A sermon expounds the Word of God, helps us understand the Bible, reminds us of the gospel and calls non-Christians to repent and believe. There are more elements to a sermon, but even from that very short (and oversimplified) list a sermon should never be dull!
You would think it is impossible to preach a dull sermon because, as preachers, we are talking about God’s Word, but we all would probably say that we’ve preached a boring sermon at least once. Last week I published an article about communication and how preachers and authors need to be faithful to the Bible, but not dull. A friend challenged me to write a follow up article talking about what exactly makes a dull sermon. Here goes…
I’m working on the assumption that a preacher is teaching the passage correctly. I don’t think that one of the problems in our Evangelical circles today is that preachers don’t get the text right. I think that the problem is that we spend so much time getting the text right that we forget the rest of the sermon and end up just doing exegesis. Here are a few think that, in my mind, would make a dull sermon.
Lack of illustrations
Many preachers are taught to begin with, end and have a few illustration in their sermons. That is good practice, however, it often means that they’re longer stories or that they have a very specific, often text related, relevance. There is nothing wrong with that, but I think we can do better. There are so many times in a sermon where a quick one line anecdote, or picture, could really bring it to light for people and help them resonate more with the preacher. People will relate more if you help them see or feel what it is you’re saying.
This is where I’m expecting kickback! So many preachers spend long hours in the study (which is necessary!), but we need to remember we’re preaching to a congregation not teaching to a seminary class. Many pastors go to seminary (I think that they should), but a seminary doesn’t necessarily teach someone to preach. Sure, a seminary can give men the tools to unpack God’s Word faithfully, but they don’t often focus much on how to communicate it to people. Preachers referring to the original languages where unnecessary, quoting copious amounts of dead theologians and using words that people just wouldn’t use today. Sometimes I get it, but most of the time it’s unnecessary. I wonder if too often pastors and preachers are equipped to teach in a seminary class, rather than preach to a congregation.
Many preachers hone in one one singular application that is derived from their big idea, or main teaching point, of the text. I agree that should be the case, but we shouldn’t neglect secondary applications or challenges either. An application doesn’t always have to only address how you live in the office on a Monday morning, or how you deal with the kids on Wednesday. Applications include the way a certain truth about God should turn your heart and mind to wonderful praise of His name and wholehearted service. I worry that too often we focus our minds on one application point and we neglect secondary applications that can also challenge people.
This is largely a stylistic matter, but you can absolutely tell the difference between a person merely explaining a text and them preaching a passage after having been challenged by it themselves. A preacher needs to first preach to himself before he can preach to others.
Another point on this is how we use our voices in the pulpit. Too many preachers are monotone when they preach and therefore not engaging. Preachers would do well to consider the insights of professionals who regularly give talks and speeches and glean insights that could help in their preaching. It is not unspiritual to learn things that would help people engage more with sermons.
You can be the best communicator in the world, but if you don’t proclaim the gospel you’re harming any non-Christians present by not sharing Jesus with them. That does not mean that every single sermon needs to have a two ways to live gospel presentation. But I do think that every sermon should challenge the non-Christian to see the beauty of God and their need for forgiveness.
We need to encourage Christians with the gospel, remind them of the wonderful realities that are theirs through Christ and we need to call the non-Christian to repentance.
This is not an exhaustive list but just a few things that I think can make a sermon dull. Brothers, strive to preach in such a way that people are drawn to see the majesty of God, the beauty of the gospel and be compelled to wholeheartedly serve and follow Jesus.
4 thoughts on “The Makings of a Dull Sermon”
Excellent post. Re over-academic – in which way are you expecting kick back? Certainly as someone with a degree but in a non theological area, certain jargon abd complex terms will always switch me off when the same content delivered in more common terms keeps me engaged. No one likes feeling like they are too stupid to understand the sermon. I’m not advocating child speak or avoiding complex issues but one of the things we are taught in Medicine is that if I can’t explain my topic to a non medic in 5 minutes using normal words then I don’t understand my topic and am just regurgitating what I’ve read from other sources.
There is a significant ‘push’ in some areas of the Church to have more academic sermons (including high-level theology and the original languages, for example). I see the need to stretch people, but I don’t advocate for going over their heads for no reason.
Also, some people just like to use fancy words 😂
I get the jargon thing. We all like to demonstrate what we have learned and the concepts we have mastered. Medicine is full or jargon after all. But I would use different language talking to a colleague about an operation and to the patient. So that technical.language of theology may be very good.for.a conference.of learned pastors seminarians etc to.disxuss a topic and deepen their understanding but the same concept explained to ‘the person in the street’ needs language appropriate to their baseline knowledge.
At the end of the day I think we’d both agree that it comes down to pitching any talk to the audience in the room.