Are you losing people when you preach? Do people check out during your sermons?
After listening to thousands of sermons and preaching quite a few myself, I have learned eight different ways that pastors lose people in their sermons.
1. Sloppy transitions. You just told a great story. It was funny and thought-provoking. But as soon as the story ended, you suddenly switched direction and started talking about something else.
Wait, what? Slow down. How did we get from that funny thing your kid did to some old guy in the Old Testament?
Where is the connection?
“Pastor, the minute you decide church must always be exciting is the moment you begin turning the worship services into pep rallies. After that, it all goes downhill.”
I said that on Facebook the other day and enraged a few people.
“Worshiping the Lord should always be exciting,” one person insisted. I replied, “I’m doing the funeral of a 53-year-old man today. It will be comforting, but not exciting.”
I understand where the guy is coming from.
I’m not sure most of us preachers fully believe the scriptural command to avoid word fights:
“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers” (2 Tim. 2:14, NASB).
After all, aren’t some words worth wrangling over?
“Wrangling about words” conjures images of cowboys at the corral trying to tame a bucking theological term that won’t hold still.
Everywhere I go, I hear that song playing. It’s on TV, radio, at ball games, in convenient stores—all over.
It’s gotten stuck in my head. So I started thinking on the title and reflecting on past experiences and conversations.
I started thinking about how many pastors stay up late Saturday night working on their Sunday morning message, hoping to get “lucky.” Hoping they will deliver and come through with excellence. Friends, it doesn’t work like that.
The kind of preaching that changes lives is from the heart to the heart, not from the head to the head. Lives are changed as we speak from our deepest pain and suffering.
Socrates was the first to explain communication in three dimensions. He talked about ethos as the speaker’s character, pathos as the speaker’s compassion, and logos as the speaker’s content. We tend to think most about the content of a sermon, but the people to whom we are speaking perceive all three, and ethos is really the most vital of all three dimensions.
We know Thomas best by his famous statement soon after Jesus’ resurrection:
“Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” (See John 20.)
We tend to think of Thomas’ lack of faith because of Jesus’ response a few days later when he showed Thomas his hands and side: “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
A closer look at Thomas might help us understand him better and learn from his approach.