What to do if you preach a bad sermon?

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Every preacher will, at some point, offer up a sub-optimal sermon. It never feels good to do so. Few are aiming to do this. Some happen because people are under-prepared and really the preacher should have done better. But a lot of the time, despite making every effort to serve their people well, preachers will preach a duffer. The points may not land, the illustrations not work, we might have been a bit boring or just felt we had nothing much worth saying. Whatever it may be, we cannot avoid preaching less than excellent sermons sometimes.

Given that it will happen to us all at some point, no matter how good a preacher you usually might be, what do you do when you preach a rubbish sermon? In no particular order, here are some ways to respond.

Remember God is sovereign

Ultimately, your sermon might be rubbish. But since when has that ever stopped God accomplishing whatever he wants to achieve? The Lord has worked through far ropier things than a bare passable D-grade sermon. Just because it wasn’t everything you had hoped, and wish it might have been better, the Lord may yet still use it. Remember the Lord will use whatever he wants for his glory, trust that he will use even this.

Remember what you said was true

Did you actually preach the passage in front of you and – even if what you said was not great – was it a fair representation of what the passage says? Did you say what the passage says, on any level, and was what you said true? If it was, you can be encouraged. There may be all sorts of things you might want to say about your sermon, all sorts you might want to do differently, but in the end, if you faithfully presented the passage and exhorted people with truth, your sermon may well be better than you think.

Work on the issues next time

The simple solution to bad sermon is to isolate the specific issues that made it poor and try to address them next time. So, your sermon was boring – commit to working hard to be less boring next time. Your sermon lacked helpful application – commit to working harder on application next time. Whatever the problem with your sermon (you must have some idea if you think it wasn’t that great) commit to working hard not to suffer from that problem next time.

Don’t be scared to admit it

It is far better for our people to hear us admit our sermon was boring than for them to be left thinking (as many wrongly do) that their finding it boring is somehow their fault or a mark of a lack of spirituality. Many churches and pastors are quick to blame their people, and to suggest they are unspiritual, when actually the problem is really that the preaching is boring, lifeless, difficult to listen to or unhelpful. Admitting that the issue might be the sermon stops our people assuming they are the problem.

It also provides opportunities for growth. We can grow as preachers as we admit our sub-optimal offerings. Our people can grow as it presents opportunities to highlight why the sermon was not as good as it could be and – more helpfully still – to address any issues or questions that might have resulted. It provides an opportunity to rectify what we didn’t say, or should have said, and to say it somewhere else so that people nevertheless understand the passage and its implications. The sermon may not have been great, but it might provide the opportunity for much better learning opportunities elsewhere.