7 Ways to Create a Terrible Sermon

I’ve preached over a thousand sermons in my pastoral career. I’m sure I’ve spent at least 10 hours preparing each sermon, so that would be over 10,000 hours, the supposed magic number of achieving expertise.

However, many people tell me my sermons aren’t all that great. In fact, just last week I was told my sermon was nothing more than an “emotional rant.” I’m always amazed at how awful people tell me I do my job when I think I’m doing just fine. Not great perhaps, but serviceable. Nope. Mostly trash.

So, I guess I can’t claim to be an expert on preaching good sermons, but I’m at least pretty confident in how to preach terrible ones. Here are the top seven ways to create a terrible sermon. Take it from me, a guy who knows.

1) Start with an illustration.
Get a funny story, or a story that conveys to people how hard/virtuous/sacrificial your life is. Take that thing you’d like to brag about and craft a sermon around it. Use a concordance to find a couple verses that touch on something or other that the story loosely is related to. Finish by making a couple good moral points like: read your Bible, pray more, love your neighbor, be more like me, or stuff like that.

2) Preach current events.
Let the Social Justice Warriors on Twitter guide you. “It’s a shame more pastors don’t preach about free range chickens” says Twitter. Can do! Free range chicken sermon coming up! “The church’s silence on global warming is alarming,” Twitter says the next week. No prob, Bob! Global hot air coming your way!

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The Best Way to Get Sermon Ideas: Live Your Faith

THEM: Good sermon. How much time did you take to prepare it?

ME: About 15 years.
@FailingPastor

 

 

I’ve preached about 2,500 times in my pastoral career. That’s not a ton in comparison to some, but it’s still a lot. Never once have I gone online to borrow a sermon. I will admit to copying and or using some good points I’ve heard, or taking an idea from a book or sermon and making it my own, but I’ve never point for point preached someone else’s sermon.

I put work into my sermons. I make them my own. They have my flavor and personality on them when I get done. I have to take in a lot of information in order to get this many sermons to come out. I read the Bible a lot, for it has a remarkable ability to give a guy sermon ideas.

Many sermon ideas percolate in my head for a long time. I have theories and ideas I loosely hold and then keep reading my Bible until I can test them. Are there other verses that go along with this idea? If so, I pile them together over time and go with it.

When I sit down to make a sermon I don’t invent it out of nothing. I have a reserve of things I’ve been thinking about and verses memorized, read, and written down for further consideration. I put my time in.

I once heard John MacArthur say that a pastor should spend 40-hours a week preparing his sermon. I find that insane. Is he typing his notes with his feet or something? How can it possibly take that long? I can only assume he reads many theology books or translates from the Greek or something.

I really don’t find that amount of time to be necessary. And, of course, his sermons are better than mine, so you should probably listen to his advice more than mine. Consider the source, folks.

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Many of the Problems in the Church are a Result of Know-It-All Pastors

I’ve preached several messages that made me glad no one listens to me.
@FailingPastor

 

 

Any pastor who is doing his job will learn more about the Bible. The more biblical knowledge a person gets the more that person will change their beliefs. If your beliefs are not changing then you must not be taking in any new information. If you are not taking in any new information about the Bible you are either 1) not reading it or 2) you already know all of it.

The best way to learn the Bible is to try teaching it. Through years of preaching the Word I am continually confronted with new information, or more context, or more links between verses, ideas, and themes in the Bible, that adjust what I previously believed.

I used to keep recordings of my sermons. I don’t any more. This is for two reasons:

1) The tapes and cd’s were taking up too much room.
2) I couldn’t stand listening to myself teach things I no longer believed and furthermore, I didn’t want anyone who heard me now to hear what I used to say!

Those who have stuck with me over the years and paid attention know how much my doctrine has shifted. But most don’t stick around that long. People choose churches based on whether or not they are told what they already believe. Churches who teach what you already believe are known as “churches with good doctrine.”

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Volunteers and Other Terrible Things

The worst idea in all Church History is having everyone take their chair and put it on the chair rack themselves.
@FailingPastor

 

 

Churches are always looking for volunteers. My church is not.

I have given up on asking for volunteers. The people most wiling to volunteer are frequently also the people least likely to be able to perform the work for which they volunteered. Volunteers are generally people who think they can do the job. The only people who think they can do a job are people who don’t know what the job is.

Cynicism makes up much of this opinion, but experience has informed it as well.

When we needed more volunteers for our kids’ ministry, we would throw out a general appeal. Terrible people ended up filling those roles. We had pregnant unmarried women, people arrested for drugs and drunk driving, and people who hated every minute of being there and merely agreed due to our guilt-ridden pleas.

