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After Preaching Poorly

By Rush Witt
You must face it. It is inevitable. Sooner or later, you are going to preach a poor sermon, and you should prepare now. What are you going to do on this dreaded day?

As someone who has delivered many a disappointing discourse, I aim to encourage you in your discouragement. Some of my readers are unfamiliar with the sorrow of preaching a poor sermon, calling for a brief account of the experience. The following brief account will lead to a handful of helps for handling the after-effects of piacular preaching.

The Making of a Mess

You prayed, planned, prepared and prayed more. The days leading up to this Sunday were no different than those prior to any other Sunday. Still, almost everything is about to go wrong. You approach the pulpit under the shining words of the invocation prayer. Although you rehearsed your introduction time and time again, in the moment of truth the trouble begins. You fumble for the first words. The ums follow, and down the hill you go. Winsome words are slow to surface. Explantions evade. Illustrations dissolve. Applications miss their marks.

Mayday. Mayday. Oil pressure is dropping. Engine one is out. Cabin lights are blinking.There goes engine two. We're losing altitude. Can't control. Please advise. You're in a tailspin; and with every escape maneuver, the tail spins faster. You know it. They know it. You're plummeting to the ground, where a blazing inferno of undershot anecdotes and overshot analogies awaits you upon impact. The silence is deafening. A once sacred pulpit—designed for the announcement of winsome wisdom—is scattered, shattered into a million shards of splintered homily. There you are, standing in a pool of your own regret, desperately struggling to recover by use of an extra-humble, doubly practical prayer of invitation.

You wish to leave, but you cannot. Handshaking awaits...

"Very interesting sermon, Pastor."

"Thank you, Pastor."

"Good day, Pastor."

The nauseating aroma of feigned enjoyment that really is pity. On the ride home, your wife is halfway honest, which is doubly painful. Noooo. It wasn't baaaad. It wasn't that bad. No, I-mean-it-wasn't-bad. It wasn't great, but it wasn't BAD. It was bumpy. You know what I mean. Bumpy.

Of course, the trouble does not end there. In a few days, you will knock on the door of a small group meeting, attended mostly by those who shook your hand following your interesting sermon. If you wisely organized your church's small group format around sermon-based discussion questions, you will inherit the joy of reliving your Sunday squalor yet again. Once this is done, you will have another few days to gaze upon Sunday's sequel, hanging just above the horizon. Isn't preaching fun?!

As you know, this account is exaggerated for effect. Nevertheless, it is true. For the conscientious pastor—especially young pastors—preaching a poor sermon is a peak disappointment in ministry. Less informed critics may rebut, "Put your big-preacher pants on and get over it." These critics do not understand the pernicious human heart or the high privilege of preaching. For the conscientious pastor, preaching a poor sermon is not equivalent to eating a bland meal. One may eat three a day, often without thinking much about it. Preaching a poor sermon is aking to preparing a bland meal when it is your life's ambition to lay a royal spread, wholesome and delicious. In this respect, a dull sermon is a ministerial malpractice and not something soon forgotten.

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