What Really Bad Preaching Looks Like

What Really Bad Preaching Looks Like April 22, 2022

I imagine that you, like me have heard a plethora of bad sermons over the years, sermons, as the picture illustrates above, that could even put Jesus to sleep!!!  But what counts as really bad preaching.  I have a long list of things, but here are some of them.

  1. Preaching that is not based or grounded in the interpretation of one or more Biblical texts. Sometimes these sermons masquerade as ‘topical’ sermons, and are frequently on topics the Bible does not directly, or sometimes even indirectly, address.  But a minister of the Gospel is supposed to— wait for it, preach the Gospel, not the preacher’s latest hot topics he cares about.  The latter would be a political speech, not a Gospel message, and there is a difference.  Don’t get me wrong, the Bible addresses all kinds of issues ranging from sexual morality to justice issues to spiritual formation to history, and much more. But a sermon needs to start with and be grounded throughout in what the Bible has to say on any given issue. And it needs to involve a careful exposition of the meaning of the Biblical text, which actually requires study of the text, and I don’t just mean familiarity with your favorite English translation and one go to commentary.
  2. Preaching that uses the Bible like a diving board and never touches the board again after the initial bounce on the board.  I once heard a sermon based on Jesus’ comment about how the Pharisees even tithed their condiments (dill, mint, cummin— and if they had had catsup, mayonnaise, etc. they would have tithed those as well). This sermon was used to urge us to support the food pantry in the church, and was not even a message on tithing.  While we are at it, Jesus is addressing Jews, not Christians, those who are under the Mosaic covenant and are committed to tithing.  When Jesus addresses his own disciples, he uses the example of  the sacrificial giving of the widow with two copper coins. She gave more than the wealthy did, proportionally, and any way he was urging us to give sacrificially, not merely 10%.  I know Christians for whom 10% is no sacrifice, just a tax write off.
  3. Preaching that is like a wandering Aramean– It starts on one thing, digresses to another, digresses to another, never gets back to the main subject. You know what I mean. This shows a total lack of sermon preparation, of deep study of God’s Word, and careful crafting of the sermon.
  4. A sermon which is a continuous string of illustrations without any clarity of what Biblical theme it is illustrating.  This word just in— illustrations are supposed to illustrate something important in the Biblical text, not be ends in themselves.
  5.    Story-telling sermons, where it is left to the imagination of the congregation to figure out what Christian or Biblical message they should derive from it.  In other words, it doesn’t unpack the Biblical text, it at best alludes to it, without further explanation.
  6. Sermons that are simply rants, and do not display righteous anger, but unrighteous anger.
  7. Sermons that insult the intelligence of the congregation, many of whom know the Bible better than the preacher.  Preachers need to stop dumbing down the Biblical message and ‘putting the cookies on the bottom shelf’ on the assumption that the audience, bless their hearts won’t get the point otherwise.  Instead, tease the minds of the congregation into active thought.
  8. Sermons that make the mistake of calling out members of the congregation, publicly shaming them from the pulpit in front of God and everyone.  How exactly is that showing the love of Christ to someone who may have made a mistake?
  9. Sermons that think a sermon should be like Stand Up Spotlight– an act of entertainment.  Now I’m all for occasional humor in a sermon, but a sermon should not be a string of jokes, with no direct bearing on the Biblical text of the day. The congregation is not an audience, it is a group of worshippers and it is not you who should be worshipped. They are not consumers of your pearls of wisdom, they should be producers of worship with you.
  10. Lastly, sermons are not the place for pastors to air their personal problems with members of the congregation, sermons are part of an act of worship– leading people into the presence of God, not the presence of your personal issues.

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