Top 10 preaching mistakes

It’s one of my privileges to hear many beginning preachers preach their first sermon. Sometimes, it’s stunning how God has gifted a person and you hope Seminary doesn’t spoil them! Usually, however, first sermons confirm the need for much further training. As I’ve listened over the years to students begin to preach, I’ve noticed the same mistakes arising again and again, the same mistakes that we all fall into from time to time. The ten most common are:

1. Cramming: Squeezing all you have ever studied about the Bible over the years into 30 minutes.

2. Skimming: Taking too many verses and simply skimming over the surface of the text, teaching nothing that someone with average intelligence would not have derived from the text themselves.

3. Floating: The preacher says many things that relate to the text, floating or hovering above the text, but fails to show how they are anchored in the text.

4. Proof-texting: Including lots and lots of texts from all over the Bible, and sometimes diverting hearers by expounding the proof texts as much as the sermon text.

5. Quoting: Too many quotes from commentators, theologians, and other preachers from the past and the present.

6. Lecturing: It’s difficult to define the difference between preaching and lecturing, but you know it when you see it/hear it. It’s about passion, eye-contact, persuasion, urgency, etc.

7. Assuming: Our own over-familiarity with the text results in us assuming that our hearers know the background of the text, the meaning of basic key words and concepts, etc. May also result in Mach 7 preaching speeds. And don’t assume your hearers are all converted either.

8. Confusing: Hearers are left confused usually because of a lack of structure or too complicated a structure (main points, sub-points, etc.); or sometimes there is a good structure, but it’s not sufficiently highlighted and emphasized so that hearers know where they’ve been, where they are, and where they are going.

9. Spraying: Lots and lots of data, but no single dominant thought; it’s the difference between a shotgun and a rifle.

10. Complicating: Instead of explaining the text, a preacher can actually make it more obscure. Usually involves words too big, sentences too long, concepts too abstract, language too philosophical/theological.

Maybe Monday morning is not the best time to post this, as many of us preachers are already immersed in our own sermon “post-mortems.” On the other hand, maybe it will help us figure out where we went wrong (again).

Children’s Bible Reading Plan (53)

Here’s this week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

Here’s this week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

And for those who want to start at the beginning, here’s six months of the morning and evening in pdf, and here’s six months of the single reading plan in pdf.

Here’s a brief explanation of the plan.

CK2:20 Preaching without notes?

Download here.

This week’s guest is Pastor Timmy Brister. A short time ago he wrote a blog post about the benefits of preaching from a manuscript. Most of you know that I have reservations about this (here and here)! So we invited Timmy on to discuss the pros and cons of each method.  We hope you enjoy it!

If you want to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

The “Gospel” of Art

What does art tell us about our culture’s hopes, values, and fears?

That’s the question this week’s Puritan Pod tries to answer following a visit to the Grand Rapids Artprize Festival, which awards the winner $250,000, making it the world’s largest art prize.

Email and RSS readers may need to click through here to view video.

Pastoral Picks (10/11)

Depression and schizophrenia
Could your depression be caused by inflammation in your gut? Some recent research on the gut/brain axis in depression. And The Wall Street Journal reports research on a hormone that may help treat “people with schizophrenia, autism and certain other psychiatric disorders related to social interaction.”

Encouraging the unemployed
Timely and helpful 4-part series from Paul Tautges (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Overcoming Temptation
Tim Challies has been doing a great job summarizing and simplifying John Owen on Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Part 1, and Part 2).

How to love your Pastor
How to love your pastor was written by Paul Tautges’ co-pastor, a man with 50 years pastoral experience! And this post by Brian Croft adds a further way to love your pastor: Ensure he takes a day off each week.

Consecutive Expository Preaching on Numbers
How do you divide up the book of Numbers for a preaching series? Doing the Numbers is Adrian Reynolds great answer at the Proclamation Trust.

The Christian Pundit
Here’s one you may want to add to your RSS reader or simply visit regularly. My Church History colleague at PRTS, Dr. William Vandoodewaard has started The Christian Pundit,  a tag-tem blog with his wife, Rebecca, both of whom are fine and stimulating writers. You’ll find an interview with Bill about his book on The Marrow Controversy here.

How do you decide what books to read? Tony Reinke lists six priorities he uses to make this decision. And you’ll definitely want to get his new book Lit! A Christian guide to reading books.

Traffic jams
Thankfully not a problem in my leisurely 8 minute drive to work each day. However, if you are afflicted with a long commute or regularly stuck in traffic, Trevin Wax has Five ways to redeem your ride to work.

The loner President and the loner pastor

Yesterday I dipped my toe into American politics and survived; it will probably be a while until I venture forth in that direction again. But I mentioned how many political biographies I’d read over the years – maybe a bit of an odd reading diet for a pastor and professor – and I’d like to explain why.

