When You Preach A Lousy Sermon

If you’re a preacher, it’s inevitable that you’ll preach some lousy sermons. It’s not possible to hit a home run every single week.

Hitting Home Runs

Last Sunday I preached a lousy sermon. It felt awful and embarrassing. I was so discouraged on Sunday. Let me tell you the story and offer a few thoughts to help you the next time you preach a lousy sermon.

I just finished preaching a six-week sermon series on Jonah. It was awesome. I felt like I kept hitting home runs, a few grand slams even, through that series. I’ve never felt so much joy in preaching and never seen God use my preaching as much as he did through that series. Our whole church was being gripped by God as we went through this series together. I was in my sweet spot as a preacher. I like being in this spot.

Then, two Sundays ago, we had a guest preacher: Francis Chan. Francis Chan is a great preacher. He did a really good job for us. It was our first Sunday of year two as a church, and our biggest Sunday yet at Garden City.

So, for this last Sunday, I was pumped up to launch a new sermon series on the Gospel of John and capitalize on all the momentum in the church. Preachers, you all know how important it is to nail that first sermon in a new series. It can set the tone for the whole sermon series. Our whole church was also pumped up to begin the new series.

Striking Out

All week long I wrestled and wrestled with the text (John 1:1-18). Honestly, I’ve never had a harder time figuring out how to preach a text. I just couldn’t get my mind and heart around this Prologue to John’s Gospel, I couldn’t find handles. I actually woke up on Sunday morning, trashed the sermon I’d written, and wrote a whole new one.

I got up to preach on Sunday afternoon and it was tough from the start. The microphone kept bugging out. Some babies in the service were loud and were distracting me. And, worst of all, “the click” never happened for me. Normally, sometime during the week as I’m preparing to preach, I feel something click deep inside my heart, I know I’ve heard from God and I have his message to deliver to the people. With how I’m wired, most of the time I find myself crying a few tears when this click happens–my heart just feels so full, I feel at once a deep sense of inadequacy, passion, and excitement to preach. But I never experienced this when preparing for last week. The message wasn’t really in my heart. I’ve vowed to never preach a sermon unless it’s traveled through my gut, but the reality is that when you preach every week, sometimes that doesn’t happen in the way you want it to.

So I slogged through the sermon. Even during the act of preaching I felt drained, like energy was leaving me, when normally I feel increasingly energized while I preach. I love my church and my city so much and I felt like I was giving them a little snack when I wanted to give them a feast.

I finished preaching and walked back to the pews to sit next to my wife. She knew. She squeezed my hand three times (our signal for saying “I-love-you”) and put her hand on my back.

The Gospel for Preachers

I felt terrible. I felt embarrassed. But then our worship leader began to lead us in worship, singing the song, “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.” At once I chose to worship, and I sang as loudly as I could the good news:

On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand, NOT, On my preaching performance I stand!

Years ago it would’ve taken me twenty-four hours to get over the discouragement of preaching a lousy sermon. This time it took me about six hours. By Sunday night, after debriefing and laughing with my wife, I felt normal again. Shifting to immediate worship, instead of self-pity, made the turn around much faster. Believing the gospel made the turn around much faster. Laughing about it with my wife made it much faster. My prayer for you and me is that the gospel of God’s grace would get bigger and bigger in our lives. As it does, we will get over our lousy sermons faster and rest in the fact that we stand on a solid rock, not the sinking sand of preaching performance.

God Doesn’t Need Us

And we must always remember that God doesn’t need a good sermon to do his work. I felt my sermon was terrible, not at all up to my standards, but I still preached the text/the gospel, I still got on base. And, God still used the sermon. That’s always amazing to me, to hear that people were still deeply helped by my lousy sermon.

This won’t be the last time this happens. I think God likes to do this, he likes to humble us as preachers. He likes to remind us that he doesn’t need us in order to accomplish his purposes.

