When You Preach a Bad Sermon

There are all kinds of reasons for a bad sermon.

It could be poor delivery, incorrect theology or making a passage say what you want it to say, not what it actually says. It could be that your sermon was bad because you went too long and had 2-3 sermons wrapped up into one.

Most of the time a bad sermon is preached because the pastor is unprepared.

This can happen because they didn’t give priority to sermon prep. They let their week get away from them, and they were scurrying around on Saturday trying to figure out what to say.

Many times a pastor is unprepared because he hasn’t edited his sermon and has too much information.

Every sermon you preach will leave things left unsaid. Why? Because people can’t handle a running commentary or an hour long sermon.

I remember a pastor saying once, “Tim Keller needs 32 minutes for his sermon, and you aren’t Tim Keller.”

There’s a lot of truth to that.

And honestly, most weeks I say too much. A few weeks ago in one of our services I circled the airport and refused to land the plane, went 10 minutes longer than I should have and said more than I needed to. (As a side note, if you do preach too long you should walk back to your kids’ ministry and apologize to the workers, as they feel it more than anyone else in your church).

When that happens, it is important for a pastor to evaluate why that happened.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Did I give adequate time to sermon prep this week? It is easy in the busyness of a week to crowd out sermon prep. Meetings, counseling, family responsibilities, budgets, all of it screams for your attention. As a result, any pastors find themselves waiting until the last minute (Saturday night) to work on their sermon. Your sermon must get priority in your weekly calendar and schedule. You need to do it when you are most alert (which for most people is the morning).

Was I focused when I stood in front of my church? This is difficult. You arrive at church and there is a lot happening. Not only at church with your volunteers, staff or technology issues, but you also have everything that happened that week in your church, your world and your family.

I think pastors need to think through a Sunday morning routine that helps them to prepare their hearts and minds. What music do you listen to on Saturday night and Sunday morning? What is your prayer routine like? When do you read through your notes? I lay out my weekly rhythm here and what my Sunday mornings look like.

Did I preach more than one sermon? This happens more often than I’d like to admit and is a lot harder if you don’t preach every week.

In any given passage you could preach 2-3 themes. Many times when covering a longer passage, there are a lot of themes. A pastor must edit down and determine what he will and will not zero in on. Sometimes this means that you not only don’t cover everything, but that you might need to take that chapter and make it four sermons instead of one. Your people will thank you because you will be clearer.

Do I believe God will still work if I don’t say everything that is in my notes? Recently in a sermon, the person doing the slides asked me after the first service if I was going to skip two pages in the second service. I asked what he meant, and he said, “You skipped almost half your notes.” When I got to that part of my notes, I knew I didn’t have time for it. This means a pastor must feel okay with what he did and did not say. You don’t have to share everything. If you missed something crucial, write a blog post or share a video on Facebook.