If you think the gathering of biblical facts and standing up with a Bible in your hand will automatically equip you to communicate well, you are desperately mistaken. It will not. You must work at being interesting. Boredom is a gross violation, being dull is a grave offense, and irrelevance is a disgrace to the gospel. Too often these three crimes go unpunished and we preachers are the criminals. ~Charles Swindoll
When I left my last pastorate of 11 1/2 years one of my deacons said, “You never preached a boring sermon.”
Before that statement I had never really thought about it. No pastor sets out to be boring, of course, but how many of us set out with a specific intent not to be boring? The opposite of boredom is not the sermonic equivalent of a stand-up routine or an SNL reenactment. Do not think unless the pastor is turning cartwheels or lighting things on fire then the entire congregation is in danger of boredom. Boredom happens when the preacher does not engage the gathered listeners, fails to capture their imagination, or otherwise does not present God’s word is a way that holds them and won’t let go.
In our entertainment submerged culture—from which most in our congregations are not excluded—we need to think about how to avoid the boring sermon.
The opposite of boring is not “entertaining.”
God may not have called preachers to be entertainers, but He did not call us to be uninteresting, either.
Among the synonyms for boredom in my 1,400 page Roget’s Thesaurus are:
tedium, weariness, languor, listlessness, uninterestedness, indifference, dissatisfaction, lack of enjoyment, satiation, jadedness
“Brother Bob, how did you enjoy the message?” “I didn’t. It lacked enjoyment.”
“Sister Margaret, what did you think of today’s message?” “To be honest, tedium comes to mind.”
No wonder Swindoll had such harsh words! Those of us entrusted with teaching and preaching the gospel must be interesting. We must ourselves be excited before we will bring a message that leads others to be excited. We bear good news that brings lasting satisfaction and we cannot manage to satiate the spiritually hungry for forty minutes without them needing a nap? We can and we must.
Include movement, object lessons, and visuals to keep people’s attention.
When I get into the “zone” during a sermon the only thing on my mind is getting the message I think God has given me to the people who have gathered to hear it. To help me remember the congregation not just the content I sometimes make notes to “Look at the entire room” or “Move around the stage.” Since I tend to walk a lot when I preach the second one is rare, but you get the idea. Movement on the stage requires people to turn their head or shift their body or otherwise respond to keep you in view. Something this simple helps keep people engaged. It keeps them from tedium, from losing interest—from boredom. If you find yourself in a presentation rut, literally make yourself reminders to move around on the platform.
Use physical objects when possible rather than only words. If you are talking about fruit, holding up an apple, orange, or bunch of bananas adds to the spoken word; it does not distract from it.
Many preachers use marker boards or flip-pads very effectively. You don’t even need to be artistic—happy trees are not necessary. A simple diagram, writing an emphasis word, or the act of writing the outline requires listeners to refocus and often brings clarity speaking alone does not create.
Read. Use current illustrations. Don’t tell the same old stories. Read.
Did I mention read?
In a recent conversation an Alabama pastor mentioned a history book he had been reading. He noted, “I’ve gotten three really good sermon illustrations from it.”
The sheep under your care—and unbelievers who hear you preach—need to know how the Word applies today. If every illustration is from a 20-year-old book of sermon illustrations, the inadvertent illustration may be the Bible is not relevant for today’s world. Nor should every message include a “You’ve heard me say before” section. Listeners need fresh food for a new day, not a science-project dragged from the back of the fridge.
Biographies, business books, history, current events, the week’s news, all of these are overflowing sources of engaging, interesting, attention-holding illustrations for sermons. A faith-building by-product of this strategy is our people begin to see biblical themes all around them. Echoing Swindoll, sermons that do not connect to real life in the real world are a “disgrace to the gospel.”
What things do you do to avoid the sin of boring sermons?
Featured image: screen grab from Mr. Bean in Church