In a recent article for Pastors.com, Brandon Cox talked about a particular sermon that fell flat – and why: “On a recent Sunday, I kind of bombed. Most of the congregation probably couldn’t tell; partly because they’re so stinkin’ nice, but I knew driving home I had missed the mark.

My message that Sunday was a tough one. My goal was to explain how Jesus perfectly fulfills the responsibilities of our high priest before God – how He grants us access to God’s presence, offers Himself as a payment for our sin, and prays on our behalf before the Father.

I started by mentioning the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer and then plunged into Jesus’ priestly prayer offered in the 17th chapter of John. And that’s where I think I missed some marks. For example . . .

I failed to really explain the content of the passage well.

I was trying to cover too much ground – to preach a lengthy passage filled with details in a single sermon forced me to skip over a lot of content that was not only good, but which probably raised some good, powerful questions in the minds of my listeners.

John 17 can easily be broken into multiple parts. Jesus first prays for himself, then for his 11 remaining disciples, and then for all believers who will ever follow him in the future. The chapter should probably have been used as a three-part message series. Or, I should have used a different, shorter passage altogether for a single message, perhaps from Hebrews 7 where Jesus’ priesthood is explained a little more succinctly.

I think I probably left the congregation with a vague familiarity with Jesus’ prayer rather than an intimate awareness of its depth.

I failed to make relevant applications

I brought out of the first portion of the passage that Jesus was asking God to use the “hour” in which he would be crucified and raised from the dead to bring glory to himself. I could have turned my attention, then, to your crucial hour of decision. But I failed to make that jump.

In the second part of the prayer, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify his disciples through his truth, his Word. He mentions “the world” 19 times in the chapter and asks God to protect us. I spent time in a bit of a rant about the problem with dividing sacred from secular and how we really ought to be sacred in the middle of the secular. It’s an okay point to make, but it’s not what my particular congregation really struggles with. I should have, instead, talked about the kinds of threats that come to our spiritual growth from the culture, and how we can root our lives in God’s Word as a primary defense.

And in the third part of the prayer, Jesus asks the Father to keep all future believers unified in love. Again, I ranted a little about how this isn’t really a call to non-denominationalism or to institutional unity, but rather to a spiritual kinship shared by all believers around the world. It would have been a great opportunity to explore the specific ways we can show love for one another within the Body of Christ. But again, I failed to make that jump.” (Read the full article, including a third reason)

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About The Author

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Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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