Unfortunately, meeting with church leaders, where a pastor left “poorly,” is all too common in my life. “Our last pastor didn’t feed me,” is a common complaint. It’s not a fair gripe, as we all know that preaching is subjective, and reaching a diverse (in theology and style preferences) congregation is an extremely difficult task. Nevertheless, it’s amazing how many pastors get into trouble over their preaching! A closer examination of these situations has shown me the top three takeaways that will keep preaching from becoming a pastor’s downfall.
- Preach your own sermons! There must be an app out there that mimics Siri’s ability to “Name that Tune.” The “Name that Sermon” app instantly detects where a sermon comes from, and church members will soon find out if you aren’t preaching original sermons. One pastor preached a sermon recently that was at least 50% from various sources. I knew because I had recently read the same explanations and illustrations from pastor/preacher resources. But he named these sites! He held up print outs and read from them. He will get in no trouble for his approach. It’s the person who pretends a sermon is completely original that discovers plagiarism doesn’t work in the classroom or the pulpit. [Note: I don’t think there’s such an app, but someone should run with this idea and make a lot of money.]
- Don’t preach fake news! I’m not talking about any particular news feed. I’m talking about promoting as facts illustrations that are false and/or unverifiable. Even if your sermon is all yours (see point 1), this second misstep can ruin your ministry. Recently, I’ve heard a preacher say the Texas flag doesn’t have to be flown lower/subordinate to the U.S. flag because Texas was once its own Republic. False. Another preacher said a young Abraham Lincoln bought a slave girl and set her free. Beyond dubious. And then there’s the preachers who say that Christians shouldn’t have financial, physical, or relational problems—well, that’s a different issue. The point is that parroting misinformation will quickly mean your people won’t trust you, and that makes you a lame duck.
- “I don’t do pastoral care. I spend all my time studying the Bible, so I’m ready to feed the flock on Sundays.” While I respect the voice of serious sermon prep, this doesn’t fly. Churches often call someone based on their ability to preach one or two good sermons, but they will only keep you if you are a pastor. With pastor-size and family-size churches (up to about 200 in average attendance), particularly, “it’s all about relationships, dummy.” A bad sermon can be forgiven by those who love you because you first loved them.
Counter these missteps by a few obvious reactions. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to prepare sermons, and educate your congregation about this need. Then, don’t wait until the last minute to prepare. Start early. Even if you have completed preaching courses, stay fresh with continuing education, seminars, reading, etc. Put on your Critical Thinking hat before you repeat stories, but also utilize snopes.com type of websites to fact check and verify. And though you might spend half your time in sermon preparation, spend the other half with the people.