to do with me?”

Those are all true.

At the same time, part of teaching your church is helping them understand that just because something doesn’t feel relevant doesn’t mean that it isn’t relevant. I need to know the struggles of someone who is single or dating so I can be a good friend to my single and dating friends. The same goes with divorce and marriage. If you are single, you may be married one day, and it is great if you can learn a thing or two now before getting there.

4. Pastors don’t want to deal with the pain that comes with it. The moment you start talking about marriage, relationships, divorce, dating and sexuality, you are about to open a can of worms that you may not want to in your church. You will find yourself wading into abuse, anger, bitterness, addictions, hurts and family of origin issues that often feel like a web that will never untangle. I had a pastor tell me he doesn’t preach on these topics because he doesn’t want to deal with those hurts in the lives of his people.

Yet this is the exact spot most of the hurt in your church resides, these topics. These are the fights that couples are having, this loneliness is why singles hurt so much at night and why they fall into arms they shouldn’t and pull up websites they shouldn’t. This hurt and disillusionment is why wives get bitter and why husbands aren’t servants to their wives.

5. Pastors don’t want angry emails. As someone who preaches on these topics regularly, and having preached the Song of Solomon twice in the seven years Revolution has existed, I can tell you that marriage, divorce, dating, sexual addictions, porn and sex are fast ways to get angry emails.

Just tell a wife that the word submission is in the Bible. Talk about sex and see what happens. We challenged married couples to do something sexual everyday for 30 days. Some people loved that, others didn’t. I heard from both. I had people tell me the Song of Solomon shouldn’t be in the Bible, that it really isn’t about sex but about God’s love for us. If you have read through the Song of Solomon, it’s kind of awkward; it’s like being a voyeur to someone’s sexual life. It’s descriptive, clear, intimate and inspired by the Holy Spirit just like John and Romans are.

If you preach on these topics, don’t go into them blindly. You will make people angry. Some is to be expected. When you talk about forgiving someone who abused you or your ex-husband, expect some anger and hurt. This is natural and okay. This is an opportunity for you to disciple someone to be more like Jesus. Will that be easy? No. Will it be worth it? Yes.

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Why You Should Preach on Marriage & Singleness Each Year

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Recently I wrapped up a series on the Song of Solomon at my church called You & Me: Being Single, Finding Love & Staying Married. 

The response from my church was overwhelming, and the response from other pastors was interesting. I think too many pastors are afraid to preach on marriage & singleness, in particular from the Song of Solomon, but that’s another blog post.

I think each year every church should do a series on marriage, finding love, being single and dating. Here’s why:

  1. Most regrets & secrets are sexual. Everyone has regrets and shame in their life. Whenever I meet with someone and they say, “I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone else,” it is almost always sexual. It is amazing how we can believe the grace of God can reach every part of our life except our sexuality. We attach something different to it, whether good or bad, that is the truth. People need to know what to do with those secrets, that hurt and shame.
  2. Everyone wants to know what the Bible says on sex, marriage, dating and being single. We often think that people don’t want to hear what the Bible says on dating, marriage or something touchy like money. That’s false. Everyone wants to know; they are curious. Most people know they have no idea how to do marriage and are looking for help from any source. Most unchurched people will give what the Bible says a listen if it might help.
  3. Most people have no idea how to be married. This is true for couples and singles. Most people grow up in broken homes, have no idea about how to fight well, communicate well, serve their spouse, live out in healthy roles, make decisions as a couple. They are clueless, so they make it up as they go along. Preaching on this topic on a regular basis helps everyone, whether they are single or married.
  4. Those who aren’t married are really curious about this. The most comments I got while preaching through the Song of Solomon were from singles. In fact, singles tell me on a regular basis that the sermons they listen to more than once are on marriage. Why? See #3. They want to make sure they don’t do something now that messes up later.
  5. The effects of a broken marriage are felt for generations. If you have been divorced, have parents who are divorced, are married to someone whose parents are divorced or went through a divorce, you know this is true. We often think this isn’t true, and not to make anyone feel guilty, but how marriage goes or doesn’t go has enormous effects on us and our kids, and their kids. For this reason alone, pastors should spend more time preaching on marriage.
  6. We need to communicate a better narrative than our culture. Our culture talks a lot about sex and sexual identity. Our culture identifies themselves based on sexuality (“I’m gay, I’m transgender”, etc.). Sadly this means our culture thinks the most interesting thing about you is what you do in the bedroom, which isn’t the case. Pastors need to help people find a better and more true identity. On top of that, the New Testament talks about how marriage is a picture of the gospel. You can’t separate the two.

I think more pastors should preach on these topics. I’ll share soon why many pastors are afraid to preach on marriage, but the longer we stay silent on these topics in the church or aren’t helpful when we preach on them, the more our culture will continue to give a narrative that seems right and good to those in our churches.

Links for Your Weekend Enjoyment

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Here are some interesting posts I found this week that I thought you’d find interesting:

How should the church talk about same sex attraction?

