10 Deadly Sins of Preaching

Added about 3 months ago by Michael Sadgrove

Preaching is an art form that can take years to master. In this extract from his book, Michael Sadgrove shares his experiences of what makes a bad sermon...

Preaching is certainly our duty, and it is often our joy. But duty and joy are not by themselves enough. The answer must be, always, to see our preaching as an act of love. We preach out of love for the scriptures where the story we tell was first borne witness to. We preach out of love for our hearers, and for the rich, complex, and bewildering variety of human life they embody. We preach out of love for the world in all its beauty and brokenness, which we love because God loves it. We preach out of love because we are to be living symbols of God’s love, and preaching is his work before it is ours.

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when preaching:

  1. Speaking too soon. The fault is preparation that is too thin, too hurried, or too late. Put the sermon to bed before Saturday night and spend the evening watching football. Tweak early on Sunday morning. 
  2. Being too long. The twenty-first century calls for the art of the miniaturist. Twelve to fifteen minutes is long enough for the parish communion; any longer and the liturgy will drift. Lengthiness is the sin of sloth in those who can’t be bothered to refine and sharpen up the content.
  3. Jokiness. Don’t subvert the faith with throwaway lines that suggest you don’t believe what you are saying any more than your hearers do. Humour and irony are one thing, cynicism quite another.
  4. Not taking the text seriously. Don’t undermine the sermon by closing the gospel book after reading from it and then changing the subject. Your task is to preach the word of God.
  5. Playing to the gallery. Don’t preach to impress, or try to be clever, especially on big occasions. People will see through your insincerity. Be yourself, and they will respect you.
  6. Being boring. The biggest sin of all. Boredom comes from sermons that are too long, too verbose, too simplistic, too didactic. It thrives on lack of narrative, metaphor, and symbol, or just on dull delivery. If you’re bored by your own preaching, be sure your hearers will be too. If you suspect you’re incapable of being interesting, imaginative, and inspiring, get some training fast or stop preaching.

Don’t miss the last four “deadly sins” of preaching in Michael Sadgrove’s best-selling book of sermons from his time as Dean of Durham, which includes a section on the art of preaching.

Image: Fox preaching to chickens and a goose, from Book of Hours, Maastricht, first quarter of fourteenth century. BL, Stowe MS 17, fol. 84r.

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