Advice In a Nutshell

So, in a nutshell, what’s my advice for us as preachers? Here it is:

-Aim to preach the best sermon you can possibly preach each and every week. Swing for the fences. Aim to hit a home run. Play Big. The privilege of preaching is enormous and worthy of our best efforts. I’ve already transitioned out of my discouragement and I can’t wait to get back in the pulpit and preach my guts out this Sunday.

-Know that lousy sermons are inevitable. They will come. Sometimes they will come when you sort of expect it (like this last Sunday for me), other times they will come when you least expect it. And sometimes they will come when you expect it (like this last Sunday), but least want it (like this last Sunday, a big momentum Sunday for us).

-Remind yourself that you are not what you do. When you preach a lousy sermon that is the best time to remind yourself that you stand on Christ, not the unstable sand of preaching performance. Your identity rests in Christ, not in what you do for Christ. Embrace the way God wants to humble you through the experience of preaching a lousy sermon.

-Learn everything you can from your lousy sermons. In my case from last Sunday, I’ve noted three mistakes I made that I will do my best to not make again (1. Normally my sermons are arrows–they are clear and sharp, but this sermon was disjointed. 2.  I tried to do too much in one sermon. 3. I was preaching without “the click” mentioned above). Specifically noting what went wrong is helping me as I prepare for this Sunday.

-Have fun. The preaching life is hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. Don’t get too serious about all this. Take God seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Your church and your city needs a preacher who can laugh at himself. If you want to keep at this thing for four or five decades (as I do), you need to pace yourself and make sure you’re having plenty of fun along the way. Lousy sermons are just part of the gig.

02. October 2012 by Justin Buzzard
Categories: Leadership | 34 comments

Comments (34)

  1. I listened. I was encouraged :)

  2. If this isn’t too forward, I love you for posting this bro. I am always so thankful for gifted pastors being willing to share their struggles, failures and lessons. It encourages the rest of us along the way.

  3. Thanks for sharing this…good stuff!

    14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. -John 1:14

    May you continue to see the glorious grace and Truth of Jesus!

  4. Justin, as we tell our kids, ..you are never as bad as you think, and never as good as you think.

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  6. Hey Justin, thank you so much for sharing this..just so you know, I cried about seven different times throughout your sermon–like, the happy, overwhelmed, I-can’t-believe-this-is-real-life-and-He-actually-loves-me-that-big kind of tears. I haven’t had the Holy Spirit touch me in that way for a few months now. I am so grateful to you for being His instrument..thank you, thank you, thank you for heralding this beautiful truth of all that He is and all that He’s done. Can’t wait for the rest of this series :)

  7. Speaking from experience as a Bible teacher and the wife of a ruling elder, I know–first hand–that what we set out to teach, what we actually teach, is often NOT the message our hearers grasp. And isn’t that wonderful and frightening? I really do believe that when preaching happens–no matter how poor the preacher or hearers perceive it–it really, truly, honestly is the word of the Living God. His word never falls to the ground wasted. Keep preaching Jesus and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

  8. I am so impressed by your humble words. It is evident that preaching is your passion and it sounds like this past Sunday you had a gentle nudge reminding you of your humanness and frailities and there is only one perfect man. Thank you for being a man of God….keep preaching the word.

  9. This is me! Thanks for the post. I was sitting down to eat a bowl of soup for lunch at my desk before I worked on this week’s sermon and your blog was the first on my reader.

    I am an assistant pastor at a church plant, and it had been over a month since I had last preached and I was excited about the opportunity to preach this last Sunday. I got sick last week, but thought the sermon came together anyway. However, as soon as I started preaching, I knew it wasn’t going to go well; I just wanted to pray and sit down. The execution was bad, the illustrations weren’t delivered well, I’m not sure I got my main point completely across. There was no “click” in the preaching moment like there usually is at the end of the introduction for me.

    After complaining, a youth minister buddy of mine asked me one question when I told him about this weekend: “Was the gospel preached, yes or no?” It was, even though the package was ugly. God is good and what a privilege it is to be called a fool for God.