Our culture puts forward the narrative that we really only have two options in our relationship with the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) community—affirmation or alienation. But Jesus shows us that a third response—a gospel response—is possible. He shows us how to respond with grace and truth, how to hold out God’s truth andGod’s love, not having to choose between the two.

15 ways to improve your preaching.

Assume you need to improve. If you genuinely believe you have no room for improvement, ask others until you find someone who’s honest enough to help you (in fact, that person might tell you that you sometimes come across as arrogant).

10 questions to ask a pastor at a church larger than yours (this is solid gold).

If I died tomorrow and you became the Senior Pastor at the church I serve, what would you do first to lead the congregation to break through the 1600 barrier? What would you do second? Third? Fourth? Fifth?

Bruce Jenner’s transformation is a lose-lose for liberal ideology.

Transgenderism is unavoidably based on a kind of gender essentialism. It recognizes gender identities as being associated with certain socially accepted norms. What does it mean, for example, that Jenner’s “gender” is female? It means that he gets a sex change. It means that he poses in traditionally female attire for the cover of Vanity Fair. It means that he reaffirms traditional gender norms, even as he attempts to flee from them.

Public speaking tips from Winston Churchill.

Few, if any of us, will ever become a speaker on par with Winston Churchill. Some people have “it” — that charismatic, irresistible quality in teaching and speaking that cannot be completely learned. But every man can become much better than he is, and magnify his own level of natural talent. While we may not be asked to address Parliament, we all are faced with speaking opportunities throughout our lives. Whether it’s running for student council president, making a presentation at work, having your voice heard at a city council meeting, or offering a eulogy, a knack for public speaking makes you a more persuasive and powerful man.

New Worship Music I’m Digging

I love music and find myself constantly listening to new music all the time. Thanks to Spotify for that.

Recently there have been some great worship albums released.

First up is Empires by Hillsong United.

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Like all bloggers, this album has been long awaited and has been playing with some constancy since it came out. Different than past albums, but still great all the same. Although this album isn’t the sing-a-long for a church that previous ones are, it is still one worth listening to in the car, a lot.

Second is For Every Curse by Daniel Bashta.

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This is an EP, but has some great tracks on it. Particularly “All Hail”, if only because so few songs are about Jesus as King.

Third is Unbroken Praise by Matt Redman.

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Normally I’m not a fan of Redman’s albums. His songs are usually better done by someone else, but this album is different. The renditions of hymns on this album are incredible. I particularly love “No Longer I.”

Links for Your Weekend Enjoyment

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Here are some interesting posts I found this week that I thought you’d find interesting:

The bible and same sex marriage (this is the best thing I’ve read on the topic).

Up until very recently, all Christian churches and theologians unanimously read the Bible as condemning homosexuality. By contrast, there was never any consensus or even a majority of churches that thought slavery and segregation were supported by the Bible. Chappell shows that even within the segregationist South, efforts to support racial separation from the Bible collapsed within a few years. Does anyone really think that within a few years from now there will be no one willing to defend the traditional view of sexuality from biblical texts? The answer is surely no. This negates the claim that the number, strength, and clarity of those biblical texts supposedly supporting slavery and those texts condemning homosexuality are equal, and equally open to changed interpretations.

6 reasons not to check your phones in the morning.

Whatever we focus our hearts on first in the morning will shape our entire day.

So why are we so quick to check email and social media in the morning, and so slow to spend intentional time with God in his word and prayer? And can we find a better way forward in the pages of Scripture?

The keys to breaking the 600 barrier.

Trying to break the 600 barrier is like trying to run up an icy slope. No matter how much they try, churches find themselves in a constant up and down attendance pattern. Up to 460, back to 420. Up to 575, back to 510. Up to 610, back to 500. On and on it goes.

9 ways to “pay” your volunteers.

I recently spent some time with long-time pastor Steve Stroope, who’s been in the ministry now for forty years. We talked a lot about what he felt was critical to building a strong church. As he put it, pastors need to see themselves as the servants of the people in their ministries. We need to develop the attitude of Christ, who used his position of leadership to wash feet, not to command respect. And one of the key ways we can do this as a church, Stroope says, is to pay our volunteers.

Smartphones, tablets and parenting.

Given what we know about a.) sexually developing adolescents and pre-adolescents and b.) the Internet itself, it is impossible to rank unrestricted access to the World Wide Web in a category with allowing your child to watch television or to freely roam the neighborhood. It’s more akin to sending your adolescent son to a strip-club for the night because you trust him not to look up from his Bible, or allowing your adolescent daughter to grow marijuana in her room because she likes the bud as a decoration.

Why reading on paper might be better than digital.

Memory is a big part of comprehension and the challenge in making mental maps also affects how much of the book we really understand. With a print book we can quickly flip back and forth between pages, making links and connections that help us understand the material. That process doesn’t work as well on screens. Instead, we tend to scan for things that jump out: headers, lists, block quotes, images, and so on. It makes for fast reading—which is exactly why I blog the way I do—but it’s not designed for deep, thorough reading.