In an honest moment at lunch after church this past Sunday I slammed my hand down on the table and said what I had been thinking for the past half hour. “My sermon stunk today.” I didn’t say this to fish for compliments; I meant it. If the sermon was a soccer team it would have been relegated when I got finished.
I’m not the only pastor who has felt this way, and many Christians have had these thoughts about their pastor’s sermon at the close of the Sunday worship gathering as well. He may have preached the text of Scripture in front of him and didn’t say anything heretical or unbiblical, but it just wasn’t good. Maybe the main point of the sermon wasn’t clear, the application felt stretched, or he just seemed “off.” Whatever the cause, you were glad it was over and he probably was as well.
The Sunday sermon is important because we understand that this is how God has ordained for his word to be taught to his people. So when the Sunday sermon falls flat and is unhelpful, what should we do?
If You Heard the Bad Sermon
Review it to Find Something Helpful
“A mature Christian is easily edified.” With this simple phrase Chip Stam reminds us that we can grow and receive encouragement from any sermon. If the sermon you heard this past Sunday seemed to have nothing to say to you, think through it again. Reread the passage of Scripture and look over any notes you may have taken. If the sermon was true, then there will be something you can glean from it to help you grow as a believer in Christ.
Pray for Your Pastor This Week
No one dissects the sermon each week at your church like your pastor. If the sermon was flat or confusing to people, he will know it. Pray for him this week because there is a better than average chance that he is fighting discouragement. He wants his preaching to draw people to Jesus and help believers grow into maturity, so he deals with great disappointment when he believes a sermon goes bad. Pray the Lord will encourage him and pray for his preparation for this week. Also, when you have prayed for your pastor during the week it helps you show up on Sunday with a greater sense of anticipation to hear God’s word.
Read Your BibleSpend a little extra time in your Bible this week. If you usually read a chapter or two, maybe read one more or take closer notes on one of the chapters you read. Spending more time in serious Bible reading and study will help you grow and also prepare you for the coming Sunday as you gather with your church family to hear God’s word.
If You Preached the Bad Sermon
Trust in the Power of the Holy Spirit
Pastor, remember that even your best sermon would be dead on arrival without the power of the Holy Spirit to make it effective in the hearts of the people who hear it. Remember that you do not trust in the effectiveness of your delivery or the power of your argumentation for your sermon to stick, you trust in the work of the Spirit. You never know what he may do through what you believe was a subpar sermon. As the Puritans used to say, “God can strike straight with a crooked stick.” This isn’t an excuse to neglect to grow our preaching gifts, but it is a great encouragement on the weeks you think things went terribly.
Examine Your Motives
When you preach a poor sermon, your instinct is to think that you can do a better job next week and redeem yourself. Don’t think like this because the pulpit is not the ground of your justification and it is not the place for you to find your identity or bring in your ego. While we love the stories of a guy who gets knocked down and gets back up, the ministry is not the place for your reenactment of Rocky IV. Instead, look forward to an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who do not believe and for the chance to teach and encourage God’s people.
“How to Preach in an Age of Sporadic Attendance Patterns“
For Further Reading:
Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell
Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church by Donald Whitney