By Brandon Hilgemann
Being a pastor is hard work. This is especially true for those of us who carry the heavy expectation of preaching a mind-blowing, original sermon every seven days.
Because of this difficulty, many pastors make simple preaching mistakes that can be easily corrected. These common mistakes can often be the difference between a memorable message and a forgettable one.
Here are five of the most common mistakes that I have noticed, and often been guilty of myself.
1. Not Checking Your Facts
A few years ago a pastor friend of mine emailed his sermon to me asking for feedback. I read it and replied, “The sermon is great! I wouldn’t change a thing … except that it’s not true.” The content of his message really was good, but his big illustration was based on a fake internet photo. I did a quick google search and quickly found out it was a fraud. If he would have preached this message, how much trust could he have lost? Someone could have come to church for the first time, realized the illustration was false, and never came back!
Not everything on the internet is true. Not every email story is true. Not every story on a sermon illustration website is true. Check your facts. Google and snopes.com are either a pastors best friend or worst enemy. One recent survey has revealed that almost 40% of people in the Millennial generation fact check their pastor’s sermons.
Today you must assume that everyone in your audience has a smartphone, and they will be googling your facts. You cannot afford to be sloppy or you will lose credibility fast. Don’t make the mistake of not checking your facts.
2. Preaching Too Many Points
I recently sat in on a sermon where the pastor preached too many points. The outline I was handed had so many fill-in-the-blanks that I got lost. I had no idea what this man was talking about, because his points were all over the map. Sure, they were all good points. But I lost the point in all the points.
Keep your message focused. What is the big, overarching idea that people need to understand from the passage of scripture? Stick to one point, or at least one main point or you will lose people.
TIP: When your sub-points have sub-points, you are probably getting a little carried away.
3. Confusing Transitions
You just told a great story. It was funny and thought-provoking. But as soon as the story ended you suddenly switched direction and started talking about something else. Slow down. How did we get from that funny thing your daughter said, to some old guy in the Old Testament? You have to make obvious connections between one part of your sermon and the next.
It is as simple as saying, “that funny thing my daughter said reminds me of a story in the Old Testament where a man named Samuel said something similar.” Boom. Transition made. We can all see where you are going now.
Don’t overlook how important a simple transition statement is in keeping everyone in the audience on track with you.
4. Abstract Ideas Without Concrete Examples
You preach a lot of big ideas, abstract concepts, and sound doctrine. That’s great. But even the best doctrinal teaching without concrete application will lose most church-goers. The whole time you are painting a theological masterpiece, they are asking, “So what? How does that affect me?” Selfish? Yes, but that’s reality.
Go ahead and keep on preaching abstract ideas, but don’t stop there. Answer the questions you know they are asking. Say, “So what? How does this impact you and me?” Then launch into detailed, concrete, real-world application. How many times did Jesus talk about abstract ideas like faith using examples like mustard seeds?
Not only will your people appreciate the practical tips, they will begin to appreciate theology more as they see how it actually matters.
5. Christian Words Without Explanation
If you are saying a lot of words like “Sanctification,” “Transubstantiation,” “Regeneration,” “Incarnation,” or any other term you learned in seminary, people will be confused.
TIP: if there is an “-ation” in the word, define it or pick a different word. Don’t make people feel like they need a dictionary or a seminary degree to understand you.
Even words that you may think are common knowledge like “Gospel,” “Sin,” “Glory,” and “Salvation” need proper explanation. Your understanding of the word “sin” may be completely different than what others think. Define your terms. Go ahead and use technical terms if you want, but explain what you mean in simple terms every time or you will lose people in translation.
You cannot assume that everyone in the audience is on the same page as you, because most of them probably aren’t.
Help us all out. What common preaching mistakes do you often see?