The act of preaching the gospel and the Scriptures is of massive importance. The gospel is the power of God to save. God takes imperfect individuals, who themselves were saved by this message of grace, and uses us to bring others into the Kingdom. Preaching is a powerful means of grace to reach the lost and disciple the saved. Charles Spurgeon said of preaching,
The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the devil. The preaching of Christ is the thunderbolt, the sound of which makes all hell shake.
This is why we must constantly get better at preaching. There’s too much on the line not to. The stakes are too high. I am no expert in preaching, but I have been preaching for over twelve years and have learned a lot about what not to do through the mistakes I have made. Here are four “don’ts” I’ve learned—and in many ways am still learning—to avoid in preaching.
1. Don’t tackle too much information or cover too many topics.
One of the biggest mistakes I have made over the years in preaching is trying to cover too much ground in one sermon. I too often severely overestimate how much I can cover in the allotted time. I have found it is more impacting to preach a sermon that focuses on one issue or one angle that lasts thirty minutes as opposed to a sermon with multiple focuses and parts that lasts 45 minutes. People retain the sermon better when the topics are reduced. It is also frees you to find more illustrations and ways to deepen their understanding on a topic if you are not attempting to cover too much ground. Pick a point, angle, or emphasis to focus in on and camp out there for the entire sermon. It will make your preaching better.
2. Don’t stand up to preach until your heart is captivated by the truth you’re proclaiming.
If we stand up to preach and are simply relaying information to folks, our preaching will be void of power. We do not have to be entertaining or showy, but we certainly cannot be boring or dull. Our hearts must be raptured by the beauty, timeliness, and need for the truths we proclaim. We must long for people to catch a glimpse of what has captured our heart. John Piper says it like this,
Oh brothers, do not lie about the value of he gospel by the dullness of your demeanor. Exposition of the most glorious reality is a glorious reality.
To do this we must spend as much time readying our heart as we do readying our manuscripts.
3. Don’t be afraid to call people to action and commitment.
As a younger pastor, I was hesitant on calling people to a response. My hesitancies revolved around two issues: 1) I didn’t want to feel personally rejected if people didn’t respond, and 2) I had seen the dangers of false converts who stake their salvation story on simply walking an aisle or repeating a prayer. So I was afraid for many years of calling people to respond in my messages. But in recent years that has changed. I have come to grips with the gospel’s demand for a response. People are called to place faith in Christ, repent of sins, surrender our lives, finances, family, and all things to Him. Those are responses. If people do not respond upon my invitation for them to respond, they are not rejecting me, they are rejecting the message and/or the Savior. I believe when boldness to call people to action follows clarity of the gospel and its demands, the Lord will draw people to himself.
4. Don’t preach to people who are not there.
This last point may not be an area of struggle for you, but for many years, it was for me. My messages were sometimes prepped and delivered to folks who were not in the room. And I’m not talking about lost or unchurched people not present. I’m referring to ministry heroes and people whose approval I craved.
If you are prepping a sermon with this thought, “I bet David Platt would love this,” or “Dr. Mohler would be impressed by my sophisticated cultural analysis here,” you are preaching to people not there. It is great to prepare and deliver messages that MacArthur, Stanley, Piper, or Groeschel would “amen” if they were in your congregation, but they are not. Preach to the people who are actually there. Think about their fears, worries, needs, burdens, idols, and aspirations and preach to them, not your seminary professor or pastoral hero.