Improving your Preaching: Detecting poor preaching and mediocrity

This post is just an introduction to the series.


Detecting Faulty Preaching
Build confidence with feedback good channels
Set up rules and procedures for handling feedback
Problem – Mediocrisy
How to Fix Mediocrisy
Dynamic life-changing preaching

In this post I reveal how to tell if your preaching is poor, and we examine mediocre preaching.


I think one of the most effective ways Satan has to destroy the church of God is when he gets into the pulpit with a preacher to make that preacher do things to run people off from true Christianity. It is sad to see preachers ruin their precious opportunity to minister to people because they are so thick headed that they cannot think, meditate, reflect, and correct what is wrong with their own preaching. In this series, I want to deal with a dozen or so (we will see how these go) issue on preaching. The idea is to simply help novice preachers and experienced preachers alike fine tune their pulpit demeanor and message to best win the hearts of their hearers, and do the work of God.

Detecting faulty Preaching

I think that every preacher needs to re-evaluate his preaching every year. constantly, trying to improve what he is doing. While many preachers presume that they preach well, they don’t. Fact of the matter. How do you discern when your “preaching isn’t working right?” The most obvious clue is when your church asks you to leave their church, i.e. the fire you. But that usually won’t happen over poor preaching except with very special churches. Most probably there will be a gradual drifting away of people, and that is paired with a lack of desire of new visitors to hang around. Good, biblical preaching strikes a resonant cord in the heart of a true Christian, and he wants more. Believe me, there is not much “good preaching” going on other there. I would recommend a few simple things that will help you to evaluate your own preaching.

Build confidence with feedback good channels

The first thing is listen to your wife. I am a pastor, and I have a wife, and I know that it is cruel and brutally painful to allow her to freely criticize my preaching, but it is necessary. She is about the only one that I cannot get away from or squish if they step on my feelings. A second avenue is to get several godly people in the congregation to give you PRIVATE feedback about your preaching. Private means you set up some rules with them not to share any of their opinions that they give you, not tell anybody what they are doing, and to not publicly comment to you about problems. You could do something radical, unbiblical (by most modern preachers), and call them “friends”. That will work! The point is that somebody out there needs to be able to tell you when you get up in front of everybody else that your zipper is down! The point is very simple. If you go into the pulpit (standing in front of everybody), who would have the confidence with you to tell you something you are doing is wrong? If there is nobody, then you are in a bad fix. The illustration with the zipper being down is just a clarification. When you (supposedly knowing what you are supposed to be doing) are doing something embarrassingly wrong, you need friends to be able to tell you the truth without any backlash from you against them. Another good person here is any retired pastors in your congregation. They too can be invaluable in helping you auto-evaluate yourself. Here it would be good to make it a rule, to periodically grab a cassette tape of one of your sermons, and actually listen to yourself without repreaching it with yourself as you listen. When you listen to a tape of yourself, pretend this is your worse enemy or competitor you are listening to, and criticize it rationally.

Set up rules and procedures for handling feedback

The most important thing to understand here is that you do not want to surround you with “yes-men”. You don’t want people who give you a unilateral “wonderfully done pastor” without even listening to what it is that you are doing. You want honest feedback that is truthful when there is praise, and bluntly truthful when there are problems. At times even these people, even another retired pastor do not understand the burden God has given you for an issue which you preach on, and so you take what they say “with a grain of salt,” but don’t step on their toes, just try to be courteous and take their advice anyway. You do not have to obey everything they say. When someone in your church complains or gives bad feedback about a sermon, analyze the sermon. Re-read the outline and see what exactly went wrong if anything. Some help here is in order:

  1. Listen to a tape of the sermon. Did it come out like you intended? Was what you imagined the sermon would be when you prepared it what happened?
  2. Get the outline out and listen to it again analyzing it. Did you try something new or different? Don’t repeat that thing! Did something distracting or disturbing you before or during the sermon? (A fight with your wife, or somebody telling you off before entering the pulpit is sure to ruin the best of sermons. Sickness, stomach ache from too much pizza last night?) Seek to avoid that in the future. Sometimes there are spiritual burdens weighing on you, and you need to take those to the Lord, and maybe broaden the ring of people praying for that.
  3. Ask for more feedback. You can go to various different people in the congregation present in the sermon and ask them about it. Don’t get offended when none of them remember even what it was about. That is common. Give a copy of the sermon to another pastor to evaluate for you. If you are embarrassed about doing that, there probably were grave issues wrong. Think about why you would not want your mother, your seminary sermon preparation professor or another pastor to actually hear the sermon and you will get to the heart of what is wrong.

Problem – Mediocrity

One of the most difficult sermon problems is simply you don’t know how to preach. Many preachers stand up and just talk. In another of this series, I will discuss “Why I manuscript my sermons.” This is a real problem with many preachers, they “ad lib” or talk off the top of their head, and that is the most common source of #1 heresy in your preaching, #2 Stupidity in your preaching, #3 Pastor-wife fights when discussing the sermon, #4 offended members caused by your preaching, #5 misinformed ideas about you, your doctrine, your church beliefs and practices, etc. The list could go on for a long time, but simply put, pray a lot over your sermons, and don’t put down anything that God doesn’t authorize, and in the pulpit, don’t say anything that God hasn’t touched your heart about beforehand. You want to “ad lib” sometimes, sure, go ahead. Give yourself 6 ad-libs every year. Use them wisely, and evaluate whether the perversity of your heart was pushing out through your mouth, and what you said “ad lib” would have been better being left unsaid!

