7 Greatest Preaching Mistakes to Watch Out For

Have you ever preached a sermon, walked away and thought, “That was NOT good?”  Yep, us too.  So in this episode of the “Hello Church!” podcast, we’re going to tackle the seven worst preaching mistakes and how you can avoid them.   

If you find yourself relating to more of these than you’d like, you’re not alone.  We were shocked by how often we remembered making these very mistakes, often without realizing we were making any mistakes.  Some of these issues boil down to actual preaching techniques, but others are related to how you prepare for your sermon.  Let’s start with the easiest ones to fix: the ones that relate to preparing your sermon.

Mistake #1: You don’t have a preaching calendar

We’ve talked about this before, but having a plan is essential to making sure you can adequately develop your topic.  Justin describes most sermons today as, “The equivalent of taking a piece of beef, putting it in the microwave, and calling it a steak when you pull it out.”  That may sound harsh, but we’ve repeatedly seen that the majority of pastors don’t start preparing their sermons until Thursday.  That’s not enough time for the ideas to cook to perfection, or even excellence.  A calendar enables you to avoid rushing through the process in an effort to church something out for the weekend.

If you’re unconvinced, study your messages from the past 6 months.  As you do, write down the following:

  • The illustrations you’ve used more than once.
  • The passages and books of the Bible you’re preaching from.
  • The topics you’re covering.

If you’re like most people, you’re going to find that you tend to tell the same stories, preach from the Pauline epistles, and talk about the same topics over and over again.  If this is the case, it’s time to ask: how can I do a better job of tracking this so that I’m doing a better job at equipping my people to live out their faith in every area of their lives? Our answer isn’t going to surprise you- work the redundancies out of your plan by using a preaching calendar!

If you know you need a preaching plan but don’t have time to put one together, all is not lost.  There are many resources out there to help.  In fact, at MinistryPass, we’re going to be releasing our popular preaching calendars next month!  Whether or not you use our product, however, we think our preaching calendar is a good example of what to do when you’re planning.  Just looking at it is going to help you as you put together your plan for 2021.

Mistake #2: You don’t have a preaching team

Equipping your people to live lives full of faith starts by making sure you’re not constantly repeating yourself.  However, it doesn’t stop there.  If you’re the only one preaching every week, you’re doing yourself and your congregation a disservice.  Other people bring different perspectives and angles to the table, that will enrich your congregation’s understanding of Scripture and who God is.  At the same time, having a week off will allow you to rest and work on what’s coming next.  

In fact, if you’re working on putting together a preaching calendar for next year, it might be to your advantage to bring in a guest speaker for two weekends in a row.  That way, you have time to plan for the year ahead, which will pay HUGE dividends.

Mistake #3:  You use a slow introduction

What’s the quickest way to lose the attention of your audience?  Start with something boring.  The first few seconds of your message are crucial, because that’s the only time during the message that you have the attention of everyone in the room.  Don’t waste them.  Instead, jump into your message with both feet.  Here are a few things to avoid:

  • Don’t start with housekeeping items (i.e., greeting someone in the audience, adding extra announcements, or mentioning prayer requests).  There will be time for housekeeping items later, but not at the beginning of your message.  If you’re afraid that you won’t be able to cover the things you want to mention, then plan to talk about them during a different part of the service.

     

  • Avoid telling long stories right off the bat.  It’s okay to open with a story- in fact, you should do whatever you need to do to point people to the text.  Just make sure you get to the point as soon as possible.

     

  • Don’t resolve too much in your introduction.  Building tension will help people pay closer attention.  After all, what great movie is resolved in the first 10 minutes?  Give them just enough to get them interested, so that you can develop the ideas further.

     

  • On a related note, if you’re going to start a story and come back to it later, let people know.  You can come out and say the point of the message first, then take people where you want to go along the way.  This is a technique filmmakers sometimes use to build tension- by showing a clip of the climax before taking you back to the beginning of the story.  You can use it, too!

Finally, make sure you’re always checking your introduction against the litmus test of relevancy.  As Andy Stanley says, “Adults learn on a need-to-know basis.”  You want people to sit up and say, “I need to pay attention to this!  It relates to me and my world.”  This shouldn’t be hard.  After all, the Bible operates in the real world.  So make sure you’re telling people right away how what you’re about to share relates to them.  

Mistake #4:  You use cheesy illustrations

You know the feeling- you tell a story that used to be SO powerful or hilarious, but it falls flat?  Using an illustration too many times can be really hard to avoid, but here are some easy ways to make your illustrations more exciting:

  • Don’t use illustrations from sermon illustration sites or commentaries you’ve used before.

     

  • Don’t use stories with predictable storylines.

     

  • Leverage your preaching calendar and topic schedule to make sure you’re not repeating yourself all the time.

At the same time, we’re not arguing that you shouldn’t use illustrations- far from it!  Illustrations are great communication tools- after all,  Jesus used them!  While you may not ever become an expert parable-teller, your illustrations can give people insight into the text or into your personality as a leader.  Both are valuable, as long as the illustrations are good ones.

Bottom line?  Don’t be cheesy.  Just be you!

Mistake #5: You talk about yourself too much

This is a very easy mistake to make.  After all, we tend to view life through the lens of our personal experience.  While personal experience is powerful, it’s not enough when it comes to teaching people about God.  Your people need to see that Christianity is bigger than your church and your area of the world. At the same time, teaching on faith cannot and should not be isolated to your personal ups and downs.

The best way to avoid this mistake?  Tap into other people’s perspectives.  When you’re a full-time pastor, it’s easy to be somewhat removed from the real-life issues of families in your church.  However, by making a conscious effort to learn from other people’s lives, you can break away from preaching solely on the basis of your own experiences.

Mistake #6  You constantly make yourself the hero

Painting yourself as the hero can come in a few forms.  It might sound a little bit like bragging about your good works by using them as an illustration.  Or, in a more subtle way, it could mean that you’re constantly talking about yourself as someone who was mistaken but then enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  Both are bad formats to use excessively in your sermons.

This doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate to inspire people with the things God has led you to do, but it does mean that you should share those stories sparingly.  Sure, God is working on and through you, but you probably don’t have a new revelation every single week.  This is about Jesus.  Don’t make it about you.

If you look at some of the greatest speeches of our time, the leaders who made them often don’t make themselves the hero.  They make their listeners the heroes.  This is a much more effective way of inspiring people to action.  After all, if you’re busy painting yourself as some super-spiritual pastor, why should people think they could ever measure up?

Mistake #7: You fail to end on a strong note

 The psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes what’s called “Peak-End Theory,” which states that we, as humans, do not judge an experience based on the sum of its parts.  Instead, we judge it on the peaks and ends.  

What does this mean for you?  Basically, a strong conclusion can take a sermon that’s not great and make people’s impressions of it pretty decent.  A weak ending can turn a great sermon into something that’s not worth remembering.   Don’t settle for winging your ending- that will only add length and confusion to your message.   Instead, make sure you spend a considerable amount of time planning and preparing for the end of your sermon.

If you’re not sure how to plan your ending, start by writing out your main objective.  Make sure you know what you want your people to do after the end of the message.  This could be a change in thinking, change in attitude, or a change in something they’re going to do over the next week.  Then, make sure you state it clearly and strongly at the end, and that the points you’ve been making lead to the objective.

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