When Sermons Become Heavy Burdens: A Dozen Warning Signs

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Preachers who want to communicate God's Word effectively must watch out for these traps.

“God was well-pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe” (I Corinthians 1:21).

On Facebook, I asked the question, “How do preachers burden their hearers and undermine their own effectiveness?”

Since a large percentage of my “FB friends” are in the ministry and almost everyone else goes to church, the answers poured in.

Pastors preach too long, tell too many personal stories, get too deep, never have a focus and such.

More than one pastor took umbrage at the entire exchange. One said, “All this criticism—and during ‘Pastor Appreciation month’ at that!” Another seemed to shrug it all off, saying he would take pleasure in staying with “the foolishness of preaching.”

To my knowledge every person making a comment on that page loves the Lord, believes in preachers and supports them. But that does not blind us to the fact that some are undercutting themselves by mannerisms and methods that interfere with the very thing the minister is trying to do. He is making his work more difficult and creating problems for his listeners, the very people he’s trying to bless and strengthen.

We are starting with two assumptions: No minister preaches as well as he would like; every minister would love to improve.

Anyone for whom this is not the case may get up and leave the room now. Nothing that follows will pertain to you.

The rest of us are always looking for ways, ideas, pointers, inspirations that will increase our effectiveness in delivering the message of God. That fact more than any other thing accounts for most of the books and magazines we buy. An article on “5 Ways to Connect With Your Congregation” or “10 Things You Can Do to Make Your Preaching More Effective” will pull us in every time.

A full generation after I began pastoring, I was overcome by an intense need to improve my preaching effectiveness. Google “I prayed for my preaching and got an answer” and see how that turned out.

Here then are a full dozen ways preachers burden our congregations.

Why take the negative approach? Sometimes it communicates better than the positive. Not often, mind you, but sometimes. Let’s see how this goes …

1. The sermon has multiple points with sub-points.

The sermon that seems to go on and on with its points and sub-points is hard to follow. The hearer loses himself/herself in details, and the big picture gets crowded out by all the undergrowth.

My impression is young, beginning preachers are the primary offenders here. They try to do too much in their half-hour and end up doing far less than they could have. They bring in every pertinent text and answer every possible objection. They literally bury their people under points and principles and lessons.

Haddon Robinson popularized the “one big idea” in preaching, which calls for the preacher to hone his focus to one central theme and build everything in and around that. This encourages the minister to avoid side trips, detours and complexities—anything that detracts from the main message.

Clarity is everything.

Joe McKeever After five years as Director of Missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way. He loves to do revivals, prayer conferences, deacon training, leadership banquets, and such. Usually, he's working on some cartooning project for the denomination or some agency.

More from Joe McKeever or visit Joe at http://www.joemckeever.com/mt/

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