Many preachers like to give surprises to their people. Their sermon is one of those surprises. Actually, the people have no idea where he is headed even half-way through his sermon, and by the end, they still are lost as to what he is talking about.
Let your Yea be Yea, and your Nay Nay
Christ taught the importance of not entering into dubious speech. Deceiving speech in one where what is said is not what really is. An example here is when a preacher says that the sermon today is “Once saved always saved: The assurance of our Eternal Salvation.” Before halfway through the sermon, he hits on Bible versions and talks on that the rest of the sermon. Say what you mean, and live what you say.
Truthfulness, even in the presentation of sermons, should be a characteristic of all Christians, especially preachers.
Rambling is moving about a lot without any real purpose except to hear yourself talk. You do not really fulfill the purpose of the sermon (communicating your divine message to your hearers). When you say things that don’t directly relate to your sermon, you are rambling. If you record your sermon and then listen back to it, you can identify the parts that “don’t belong”. Be heavy handed in cutting out anything that doesn’t belong in your sermon.
It is frustrating for a preacher to stand up and tell us what we are going to hear today and then he doesn’t spend hardly any time on that topic! He has lied to us, so why should we believe anything he has to say to us!
The central problem here has its roots in the sermon preparation.
See post Preaching and the Clock by John MacArthur. Comments below are mine about his article.
MacArthur’s point is that a sermon should adequately cover the topic, whether that takes a lot of time or not. He sets the optimal time at 40 minutes (for biblical exposition). He says, “Rarely does a man preaching twenty-five to thirty minutes do doctrinal exposition.“
“That is why developing the logical flow of a sermon is crucial. If your message is clearly outlined and you lead your people through the process of discovery, you will hold their attention. Your sermon must be going somewhere. You cannot merely give a number of assorted truths unrelated to each other. If your sermon lacks interest because it is disjointed, your people will lose interest.”
Note that MacArthur advocates preaching through books of the Bible which is good. But even so, he makes the following statement, “At times, too, you will need to deal with a specific topic. You may find that people in your church are being influenced by an unbiblical teaching that you must combat. Or they may be confused over a Bible passage or a theological issue. Also, you may occasionally see a need to preach about the biblical view of a significant world event. In general, though, preaching through a book will not bore people if you are an interesting preacher. This is the purest form of expository preaching. “
The point is that you must deal with the sins and needs of your people above all else.
Decide on a central theme, and stick to it.
When God gives you a message (and nothing else will do if you want real preaching), then it should be summarized in a concise thesis statement, yes, a thesis statement like in school. This concise statement is the center of your sermon, and everything you say should be directly related to it. If you say, we will be dealing with eternal security today, then you should limit everything you say to that. You may use an illustration that begins with something your people won’t associate with eternal security, but after the illustration is given, there should be no doubt as to how that illustration did tie things into the central theme.
In this same vein of things, you should eliminate all jokes, all warmer up material, and all personal things that you say about your church, yourself, or your family that doesn’t tightly fit into the central theme. Some pastors work so hard to get personal ancedotes into their sermons that if they spent that time and energy on making a good sermon, they would be the best in the country. Say what you have to say without giving any glory to yourself. That is the way of a godly man.
If you have material that is really, really good, but it doesn’t quite fit, make a new sermon with it, but leave it out of your present sermon.
Commit with your people: Give them a copy of the sermon
As a rule in my church, I write tracts, 2 pages, front and back of a single sheet, with three columns on each side. What does that do? Each person in the congregation gets one at the beginning of my sermon.
1. I commit with my people that this is what I am going to preach today. From the beginning prayer, they know what the sermon is about, how long it is going to be, and where I am in the sermon flow.
2. If they “get lost” in the sermon from something I said, or from day-dreaming, they can easily get back into where we are by referring to the paper outline. One of the advantages of giving copies of your sermons to your people is that they can follow along, and stay with you. Sometimes the trade off is that they get ahead, but if you forcefully and dynamically explain the sermon, they will stop reading ahead and listen to what you have to say.
3. They stop worrying about you going over-time. With many preachers, they preach long, longer than they should. Many of these preachers lose members because of this. When you use a written outline, and you give your congregation that outline before you start, they have your promise that this is what you are going to deal with today. After a dozen times, you do this, they will know whether you keep your word or not. For the preacher, this giving them the outline also has certain advantages. You will know pretty accurately how much material you can deal with in the normal time slot allotted. When I wrote out my sermons completely including verses, I knew that an 8 page (double spaced, front only) sermon was THE MOST I COULD GET THROUGH in a Sunday AM service. 6 was kind of short, and 10-14 was just a wish that never was going to happen. If you go back and check your time limit preaching sermons (or write them down on your sermon outlines for a couple of months), you can get a pretty close estimate of how many pages of material you can deal with over such and such time.
When you give them a one-page sermon in the form of a tract, or a sermon outline in the bulletin, or a small piece of paper with the sermon outline on it, they will know where you are going, and how you are progressing. Note that it is extremely wrong for you to develop a 12 point/subpoint sermon and then spend half your time on the introduction. It is just wrong. You misuse your time.
4. When the sermon is over, they have a take-home copy. What we are doing is trying to change these people listening to us, The sermon should be a life-changing event, and so often, your listeners cannot remember what the sermon was about by the time they get to the door. How much time and energy do you spend on your sermons? Do you feel bad when people don’t show up, chat with their neighbor while you are preachers, or snore in your sermon? Yes? Why? Because they are despising your labors. But if your labor is valuable (and it should be), then you too should make it as long lasting as you can. Make a tract out of it, or put the sermon notes on the Internet, and by all means, give your people a copy of it. This is because the longer they can meditate on it, the more eternal benefit you will have gotten from your labors.
I have found that my people remember my sermons, and if they have the old sermon outlines someplace at home when an issue I preached on comes up, they can find it and share it with somebody else or review for their own affirmation.
More Posts on Improving Preaching Issues
- Sermons: Moving people from where they are to where you want them
- 7 Deadly sins of speaking
- Improving your Preaching: Detecting poor preaching and mediocrity
- What should we Preach?
- Qualities of Good Preaching
- What makes a Good Sermon? What is an Inspiring Sermon?
- Why I give a written sermon outline to my people
- Seven Marks of a Good Sermon
Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.