You know how much work it takes to produce a sermon (or any talk, for that matter).
And you’ve likely also wondered why some talks seem to stick while others don’t.
Sometimes, you work for hours or days on a message that you know is as extensively researched and accurate as you know how to make it. You preach it and it lands with a thud.
Other times, you whip something together quickly and for some reason, it resonates and has people talking about it months (or even years) after.
What gives you ask? Great question.
To make the problem even more nuanced, if you’re like me, you’ve seen preachers build significant followings and yet often their insights aren’t, well, that faithful or great. Yet their teaching spread like crazy.
What’s going on?
In this post, I want to share a simple framework you can use to help you see if your sermon (or any communication for that matter) passes the test.
What’s Changed Since the Internet Showed Up
Fortunately, I’ve been preaching long enough (since the 90s) to remember how easy preaching used to be compared to today.
A brief history lesson.
First, in the 90s there was virtually no internet. Unless people subscribed to a church’s cassette or CD ministry, the only way to hear a preacher was to show up in person. And since people didn’t/couldn’t attend multiple churches on the same Sunday, you were rarely compared to other preachers except perhaps the amazing preacher across town.
As a result, it was easier to simply take your ideas, thoughts, and insights and share them on Sunday morning. The content mattered more than the expression.
As long as you had a pulse and could put a few sentences together in a reasonably compelling way, people would be appreciative of the work you did and for bringing God’s word to them. And that was that.
As this post outlines, the model of preaching for centuries was based on scarcity—that is, you had to be in a certain place at a certain time to hear a message or you missed it.
Then around 2010, things started to shift. Dramatically.
The internet had been around for a while, but as smartphones, social media, and high-speed internet all became widely available, the combination suddenly meant people who attended your church could access your content and other preachers any time for free (no CD ministry). So they do.
Suddenly, preachers of normal-sized congregations were being compared to the best mega-church preachers around, and the pressure was on. To add even more complexity, people’s attention spans and loyalties kept shrinking. As smartphones and social media became widely available, the combination suddenly meant people who attended your church could access your content and other preachers any time for free. So they did. CLICK TO TWEET
Two Ways To Blow a Message
The Holy Spirit shows up more regularly in your study as you do the hard work of sermon prep than he does in the pulpit when you haven’t prepared.
As a result, it’s easier than ever to lose an audience with your message in the current context.
My old method of preaching (take the week’s learnings and share them on Sunday without paying a ton of attention to delivery and final form) doesn’t work nearly as well if you are hoping to reach new people. You can always find 50-100 people who are willing to listen to your meanderings, but most people expect clarity.
The best way to blow an otherwise-faithful message is to bring your undigested thoughts into the pulpit on Sunday.
Sure, your thoughts might help people. And yes, the Word of the Lord never returns empty.
But it’s almost like some preachers expect God to do all the work to make their sermons land because they’re unwilling to do the hard work of preparation.
This can hit preachers of every stripe.
Academically-minded scholars can show up on Sunday with a research paper no one understands. They never took the time to make their message understandable and accessible. The best way to blow an otherwise-faithful message is to bring your undigested thoughts into the pulpit on Sunday. CLICK TO TWEET
Another, perhaps greater, way to blow a message is preachers who don’t do adequate prep of any kind and ‘wing it’ on Sunday because they got too busy.
Some preachers who don’t prepare on Sunday say they want to rely on the Holy Spirit.
But that’s like saying the Holy Spirit shows up best in your undigested thoughts that you’re making up as you go along.
The Holy Spirit shows up more regularly in your study as you do the hard work of sermon preparation than he does in the pulpit when you haven’t prepared.