What better way to waste your time on your day of rest than to do it with an ineffective sermon, right?
The Sunday sermon, a cornerstone of modern-day Christian churches, provides an opportunity for believers to gather, reflect, and learn from the teachings of Scripture.
Despite this valuable time of communal worship, however, these sermons may not always lead to the transformative change intended.
As a preface, understand that I’m not saying that all sermons are like this. But many of them are, unfortunately, and here are three of the primary reasons that I think this is the case.
Sermons Lack Biblical Content
One of the most common pitfalls in sermons is that they major on the preacher’s thoughts but minor on God’s Word.
Why is it that we spend 10 seconds reading a verse and then 10 minutes talking about that one verse? Is it because my 10 minutes of thoughts is more valuable than the two sentences that we just read?
As the KJV would say, “God forbid!” No preacher would say that about his preaching. But regardless of what we think, that’s exactly what we communicate.
Isn’t it also strange that we sometimes insist on our favourite Bible translation, saying that it’s the most accessible and easiest version to read and understand, but yet we still have to preach long sermons to help people figure out what their Bible actually says?
Preposterous! We might as well give people the Latin Vulgate and send them to the Roman Catholic priest for a sermon.
If God’s word is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), why do we make people sit silently for 45 minutes while we tell them what we think? At least let them raise their hand, ask questions, provide feedback, and question some of the things we say!
Way too often, we rely on the preacher’s opinions rather than grounding the message in the unchanging truth of Scripture. The power of transformation lies in the Word of God, not my opinion of the Word of God.
To the credit of us pastors, we have done a fabulous job for centuries of convincing people that we are God’s messengers who know the Bible better than them, preaching in the Bible was exactly like our preaching today, and everything we say from the pulpit is true and should never be questioned.
Sermons Lack Motivated Learners
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul emphasizes the transformative power of Scripture, stating that it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
However, if we approach sermons merely as a weekly obligation rather than an opportunity to learn, grow, and be transformed, the impact falls short.
Conversely, the refusal to change and grow is cautioned against in Hebrews 5:12-14, which discusses the need for believers to progress from spiritual milk to solid food. Those who resist growth hinder their ability to discern and apply God’s Word effectively.
So what does growth look like? According to Hebrews 5, a person who grows will have the ability to teach others what they have learned. A person who can teach others effectively must first learn and appropriate what they have learned.
If a person cannot teach others biblical truth, the most likely culprit is their lack of understanding and application of what they have learned!
But we have fallen into a bad habit of “going to church” (which is an unbiblical term) every week to fulfill our moral obligation of “not forsaking the assembling,” and if we do not hear a Sunday sermon, we feel as if we have somehow failed to do what we were supposed to do.
So we sit for a long time and listen to a sermon that we don’t care about because that’s what God wants us to do. We give no thought to how we can grow, change, and teach other people what we have learned.
After all, teaching people is the pastor’s job. That’s why we pay him, that’s why he spends most of his time each week preparing his sermons, and that’s why we listen to him and say nothing until he’s done.
It’s more important for the pastor to preach a dynamic 45-minute sermon on two verses of Scripture and for me to go home unchanged than for him to read a book of the Bible for 10 minutes and I go home convicted and challenged…or so we think.
Sermons Lack Practical Application
Sermons that lack practical application and fail to provide immediate steps for living out the truth miss an opportunity for transformative change.
James 1:22 urges believers not only to be hearers of the Word but also doers: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
We quote this verse often in our churches, and we prove it true almost every week. We listen to sermons as hearers only, and we go home deceiving ourselves.
But when preachers fail to provide contemporary, actionable application to the truths of God’s Word, we promote this great weekly deception. If anything, we should spend less time telling people what Scripture says (since the Holy Spirit does this, right?) and more time helping people determine how to do what God says.
Jesus emphasized the importance of applying His teachings in Matthew 7:24-27, using the metaphor of building a house on a rock. Those who hear His words and put them into practice are like those who build on a solid foundation, ensuring that their faith withstands the storms of life.
Why are we so surprised when people in our churches are tossed about by the storms of life that come their way? It’s because we think that we are grounding people in truth by preaching the Bible. But unless people are becoming doers of the Word, they have no foundation to secure themselves.
Read Ephesians 4:11-16 for Paul’s description of a church that is grounded and secure in the truth (Hint: it’s a church that not only hears together, but it does together).
Sermons need to include practical steps of application that they can implement immediately in response to God’s Word. People don’t need to hear, “Hopefully this was a help and a blessing to you,” or, “Now go and do what you have learned today.”
No, they need guidance on how to do specific things to live out the truths contained in the sermon.
While Sunday sermons serve as a vital aspect of Christian worship, their impact on the family of God hinges on a commitment to grounding messages in the truth of God’s Word, approaching them with a hunger for transformation, and ensuring practical application for daily living.
If sermons lack these principles and priorities, they are a waste of time.