    PJ

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  11. Justin,

    Thank you. I needed to hear this as I struggle with “not hitting the home run” too. Christ is the center, not me. I want the flock under my care to focus on Him. And reminding me that the gospel is for me also is something I need to hear from time to time.

    Mike

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  14. Thank you for posting this…it really encouraged me. I have preached some lousy sermons and as bad as it sounds, I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    I will recover better now knowing that it happens. Thanks again.

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  16. I keep thinking that it would be fairly typical of how God works that this particular sermon will be the one that, months from now or even years from now, someone will come up to you and quote a section of it and tell you what it meant to them.

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  18. Thanks for this post – it’s good to know I’m not the only one. But there are many times when I feel like I have just preached the worst sermon ever and then, even through that stinker of a sermon (or in spite of it!!) someone “gets it” for the first time. A true reminder that in our weakness, God is strong.

  19. We place far too much emphasis on sermons by a paid professional in most Western churches. It is time to get back to what the Bible says about corporate worship. It should be far more participatory and spontanteous. Far less professional.

  20. Thank you, you captured the entire preaching experience beautifully from the heart and this is very encouraging for all who preach and listen to others proclaim God’s word.

  21. Awesome blog. First time I’ve been to your blog (thanks to Ed Stetzer’s repost) and am greatly encouraged. Keep being a straight shooter. It’s refreshing.

  22. Thank you for honesty and openness in this posting.

    This same thing happened to me last night. Our church just started new ministries for kids, youth and young adults I was speaking to the young adults/older youth last night. I was excited about the launch, but the message did not click. I really thought i was on to something by using a new curriculum i heard about. I studied it, but all along it never resonated with me (unlike when I teach bible studies at church). I had been feeling discouragement all last night, and most of the day today. This post was timely and a blessing to me. Its good to know God can still use even the lousiest of sermons, because it is not about us.

    Thanks for the advice at the end as well!

  23. Profoundly resonated with each point. Thank you very much. I like your term “the click.” You described perfectly what I have never been able to describe: a few tears, deep sense of inadequacy and anticipation to pour out what God has poured in.

  24. Found my way here via Ed Stetzer’s blog. Thanks for this refreshingly real post! I’ve been in the same boat many times before. A few weeks ago, I could almost feel the “train wreck” as I kept preaching but wanted to stop because it was a “strike out.” God is so gracious (and our faith communities are, too!). Thanks for bringing this back to the gospel, bro.

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  29. I got kinda tickled at your testimony, Ive been preaching scince 1970,pastored two churches, and I can relate to what you had to say. I believe all of us wants to preach a great sermon, but that is not always the case. I learned early in my ministry to not ask my wife how was my message, because being the sweet person that she is, she would always say you did fine, when I knew without a doubt in my mind it was a flop, have actually cried and ask the Lord to please help the people and not let any be hurt by my failure.But the next week you can feel His Spirit begin to minister to your heart, and fill your mind and soul with a message to strengthen and edify His Sheep==God Bless==

  30. I thank you for sharing the downfalls of preaching. I just preach last Sunday and my pastor did not support me at all lbut when the second preacher came up to preach he supported him. When I saw how the pastor supported the 2nd preacher my heart pained because we only have about 2-5 mins for the altar call. No one accepted salvation after I preached I felt bad I wanted my sermon to be the foundation for someone to receive Christ. When the second person ministered the pastor spent 10-15 mins trying to get someone saved and when one did show up she didn’t want to get saved, but the pastor coached her into it. Why do I get the boot?

  31. Thanks Justin. It’s a few months later but I just preached an awful sermon and was home feeling like a complete failure. I too need to be reminded that it’s about God not us.

  32. Thank you so much. Just this Sunday I bombed big time. And this is one of many times. It has been frustrating and a time of great bewilderment. I know the click you are talking about. I know when it is there and I know when it is not there. But over the years my recovery time has gotten shorter and shorter because of what you said which is on Christ the solid Rock we stand and not on our sermons. Your words blessed me tremendously and I will always strive to do my best for God and when I do bomb I will still give glory to God and trust.

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