- Pastoral care. Yes, I’ll start there! There’s a movement which has pastors saying, “I don’t do pastoral care. I spend my time in the Word, so I’m ready for Sundays. You (the laypeople) can do the pastoral care.” Pastoring requires being with your people, which is the only way to build relationships. Having a relationship with your people will help them engage with your preaching, as well as forgive many bad sermons. Forget the “I-only-preach” model. Engage with your people using whatever methods you have available, even if it’s just a Facetime call. As a bonus, these conversations will inform you about what to preach on (see #5, too).
- Preach original sermons. Your congregation has someone within it who will figure out when your sermons are purloined. Don’t plagiarize. Sure, you can use another’s general ideas, but share your own interpretation of those ideas.
- Offer variety. This could mean sharing your pulpit from time to time, which is not a bad idea. But, what I really mean here is: vary your preaching style and type. If your preaching becomes so repetitious that your people can predict it, you’re in trouble. Starts with a joke, summarizes the last month of sermons, tells where we’re going next, reads scripture, three points with an explanation/illustration/application, concluding the tear-jerk story. Throw in other styles, too, like narrative, monologue, dialogical, story, etc.
- Avoid monotony. A friend says he’s been diagnosed as having “Situation-Specific, Intermittent Extroversion.” He’s glad to have this condition. You see, he’s an introvert (like about 50% of the population). But when he preaches, he comes alive. If you don’t mix in emotion, passion, emphasis, varied pacing—your congregation is prone to nod off. I accidentally took an acting class while I was in college. It was called “Dramatic Reading,” but I found myself on stage in performances of Elmer Gantry. That accident was one of the best things to happen to my preaching.
- Don’t embarrass your people. Did those anonymous persons in your sermons give you permission to share their stories? The church will figure out who they are. Do you tell stories about your own children? I used to give my sons money whenever I used them as an illustration. They loved it when they were young! Of course, I was careful to never embarrass them. Once they graduated from college, free of loans, they told me I could use them in sermons from then on, no charge, whenever I wanted to!
- Don’t tell your own story all the time. Is the sermon mainly about you? Do you usually have a story about yourself? Who are you really promoting?
- Don’t repeat ad nauseum. Sure, you’ve been taught to “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you’ve told them.” That’s fine, but you can overdo it.
- Avoid vocalization irritants. Clicking the tongue is common, for instance. It sounds like, “This is painful to say, but I must.” That may be brilliant in one particular place in a sermon. If it’s before most of your sentences, however, it’s a bad habit you need to break. You are recording your sermons, right? Now, go back and watch yourself to discover these issues.
- Don’t preach unrehearsed. Someone said, “Give me a week and I can prepare a twenty-minute sermon. Give me a few days and I can prepare a 30-minute sermon. Ask me to preach without warning and I’m preaching for an hour.” Hone it down to where it is polished!
- Stop! Some preach so long their sermon could be divided into two sermons—which would be a mutual victory for you and your congregation. Today’s average attention span is roughly 20 minutes. I hear brilliant conclusions, and I start seeing people get ready to go, only to find the pastor has another two or three endings. Pick one! You should leave a LOT of material on the cutting room floor.
My pastor was the keynote speaker at a seminary’s convocation. The school’s president met him in line before the formal procession, and the president found out my pastor taught preaching for the seminary. The president called out to others in line, “This guy says he teaches preaching. Does anyone know if HE can preach? I’ve been all over this state, and there’s a lot of BAD preaching going on out there.”
Let’s do our best to make sure there’s not a pandemic of bad sermons out there. Maybe you could help by posting your suggestions here.