Partly it’s because they are so entertaining. And by that I don’t mean “funny,” but rather “enthralling…captivating…etc.” I love observing the rise and fall of powerful men and women; I admire their God-given gifts of organization, management, leadership, oratory, etc.; I tremble at their fatal flaws and mis-steps; I soar with awe at their courage and I sag with despair at their cowardice. Power is such a fascinating roller-coaster, isn’t it. As such these political bios have been a stimulating and enjoyable way to spend some of my evening hours.

I also love watching how God’s providence interacts with human affairs. Of course, rarely do the biographers or autobiographers attribute events to God, at least not the successes; but it’s so intriguing to read the same events through Bible-tinged glasses and see God’s interventions in powerful people’s lives. As Nebuchadnezzar found out, there is a King of kings and Lord of lords.

These books also give such insights into the dark depths of human nature. You see what people are prepared to do, say, and be in order to gain power, keep power, and deny power to others. You see what people do with power when they have it. I’m sure we hardly know even the half of it, but that half is bad enough. And an increasingly painful trend is the self-justification that rears its ugly head in many of the biographies. I like to see politicians, generals, etc, admit mistakes and take responsibility. But that rarely happens today. Instead it’s just page after page of self-vindication. Maybe it’s the political climate, but very few have the courage now to say, “I was wrong. I made a bad decision there.”

I have even learned many pastoral leadership lessons from these books. Of course, there are many aspects of political leadership that do not transfer to pastoral leadership, but there is some overlap, especially in the area of faults and weaknesses.

The loner President
Let me give you a recent example of this: two recent stories played the same note, though one played it with the left hand and the other with the right. Obama the loner president appeared in The Washington Post, a newspaper usually sympathetic to the President, and Aimless Obama walks alone was in the New York Post, not one of the President’s fans.

Both articles had the same theme: in the face of multiple difficult problems, President Obama withdraws from people and limits contact to a few close confidantes, spending the evenings in his office with books and his internet browser. Here’s how the (friendly) Washington Post begins its story:

Beyond the economy, the wars and the polls, President Obama has a problem: people.

This president endures with little joy the small talk and back-slapping of retail politics, rarely spends more than a few minutes on a rope line, refuses to coddle even his biggest donors. His relationship with Democrats on Capitol Hill is frosty, to be generous. Personal lobbying on behalf of legislation? He prefers to leave that to Vice President Biden, an old-school political charmer.

Obama’s circle of close advisers is as small as the cluster of personal friends that predates his presidency. There is no entourage, no Friends of Barack to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise.

Obama is, in short, a political loner who prefers policy over the people who make politics in this country work.

And here’s the New York Post’s take:

The reports are not good, disturbing even. I have heard basically the same story four times in the last 10 days, and the people doing the talking are in New York and Washington and are spread across the political spectrum.

The gist is this: President Obama has become a lone wolf, a stranger to his own government. He talks mostly, and sometimes only, to friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett and to David Axelrod, his political strategist.

Everybody else, including members of his Cabinet, have little face time with him except for brief meetings that serve as photo ops.

The president’s workdays are said to end early, often at 4 p.m. He usually has dinner in the family residence with his wife and daughters, then retreats to a private office. One person said he takes a stack of briefing books. Others aren’t sure what he does.

If the reports are accurate, and I believe they are, they paint a picture of an isolated man trapped in a collapsing presidency.

The Washington Post identifies this “isolationism” as a character trait, whereas the New York Post sees it more as a reaction to the difficulties of his presidency. It’s probably a bit of both. And although there’s probably a bit of exaggeration going on here, it does seem to fit the generally depressed picture of the President these days.

So where’s the pastoral takeaway?

Well, many pastors, by nature and temperament, prefer theology to people, preaching to pastoring, quiet to socializing, books to the BBQ. Such men must daily “deny themselves” and fight against their nature in order to visit, mix, and connect with people. But they also have to be extra careful when difficulties come into their ministries that they don’t default to withdrawal, isolation, and the select company of those who agree with them.

Whatever people think of Bill Clinton’s policies and personality, he certainly had “people skills” (yes, probably too many of them); he knew how to connect policies to people. Last month he was advising Democrats on how to overcome the Republican’s anti-government message. “If you’re going to fight that,” he told a room full of engrossed former advisers, “your counter has to be rooted in the lives of other people.”

That’s where our theology must be rooted as well – in the lives of our people. Theology in the abstract, disconnected from real life, will accomplish nothing and actually put distance not only between us and our people, but also between God and our people.

Our pastorates must be rooted in lives of our people also, and never more so than when difficulties and opposition arise. So, if you’re retreating to the study and the books because of an onslaught of pastoral problems, give yourself a good kick out of the door. (Or ask your wife to do it). Mix with your friends, spend time with your elders, visit the flock, and invite your enemies to the BBQ.