I eventually cancelled the kids’ ministry due to the terrible level of “leadership” we were providing kids. I was hoping this would reform the leaders. Nope, they just got mad, left the church, and blamed my pathetic leadership.

Church buildings are maintained by volunteer work. I’m amazed more church buildings have not burned to the ground.

Chair carts are all the proof you need. If you tell a group to fold up their chairs and stack them on the cart; the leaned over, stuck together, facing every which direction mass of chairs, kind of on the cart, that will result will make you cry. Half the cart will be taken up by leaned over chairs, which makes others lean their chairs up against the cart rather than on the cart. This defeats the entire purpose of having a cart for chairs, people.

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Should Pastors Be Experts in Greek? μη γενοιτο!

The only actual perk of taking Greek in seminary is being able to tell people “I took Greek in seminary.”
@FailingPastor

 

 

The first seminary class I took was a summer class covering three years of college level Greek in 7 weeks. It was intense. It wasn’t easy. I can honestly say I followed quite a bit of it until we got to verb endings, then I began slipping. Luckily, I was able to hang on to my early success to scrape by with a solid C.

I took many more Greek classes, none of which helped me understand verb endings. I took the upper level classes on New Testament books that were for the Greek track students. I wrote papers referencing Greek words and sounded really intelligent.

Sounding intelligent at Greek has never been easier. The tools available today are astounding. I can only imagine what greater minds than mine could have come up with if they had access to the tools I have. To whom much is given, much is required.

On the other hand, to whom much is given, it’s easier to fool people you are better than you are.

I have no idea what Greek verbs are doing to this day. I’ve read books, worked through Greek workbooks, consulted Greek professors and Greek smart people, and I got nothing. I just don’t get it. I was told early on that if you were good with higher level math you’ll have no problem with Greek. Well, there you go. I took Algebra 2 twice in high school.

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A Humorous Pastor Dealing with Humorless Christians

The typical Christians’ ability to get a joke is a good indicator why there are no jokes in the Bible.
@FailingPastor

 

 

One entertaining thing about doing an anonymous Christian humor account on Twitter is the number of people who take me seriously. A quick glance at my timeline would demonstrate to people that I’m just making dumb jokes and an occasional point.

Yet the number of people who feel a need to correct my terrible (supposed to be kind of funny) take on pastoring, church, and Christians is quite large.

But non-humorous Christians are not just on Twitter; they are everywhere Christians are. Routinely I make jokes in my sermons. Very few jokes get a response. Maybe I’m not that funny, or maybe they’re all sleeping.

Several times people have taken issue with my sermon jokes. I said “shut up” one time in a joking manner in one of my illustrations. A family expressed their displeasure with me using that phrase and left the church not long after.

I made a joke one time about my son doing some dumb thing and how I wanted to kill him. My larger point was about the Gospel. My son might do something so bad I’d feel like killing him, but never would I feel like killing my son for a sin some other person did. I thought it was an insightful point about the Gospel. I was later lectured about promoting child abuse. These people left the church not long after as well.

On and on it goes. People need to lighten up. Here are a few quotes from G. K. Chesterton on the issue of humor and Christianity.

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The Preacher’s Dilemma: How Much Me is too Much Me?

As a preacher, I’m a one hit wonder. Once I preach, people wonder what I meant and then one guy hits me.
@FailingPastor

 

 

Preaching is hard.

Preaching carries weight with it. It’s not like giving a speech in speech class. Souls are on the line. Heresy is around every verbal bend. You can destroy people’s souls by saying something the wrong way. Not to mention giving an account before God someday for how I represented Him and His word.

Besides personal accountability, you also want to be understood. There’s no point in talking if people have no idea what you said. Tons of books have been written about preaching and effective communication. But there are pitfalls here. Paul says not to use words of human wisdom and smooth talk. We’re not selling something. We bring words of eternal life.

Many pastors decide to be boring. If we’re boring enough then anyone who hears what we say is proof it was God at work.

Others try to be as persuasive as possible, using all manner of salesmanship and personability. By any means necessary, trick them into getting saved by your rhetorical mastery.

Some use humor and entertainment.

I’m a funny guy. No really, I’m serious, I’m funny.

I can do a standup routing every sermon. I have that ability. I’ve done it several times. It feels good and people do enjoy it and hear what I’m saying. But does it convey scriptural truth, or am I just entertaining? Do people go away rejoicing in the Lord or celebrating my comedic genius? Do they remember the Scripture or just my clever illustration?

Pastors have to wrestle with this tension.

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