Preaching is one of the pastor’s main tasks. It’s interesting to note that it’s also one of the pastor’s hardest tasks. It is so important to “get it right,” which is easier said than done. With that in mind, there are several pitfalls that every pastor should avoid. These pitfalls can render sermons ineffective and forgotten. Here are the top ten.

  1. No main point. Sermon buster number one: you have no point to what you’re trying to say. Though it sounds too facile to be true, think back to some of your less-than-humdinger sermons (unless you don’t have any, of course). If someone asks a listener, “What was that sermon about?” right after they heard it, they should be able to say a few words, a phrase, or even a sentence or two that describes the sermon. If you cannot explain the point of your sermon in one sentence, you probably need to go back to the sermon-drawing board and rethink what you’re trying to say. The sermon must have a main point. This is not to say that you don’t have a three point outline. That’s fine. But the outline needs to be pointing to something–a main thing. Preach one idea.
  2. No Bible, skewed Bible, or context-ripped Bible. Assuming that you are a Christian preacher, the Bible is your one-and-only touchstone of truth. It is the basis for everything you believe and do. Thus, it is the content of every sermon you preach. It is the inspired Word of God. It is powerful, effective, and profitable. So preach it. Any sermon that is Bibleless will be powerless. Skewing God’s Word can also be a huge problem. Taking a passage and twisting it in such a way that it matches what you’re trying to say is dishonest and dangerous. A common fallacy of Bible-teaching is to take a phrase or a verse that sounds good, and use it to prooftext your sermon. Big mistake. Context is Scripture’s best interpreter, and to rip a verse right out of context will leave you with a verse that doesn’t say what you’re trying to make it say. For helpful resources check out Biblical Preaching (by Haddon Robinson) a great book for beginner preachers, or Exegetical Fallacies (by D. A. Carson), a handy book for those who are more familiar with interpretation tools and the original languages.
  3. Too many jokes or illustrations. Ah. Illustrations. Jokes! The spice of a sermon, right? Of course. Illustrations are wonderful and necessary (see pitfall #4). But you can end up with a sermon that is a bit too spicy. When illustrations dominate a sermon, edge out the Scripture, take up more time than biblical explanation, and are used as manipulative tools, they have gone too far. The point of an illustration is to, uh, illustrate. In other words, a good illustration makes a biblical point clearer. Illustrations are not entertainment tools. Keep them in their proper place. Preachers can quickly degenerate into storytellers, stand-up-comedians, or self-help counselors, telling his congregation an ear-tickling rehearsal of jokes, personal interest stories, and dumb things that he or his relatives did. That’s not preaching the Word. Avoid it.
  4. No illustrations. To careen to the other side of the road–no illustrations–is a dangerous over-correction. Illustrations serve their purpose when they can make a biblical text or explanation more understandable. It’s not wrong to be interesting. Illustrations do produce an attention-grabbing effect that can enhance your delivery. Use them. A good illustration is well-thought out, carefully developed, and strategically introduced into the sermon at the proper place.
  5. No outline. Being a slave to your outline is one thing, but having an outline to guide your discussion is quite another. You need an outline. An outline gives structure to a sermon. It helps you progress through your explanation. It keeps you from darting off on rabbit trails. It keeps you from forgetting what you will say. It also helps your hearers to follow your explanation. An outline is very important to the development of a sermon. Be sure that your outline is a clear analysis of what the text says. One of the best ways to help your people follow your outline is to use a PowerPoint template as you preach. View Sharefaith’s collection, or click here to get started.
  6. Rants, hobbies, or pet peeves. The pulpit is not a soapbox. The pulpit is a place where you proclaim God’s Word. One of the main pitfalls in preaching is to use your weekly public-speaking opportunity to air things that bother you. Maybe you’re even bothered by something that is legitimately wrong–bad politics, environmental waste, Christians watching too many movies, etc. But when you take every opportunity to harangue about this topic, you are doing your people a disservice. You are abusing our office as a shepherd of the sheep. They need to hear God’s Word–not your personal feelings on an issue. On the other hand, some preachers have hobbies. I know a preacher who is passionate about personal counseling, a pastor who is passionate about missions, and a pastor who is eager about the church’s ministry in taking neighborhood children to their church in the church busses. In each case, however, every sermon that these pastors preached was predictable. The pastor who was an expert Christian counselor had neat nouthetic counseling outlines for every sermon. The pastor with missions zeal found a Great Commission application in nearly every text. The point of the Bus Pastor’s messages was always: “Get involved in the bus ministry!” Although I admire each of the men’s passion, I question the wisdom of honing in on a hobby during their preaching. People yearn for the Word. People need the Word. As you preach the Bible, systematically and faithfully, you can help yourself to keep away from hobbies, and give people what they truly need.