Mediocrity is simply not being bad, but not being good either. The problem with mediocre preachers is that they attract unspiritual and unsaved “religious” people into their churches, and when this comes back to cause you problems because the quality of Christian in your church is low, you must blame yourself, (but most mediocre preachers don’t). The key element of really good, biblical preaching is spiritual change into the image of Jesus Christ. When you see people with spiritual problems get rid of them and grow into mature, godly men and women for Christ, and that is because of your preaching, then you can credit yourself with doing something right. Unfortunately, your preaching was probably the worse factor in dragging and holding back that goal was your preaching style. God worked even though you weren’t so great.

One time in my first years preaching weekly sermons, I preached a sermon that I thought was a great and tremendous sermon. Somewhere between Saturday night when I looked it over last, and Sunday 11 AM, something happened (had to be). But when I preached it, I fell on my face so bad that I wanted to renounce the ministry. It was a bloody disaster in every way. There were distractions, people were bored, I fumbled dozens of times in the delivery, I didn’t understand my own notes a dozen times, and the list could go on. That is one of those times when you sit down after you preach and think, I could be a really good (something other than a preacher), so why don’t I investigate that. After all, that horrible experience was over, I opened the invitation, and 2 people got saved. I almost cried. I don’t understand Lord! The point is that preaching is a small part of us. We “USE GOD’S WORD”, and that is the key.

But opening our Bibles and LETTING GOD ACTUALLY SPEAK, SPEAK THROUGH US, PUTTING HIS WORDS IN OUR MOUTHS, God does a work that is impossible for us to do alone. The sooner you learn that rule, the better. YOU MUST NOT DO ANYTHING IN THE PULPIT, EXCEPT LET GOD GET TO THEM THROUGH YOU! In our church here in Mexico, we have about 7-9 men preaching services or teaching Sunday School lessons. My theory is that mediocre preachers is that #1 they are novices lacking experience, and/or #2 they are egoists that believe that because it is them that is speaking, that gets them something with their audience.

How to fix mediocrity

Let’s define some things here. Mediocrity means that the preacher talks, but he doesn’t say anything that is new to the listener, or nothing worthwhile of his undivided attention. The preacher does “strike any responsive cords” within the minds of his audience.

People are cruel and unfair, and “the system” is cruel and unfair, so get over it, get used to it, and then work to defeat it. People project an image in their mind of what you are, and you make up a lot of that from little things, and as a result people don’t listen to what you actually say (which may be biblical and great) but they hear what they think you are saying (they form their own opinions, and what you say doesn’t make any difference because they have already concluded from the beginning pray that you are boring and they are going to flip through their phone or read from their Bible somewhere other than where you are because they have pre-formed a conclusion about you).

Dynamic life-changing preaching

The point is that you have to break out of that pre-formed opinions that others have about you, and boring preaching only reinforces the mold, it doesn’t break the mold. What preachers need to “aim for” in their preaching is life-changing sermons. By this I mean the listener learns something so important, so fresh, so dynamic, that it totally changes their life. I have seen large churches use a lot of bad methods and principles (not following the NT), and yet they are “successful”. The one element they do right is dynamic life-changing preaching.

The first thing is to take care of the details. When you are fighting the devil, you don’t give the devil any ammunition to use against you! This is seen first by your outward appearance and presentation. There are a lot of preachers who go into the pulpit Sunday morning in blue jeans and a tank top. Don’t be one of them. If there is anything that teaches a congregation to disengage from the preacher and the sermon, it is this grunge statement that “I am informal.” Wear a nice suit, a tie, and be formal. You are either 1) God’s messenger (look like then), or 2) you are just a joe speaking his own message that may be moral but is unlinked from any formality with God. Think about that. Secondly, you set the environment of the sermon. Are you delivering God’s message, or are you sitting around a campfire with a couple of beers and friends talking and having fun? Your identification is with God? or Are you trying to “be one of the guys”? (Christians don’t drink alcohol by the way, but many pastors want to get as close to the unsaved world as they can “to identify”, and this is the problem why your preaching doesn’t have any impact). Later in another post in this series, I will deal with Entertainment and the sermon, but what is your purpose? Entertaining the people (tickling their fancy) or delivering the message of God?

Second thing is that you don’t make unbiblical statements or teach unbiblical things. Let’s face it, we all have personal ideas we put out sometimes, but as a rule, we cannot back them up with Scripture (or we would). These things are what Satan uses to first lure us as a preacher “to speculate”, and then he points out the biblical errors in what we have said to undermine anything biblical we may say.

Thirdly, improper statements said by the preacher is what Satan also uses. A private fact revealed from a private conversation with someone used in a sermon illustration will destroy the preacher. An unfair word, the preacher making a bold and opinionated statement like “I wish Obama would just die” is likewise another element Satan uses to ruin the preacher’s testimony and effect. (Note: Politicians live by the rule of compromise what they “have” or their morals, in order to get what they “want” politically. Therefore no politician is a strong, good Christian, they all are marginal Christians at best, so don’t make out your favorite politician as a “national savior”, because God might let him win, and then the embarrassment when his true colors come out! Keep religion in its place and politics in its place also!)


Make your words count. Don’t say anything except what is important and to the point. If you were to die and go to heaven, and God was to allow you to return and give a sermon of only 1000 words, would you tell the people about the clouds or correct what they don’t understand correctly about Jesus and salvation? You would use what opportunity you have to make the most impact on the people possible. That should be your attitude in preaching.

More Posts on Improving Preaching Issues

Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.