I don’t ever want to preach a good sermon.

– For pastors, preachers, leaders, Bible study teachers, and for us all. –


If I preach a good sermon on a Sunday service:

I didn’t do it right.

Yes, I want to research hard.  To study up, do the exegesis, dig up the Greek and Hebrew, get into my historical-grammatical exposition, find the redemptive purpose.  I want to speak in a dynamic tone, find the best stories, sharpen my metaphors, keep it relevant, be self-aware and self-deprecating, know my people and give them permission to laugh.

All this is good.

But if people are saying, “You’re good” or “Great sermon!” — then I totally messed it up.

You know why, pastors.  Because our job is to point to Him.  To step out of the way so that instead of the hearers saying, “Isn’t our pastor great?” — they say, “Isn’t Jesus great?”

I understand though.  Many churchgoers hear a sermon like they’re watching a movie, reviewing its contents and checking for internal consistency and mentally debating whether they like it or not.  For many, it’s entertainment.  Just a guy with a mic to inspire everyone.

And it’s very difficult to turn the tide on consumer consumption.  Especially when most of our churches are set up like disposable theaters.

It’s also tough to get rid of that manic, desperate, sweaty demeanor that is begging for validation from the whole room.  It’s not easy to stop saying with your body, “Do you like me?  Am I cool?  Is this working?”

With all this mixed in, it’s not easy to preach a good sermon.  And certainly you don’t want to preach a bad one.

I’ve found that only one thing works.

And it’s exactly because you can’t “make it work.”  It’s completely beyond formula, fashion, crafting, and content.

My first pastor preached these extremely emotional sermons that left him sweaty and breathless by the closing prayer.  I was an atheist then, and I didn’t know what to think except, “He really believes this stuff.”  But I still graded him on a performance scale, by how much he told good stories and whether he was saying helpful things.

My pastor continually reached out to me.  I saw in his own life that he was living what he was preaching.  I began to see the work of Christ in his life.  I saw a love that compelled him which was greater than any love I had ever known.

The more I knew my pastor, the more I knew he meant it on Sundays.  He was in tune with God.  Not perfectly, but passionately.  And against my objections, God drew me in to Himself through the work of my pastor.

No single sermon can do this.  You can only wow people so long with skill and argumentation.  Soon they will look for sincerity.  This takes much longer than just hitting a home run in your pulpit, because it means you need to be at the hospital after a widow’s diagnosis and you’ll stay up until 3am crying with the family who just lost their baby and you’ll need to visit that prodigal in jail and you’ll have to comfort the high schooler who wants to kill himself.

This will cut into your sermon-writing, and thank God for it.

It’s right to craft good content.  But the power is in Christ pouring through your rolled up sleeves, hands in the mess of beautifully broken people, restoring one fragile heart at a time.  It’s in the pulpit just as much as on the ground in the trenches, creating lasting memories and loud laughter, swords drawn against the devil, tears and hugs and prayers our shield.

It’s where Jesus is, and where I want to be.

— J.S.

14 thoughts on “I don’t ever want to preach a good sermon.

  1. It bugs me when I’m told that I did a good job, too. If all they saw was me, then I’m missing the mark. It’s tough to point people to Jesus and stay out of the way. Lord, help us to decrease so that You can increase.



    1. I know what you mean, lessonsbyheart. I often share on FB, and I cringe when people post things about ME, rather than about the point or lesson that was being shared. I stopped sharing things for awhile for that reason.


    2. Always a tough balance. I have to say that I really do enjoy personal testimonies, because they show how God is working individually. As John Piper said, “God can make much of Himself by making much of you.” As long as we don’t get the order confused. 🙂


      1. Hmm. That helps. Thanks for Piper’s insight. Balance is a good word.

        Hey – sorry for responding to the comment by my atheist friend on this reblog. It showed up as a comment in my “Notifications,” so I replied to what he said, instead of leaving it to you.

        I forgot that comments from those who follow the link to reblogs (which are made on the author’s site) show up here…but are not addressed to me. It’s been a while since I reblogged anything and this slipped my tiny little mind! 😉



  2. Reblogged this on Lessons by Heart and commented:
    Jesus is the only One with power to transform lives. Let’s remember this very important “detail” and seek only to be the messenger.

    Don’t miss J. S. Park’s podcasts. He practices what he preaches, giving illustrations that help us better understand Biblical truths.



    1. It’s always good to remember that not everyone speaks ‘church’…
      In my world there are millions of things and people that can transform lives. To say there is only one being, one way is to miss the point entirely. The unspoken context of your use of the word transform presumes the reader has your exact understanding. If I don’t happen to agree with my perception of what your understanding is, then your message loses any value that it might have otherwise held. The disease AIDs transforms lives. If my interpretation of your understanding is correct, your deity gave the world AIDs too. He created the demons too, knowing exactly what they would do. That shifts the perspective away from your presumed intent.

      I can only guess what is meant by ‘biblical truths’ — it’s a nonsensical phrase. Perhaps we all need to spend time trying to understand biblical lies? The phrase suggests that there are also biblical untruths. What is true is true regardless of what book it is written in. Using a text that is centuries old is almost a guarantee of failure for any other endeavor in human existence. It seems odd to think that such an old text contains truth that is not evident elsewhere or by other means. Such ‘truth’ must somehow be hidden from the ‘normal’ world in some way. Is it really truth if only a very limited number of people percieve it as truth?


      1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It is very helpful to be reminded that not everyone speaks “church” or understands what we mean when we say “transformed.”

        The comment about “Biblical truths” leaving one with the idea that there are, then, untruths was eye-opening. Words are tricky little things, aren’t they?

        Thank you for taking the time to read what J.S, had to say and then commenting. I found what you had to say very helpful. 🙂



      2. PS An interesting note on AIDS. “My” deity didn’t create it…man did. Read “Full Disclosure” by Gary Glum. It can be read online. (Find the link at http://www.radioliberty.com – click on “Things of Interest on the Net”…it’s the last item on the list). It’s only 97 pages in length.

        Aspertame is another can of worms regarding man-made substances. Do a bit of research and discover how many other diseases & illnesses (which are attributed to our deity) are actually man-made.

        While Googling this stuff, be sure to check out the Georgia Guidestones in Elberton, Georgia. It’s first statement (written there in eight languages) will give you an idea as to the “why” behind these man-made illnesses…and why antidotes (which exist, by the way) are being withheld.

        I’ll be the first to admit that my deity can appear to be like the biggest bully on the block, but it seems to me that He gets blamed for many things that He did not do. 🙂



  3. Humans like rewards. I was shocked when a few months ago I heard that shampoo doesn’t have to foam, but that was added to reward people for washing their hair! Altruism is hard to find these days. Doing something just because it is the right thing to do (regardless of the personal cost) has vanished from Christian religion. And constantly I return to Romans 12:2, “Don’t conform to social standards expected of you, but be transformed by re-booting your brain everyday, for only with these fresh starts can you sort through and find the core of importance, the undiluted plan of God, which will guide you to awareness and actions that are truly good, which please the One who acts in and for love always, and that course of action is perfect.” (My paraphrase, but I believe the original Greek allows for this expression of the point.)


    1. I like your translation.
      I wouldn’t say external rewards are always a bad thing, as long as they’re kept the bonus and not the primary goal. But you’re right that most people won’t even go so far to attempt a goal if the cost/benefit ratio is not in their favor.


      1. Yes, when the bonus is a “bonus” and not the reason even God knows how to do that! And since I am picky about such things, I actually offered a paraphrase which I would not describe as a translation. (Sorry, my linguistic training can’t be held down.)


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