Editor’s Note: This is part 2 in a 4 part series on preaching from the layman’s perspective. Future installments include “What To Do When After I’ve Heard A Bad Sermon” and “What To Do After I’ve Heard A Good Sermon”. To read part 1, “How Do I Know When I’ve Heard A ‘Good’ Sermon”, click here.
This week we turn our attention from the major components found in a “good” sermon to the bad and the ugly (see what I did there?). In many ways, we could simply state the reverse of last week’s points.
Namely, a bad sermon is one: (1) in which the pastor assigns a meaning to the passage that would’ve been foreign to what the original author intended, (2) where the content of the sermon is void of any kind of biblical content, (3) which shows little concern for application, and (4) which is incomprehensible to the congregation.
But I would like to add one more to that list which makes a sermon “bad”.
A bad sermon is one that is laced with 2nd person pronouns (“you”) to the virtual neglect of 3rd person nouns and pronouns (“he”, “she”, “God”, etc.).
Why do I say that? Well, there are really two pitfalls to this type of sermon:
1. Application overtakes explanation.
When the preaching is so focused on what we are to do, ironically, little attention is given to the text itself. To put it plainly, preaching needs to help the listeners see how the passage gets to whatever the application is. For example, if Philippians 2:1-4 is quickly read and then jumps immediately to how YOU should seek the interests of others ahead of yourself, YOU still haven’t learned why Paul told the Philippians why THEY needed to that in the first place. The result is that the congregation may have the application clear in mind, but they still have no idea what the passage is actually about. What was going on in the church at Philippi that compelled Paul to write this? What issues were they dealing with? How do these issues parallel with the issues a church may face today? When the focus is on YOU, the time needed to actually explain the passage is minimized.
To be honest, many sermons I’ve heard that are dominated by the word YOU have betrayed a lack of attention to the passage on the pastor’s part. Perhaps he’s in a church so consumed with vision casting or getting to the “next level” that his time in sermon preparation is given last place and when he does finally sit down with the text, his aim isn’t to really understand the passage, but to try to hurry and find something “that will preach”. In a worst case scenario, this pastor might actually have no real love for the Bible at all, but instead is consumed by a desire to be relevant to his hearers. Assuming that the Bible surely can’t be of much help in such a task, his sermon is dominated by cultural references with a few Bible quotes thrown in to help “prove” the point he is trying to make.
2. This type of preaching perpetuates the idea that WE are the point of the Bible.
The main focus of the Bible is on God. His Person, His character, His work. When preaching is dominated by YOU we will find our thoughts turned inward and throughout the preaching event God becomes a secondary or even tertiary concern because we are so focused on ourselves. In short, this type of preaching causes us to be navel gazers.
So there you have it. Next week I will be talking about a continuum that these type of YOU sermons tend to fall on and I will offer some, hopefully, pastoral advice on what to do after you’ve heard a “bad” sermon, especially if these types of sermons make up the bulk of what you hear from the pulpit.
The photo above was produced by Boston Public Library and has been resized for this article. You may find the original photo here.