Many times my sermon has been better in my office than in the pulpit. I often feel like I did not present it as well as I should have. I use heavy notes—not a total manuscript, but close. So I have looked over the content of my sermon and prayed, but still felt I fell short. I am speaking from the delivery standpoint, but from the content standpoint, there is no reason you should have a bad sermon.
There are many styles of preaching. Some move around a little bit, others know the peak of voice control well, while yet others do not move at all and hardly change tone. I have been around long enough to know that bad sermons are preached by trying to create an atmosphere of emotional manipulation. Many are taught that the more people that move to the “altar” after the service, the more “God showed up and showed out.” This is bad preaching, bad theology about God, and it is an epidemic in many churches.
No matter the style you have in your preaching, there is no reason for you to have bad content. None at all! The reason you have a bad hermeneutical sermon is because you generally have been too lazy to do the exegetical leg work. You are basing your sermons foundation off of what you have heard in the past, relying on those emotional talking points instead of what the text says.
One of the greatest dangers a pastor can make is assuming what he has “always” heard is true. It may not be heresy, but is it biblical? What we have before us today as preachers is an enormous amount of resources available to further our study. You have no excuse for a bad sermon in terms of content and here is why. Second Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” You are representing the King and you have no reason to be ashamed if you handle the word of truth correctly.
Bible commentaries are useful after you have saturated yourself in the word. As a bi-vocational pastor this is helpful to me. Yet, I do not start there. Usually towards the end of the week, after carefully looking up words, writing out key points and repeated phrases, I have a general outline. Then I go to what others say. With online resources and printed books, there is no excuse not to get the whole council of what the text says.
Word dictionaries are helpful too—we can get the underlying meaning of a word and see its root meaning and semantic range. This helps us get an understating of the context. Also, by doing this, you can see how the word is used elsewhere and why.
Make notes, full manuscript or some form of detailed outline. Why? Because this helps you stay on the trail. Avoid “rabbit” trails that lead to no where, causing you to get lost in your own words and ideas. You have spent all week laboring over the text, looking up words, praying, and preparing, so do not waste this by throwing all those hours out the window by trying to work the crowd into an emotional response.
Ministry is for men who have a low view of self and a high view of God. Many will preach a bad sermon on Sunday, not because of style, but because they lack a high view of God in their preaching and rely on their personalities to impress and move the crowd.
There is no reason to wait until Saturday “to get something from God.” What I saw early on in the ministry, typically in rural churches, was a belief that notes or an outline was a sign of lack of faith in God to “give you what you need.” This is foolishness. And if you are in the habit of changing your sermon fifteen minutes before you preach because a song was sung that you assumed was a sign from God, stop. Too often this is where bad theology makes a dent in the church. We start saying things we have always heard, with no biblical text to back it up, because it moves the crowd and stirs the amen corner. This simply fuels more bad “emotional” preaching.
Bad sermons can also come from bad preparation. Even as a busy, bi-vocational pastor, you must take the time to consider the responsibility of preaching. When your time is limited, use the resources available to help you prepare the text. Whether your sermon that day is twenty-five minutes or forty-five minutes, it is not the style but the content that matters. First Peter 5:2 states, “Shepherd the flock of God among you.” The KJV says “Feed the flock,” and the emphasis of this passage is huge. Consider the diet which the shepherd feeds his flock. Don not give them unhealthy food, but offer food rich for growing and discipling the sheep.
Preacher, your sermons are bad when you do not prepare. Your sermons are bad when you give into the talking points that always get amens. You will never preach a bad sermon when you spend time digging into what God’s word says. Be faithful to do just that, and you will never have a bad sermon.