  7. Self talk. You may be one of the best pastors in the nation, a pastor with a fascinating childhood, and a pastor with very funny kids, but that does not mean that you should talk about yourself all the time. Consistent references to “I,” “me,” “we,” “my family,” “let me tell you about a time that I…”, ad infitum can be nauseating. A preacher who talks about himself a lot is, by default, not talking about God or His Word as much. People aren’t at church to learn about you. They are at church to learn about God, to worship Him, to see Him. Not you. Trim self-talk from your sermon.
  8. Too long. If you are an advocate of the long sermon (and what preacher doesn’t have the propensity to go overtime?), I can predict that you may have dozens of objections to this “pitfall.” Yes, people should be more eager to hear the Word. Yes, what you’re saying is good, even after 120 minutes of it. Yes, it’s God’s Word and is important. Yes, the people only come to church once a week, so this is your chance to give ’em the goods until next week. Yes, in some countries the Christians gather to hear God’s Word for eight hours at a stretch; shame on us for not doing the same. But until your people reach that level of maturity, keep your sermons to a manageable length. Be realistic. No matter how good your sermon is after 80 minutes, people are tuning out. They won’t hear it. This is not an advocacy for the 15-minute sermonette. This is a plea for reasonable, effective, and Bible-focused messages that people will listen to. I know wonderful churches where the people can stay engaged with a sermon for 60 or 70 minutes. Other churches may be more suited to sermons that are 30-45 minutes. Know your people, and preach biblical sermons of a length that is appropriate for your listeners.
  9. Topical-only. Topical preaching is preaching that consists of week after week of sermons that deal with topics, not single texts. Topical preaching often starts with a topic, say courage. Then, the preacher finds Bible passages that deal with the topic of courage. And he preaches a message. Which is fine. But a steady diet of that may not be so fine. Why not? Because it fails to present the Bible for what it is. The Bible is more than a hodge-podge of prooftexts supporting a series of topical messages. The Bible is the revelation of God Himself. The Bible consists of books, chapters, and letters. Not just single verses. The Bible has a theme. A story. A narrative. A preacher who preaches the Bible will find a rewarding treasure trove of powerful truth, life-changing passages, and a healthy congregation. Instead of scrambling for topics each week plus verses to match, try preaching through a book of the Bible. Start with a short one, like the book of Titus. Meditate, exposit, understand, and explain, beginning in Titus 1:1. Find out what God is saying through Paul’s letter to Titus. I think you’ll find it to be rewarding. As an enhancement to your expository preaching, use these books of the Bible PowerPoint templates as a visual aid. Topical messages are fine from time-to-time. Sharefaith has a collection of helpful PowerPoint sermons that can give you stunning visual aids for topical messages that center on a single text. Expository preaching doesn’t meant that you avoid topics. It simply means that you address topics as they come up in the text. For example, a message on Romans 12:1-2, of course, will probably deal with the transformed mind.
  10. Jumping to application without explanation. Like many issues in preaching, there are two extremes on a given issue. In the issue of application, those extremes are as follows: 1) go straight to application without explaining the text, 2) stay on explanation without ever going to application. Both are wrong. Since the straight-to-application fallacy seems more widespread, let’s think about it for a second. Application is great. But application without explanation is empty. Think about it. When you give someone an order, there needs to be some context or rationale for it. If I say “climb up on your chair!” then it would be helpful for you to have an understanding of who commanding you and why. “Why do you have a right to tell me to get on my chair? What kind of authority do you have? Why should I stand onto my chair? Is there a viper about to strike my leg? Is there a stream of hot lava flowing my way?” Application in sermons works somewhat the same way. If you apply a text without explaining it, people may be wondering, asking, or thinking: “Why? Is that really in the Bible? Why did God say that? What is the reason? What did that passage say to the 1st century believers? What did their culture have to do with it? But what about that word; how does that play into what you’re saying? And what about the passage in the Psalms, from which this verse is quoting? What is the flow of Paul’s argument here, anyway?” Maybe your listeners don’t have the level of Bible-knowledge to ask those kinds of questions. All the more reason to carefully explain the text. An application-focused ministry is one in which people may end up blindly following a controlling leader who tells them what to do, rather than understanding the Bible, loving God, and being obedient to Him.

Your task as a preacher is of utmost importance. Sharefaith wants to help you. If you don’t already use PowerPoint sermon templates to do so, we recommend you get started. Get started today.

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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One Response

  1. Jerry Guyers

    Good post if you can make it through the whole thing!

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