Finding your own voice, style and rhythm as a communicator of God’s Word is a journey that takes a lifetime. However, you can get a head start by learning to avoid these common mistakes preachers make.
When I sat down after preaching my first sermon, I felt like I had done a pretty decent job. In reality, it was about as smooth as a circle of white guys on the dance floor during happy hour.
Preaching is a high calling and hard work. I started preaching weekly to a group of high-school students when I was just 20 years old. Like me, a huge percentage of preachers learn the ropes and discover their voice while teaching young people in some form of student ministry. And unless you’re some sort of prodigy (you’re probably not), the brutal truth is you will likely look back on your first couple hundred sermons as something comparable to the earnest delusion of most American Idol auditions.
If you are still in your first five years as a preacher, don’t give up! God has this wonderful way of drawing straight lines with crooked sticks. Fortunately, he not only works through us, but in spite of us.
I am of little use in the pulpit if I am proclaiming the gospel without relying on it.
I know we are addicted to instant results and naturally gravitate toward the easy path of least resistance. I know the temptation to settle for mimicking your favorite preacher that online podcasting has provided us. But finding your own voice, style and rhythm as a communicator of God’s Word is a journey that takes a lifetime. And it’s better to know one thing up front: There are no shortcuts.
As we have pioneered student ministry at Mars Hill Church over the past year, I have been preaching on average four to five times a week and have enjoyed the opportunity to talk to lots of young preachers like myself. What follows are five of the most common ways I’ve personally bombed a sermon to students (or seen others in youth ministry do likewise), along with some helpful instruction from some of the greatest preachers of all time.
Fail #1: Give good advice instead of Good News.
By far the most common mistake I see early on in preachers is telling your students what they ought to do, without showing them again and again what Jesus has done. Any sermon that does not connect the commands of God to the cross of Christ is a damnable moralism that is devoid of the power of the gospel. Your good advice might temporarily change your students’ behavior and raise the moral standard in your church, but it comes with the side-effects of moral superiority or despair.
Only the sin-destroying, affection-transforming message of Christ’s finished work on the cross can transform our young people’s hearts. When we preach the Bible in such a way that we become the hero of our story instead of Jesus, we actually disempower the very obedience we desire to see. It’s the equivalent of trying to turn your TV on by throwing rocks at it, instead of plugging it into a power source.