You know it’s gonna be a bad sermon when…

I’ve written about my sermon fatigue before. Honestly, I’d rather just have the preacher hand out copies of the text of his or her message and let me just read (or skim) them. I’m a terrible auditory learner, and retain only a small portion of what I hear – just like most of the rest of you. 

I attend church primarily to connect and worship with others, and usually do my best to hang in there and focus through the sermons. I appreciate the fact that we’re currently hearing someone actually preach most Sundays (instead of lecture, hector, opine or showboat). It makes the passivity of sitting and listening in a large group a little less passive for me when the person with the mic is pointing us all toward Jesus instead of a to-do list, a vat of shame or a giant stack of information. Lots of people far smarter than I have blogged or authored books about the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of most sermons, so I won’t go there now. 
 

Hearing some good, challenging sermons in recent weeks has reminded me of how fast a sermon can head south. (Sometimes the good can highlight just how bad bad can get.) With that in mind, here’s a list of a few neon verbal cues that tell me there’s gonna be a bad sermon ahead:

(1) The words, “I am really nervous.” This means I am now going to be focused on the speaker’s “performance”.
(2) After ten or fifteen minutes rambling about whatever pops into her head, she cracks open her Bible and says something like, “Let’s pray and start the message.” Hello – I thought the rambling was your message, not your own personal warm-up act. 
(3) The words “My hot wife”. It is usually a PG-13 reference to something intimate, and is designed to model to his congregation that he’s got a great sex life and a bonus – no hidden porn addiction. Wayyy. Too. much. information.
(4) A stack of word studies. “The Koine Greek word for chewing gum is…” A little of this goes a long way. It’s good to make connections and tell the story of the why behind the word when it is necessary. It is not good to do too much of this because then your congregation thinks that the only way they can read their Bibles is to enroll in seminary.
(5) A corny story or joke they got from an e-mail forward or a sermon website. Always excruciating, but fatal when the speaker has absolutely no sense of comic timing or delivery. 

(6) The word “Girlfriend” from a female speaker, as if she is my friend. She most likely is not. My actual girlfriends don’t call me “Girlfriend”.
(7) “The Lord spoke to me while I was driving to church this morning, and I’m going to throw out my prepared message.” I should put an asterisk next to this one. Because sometimes this sermon strategy is awesome. The Holy Spirit is moving the congregation in a fresh direction. Aaaannnd a lot of times these words mean that the “sermon” is a train wreck. It might be better to brood over that word for a few days instead of speaking on the fly.
(8) The words “Let us” – as in “Let us engage with the text”. Real people do not talk like this.

What would you add to this list?
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6 thoughts on “You know it’s gonna be a bad sermon when…”

  1. A heavy sigh and gaze towards the heavenlies, then lead into tear-jerking story. I DO NOT WANT the tear-jerking story because I don't want to have to wipe away tears in public, thanks.

    This is why I like my pastor – he may be guilty of doing the "Koine Greek for chewing gum" thing, but emotional stories during the sermon are not his style.

  2. I have more grace if the tear-jerking story comes from the speaker's experience. But if it something they got from an email forward, it is just as bad as a stupid joke.

    Jane, you have a very smart, educated pastor, and he is leading a very smart, educated congregation. I have a feeling he is sharing information not to be show-off-y, but as organic to his teaching. That's a big difference from a pastor whipping out the languages to impress or distance himself from his people.

  3. Well, this is true, and I find his comments on Greek & Hebrew very interesting. I've been doing some Beth Moore studies and she also whips out the Greek or Hebrew sometimes, but always in a very enlightening way.

    I agree some tear-jerking stories come from experience, but if the pastor has one every week, I am so put off.

  4. You know it's going to be a bad sermon when the person speaking opens with, "This isn't meant to be a rant." Yes it is!

  5. You know it's going to be a bad sermon when the person speaking opens with another illustration based on a movie. At that point all I want to hear is a review of the flick, not the sermon. Pass the popcorn.

  6. Hey, girlfriend (haha, just kidding). Okay, let me pray and begin my comment now. The fact that I find your post amusing, Michelle, perhaps reflects that I haven't experienced too many of these pastoral wastes of time. (Though you and I may hear the same sermons differently. For one thing, I AM an auditory learner!)I prefer preaching with practical applications. Also, I appreciate pastors' sharing personal struggles with the concepts in the scriptures. My sermon fatigue centers on too many history-lesson sermons fluttering around in the lofty attic of my brain, never flying close enough to my heart to pierce it.

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