Following on from this post on how to listen to a sermon, I thought that we needed to address the issue of how to listen to a particular type of sermon; the rubbish one. We’ll get to that I promise. But first let me suggest that, in my opinion, there are seven things that make a sermon rubbish. There’ll be more than that I’m sure. But how about this for starters!
It’s worth saying (in case there’s any doubt) that I have been, repeatedly am and inevitably will be guilty of some (if not all) of the things that follow. But it’s helpful to know what I’m trying to avoid even if I don’t always manage it!
1. A sermon is rubbish when it doesn’t explain the Bible
This ought to be fairly self evident. And so I won’t spend much time on this. But I assume that the reason we go to church is to hear God’s voice in the scriptures. We’re not interested in the random speculations or radical opinions of the preacher. We want to know what God thinks. And so if a sermon makes no attempt to explain the that’s been read, then it’s not doing what we’d expect it to be doing. And that’s rubbish!
2. A sermon is rubbish when it’s hard to follow
If a sermon lacks clarity, simplicity and logic then it’s just so hard to get the gist of what’s being said. Those of us on the receiving end need to be taken through an argument bit by bit in a clear and simple way so that we see what’s going on. We don’t want to be impressed. We want to understand. Sometimes people preach as though they’re expecting us to do the final editing and put the sermon together ourselves. If it’s too involved and complicated then we get frustrated and just quit listening. And that’s rubbish!
3. A sermon is rubbish when it’s too dense
If a sermon has too much in it then people get crushed by the volume of material they’re supposed to take onboard. We just end up overwhelmed. I think back to a series I did about five years ago where I tried to summarise the whole Bible’s teaching in seven weeks. At the time I thought it was a bold and ambitious move. It was well intentioned; I thought we’d all benefit from an overview of the major topics in the Bible. Now I just think it was ill judged and poorly executed! It’s true that solid sermons can give us something to chew on. But they can also give us indigestion. And that’s rubbish!
4. A sermon is rubbish when it’s boring
One of my mentors in ministry used to say ‘there’s only one thing worse than heresy and that’s making the Bible boring’. He didn’t mean it, but I understand where he was coming from. It’s criminal if we take the breathed out word of God and use it to send people to sleep. If a sermon is uninspiring, uninteresting and unexciting the congregation will slowly lose the will to live! And that’s rubbish!
5. A sermon is rubbish when it uses inaccessible language
I love language. I think a well chosen word can add colour and feeling. My danger is that I would rather use a multiplicity of words where one will do! But it’s so easy to be doing so for the wrong things. We don’t want sermons that impress people with their use of words, skilful composition and rhetorical flourish. We want sermons that explain and apply the word of God in an unmistakable way. If a sermon is built too much on a commanding knowledge of the English vocabulary then it’ll only reach those that have swallowed a thesaurus. And that’s rubbish!
6. A sermon is rubbish when it lacks helpful illustration
An illustration is an analogy that helps us see the point in a different way. Those of us on the receiving end need not only an explanation of the truth but a demonstration of the truth. We need a ‘for instance’ or ‘it’s just like’ so that we can see clearly what’s being said. That said I’d rather have no illustration than bad illustration. But that’s a discussion for another time.If a sermon only deals in explanation and not illustration there’s a real danger that the penny never drops. And that’s rubbish!
7. A sermon is rubbish when it ignores the implications
Application is what the Bible is for. The application of a Bible passage concerns how it impacts our lives. We mustn’t let our sermons fly around in the upper atmosphere without bringing them into land. But as someone has said, ‘it’s safer to stay up in the clouds – hitting the ground hurts’. The ongoing presence of our sinful nature means that we’re predisposed to keeping the implications of God’s word at arm’s length. There’s no better way to do that than to keep the applications conceptual rather than actual. If a sermon is only ever the exploration of a concept or a theme and never actually shows how that concept or theme matters then it’s a theoretical lecture. It’s not a sermon. And that’s rubbish!
I have given more than my fair share of rubbish sermons. I don’t mean to. It just happens! I mentioned in a past blog post that I’ve probably spoken for longer than nine whole days at evening church in CCB. I dare not think for how much of that time I was rubbish! But I’d also like to think the percentages are improving all the time!
I’ve gone for seven. I won’t have covered all the bases. But that’s what the comments box is for! This could run. And run.