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boring preaching

Last week Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush was giving an important speech in New Hampshire. He was into it. He had a lot of things to say about jobs, the economy and healthcare. However, as he was delivering his speech the cameras caught a few people nodding off. One lady in particular looked like she was just about in full REM sleep before she quickly awoke and checked her watch. Many people, including Donald Trump, have seized this opportunity to poke fun at Bush and even try to discredit him as a candidate. I see it as an opportunity for us who are in ministry or who teach God’s word to be reminded of the importance of honest self-evaluation in view of not being boring.

Many of us who preach can identify with ole Jeb: we are sometimes kind of boring. And listen, you know this when you look up and see people fast asleep (hint: they are not praying for you when their eyes are closed). So we have some preachers who have a style and voice like Jeb Bush. It’s kind of dull. What can we do?


Ask God to help you discern how you can do a better job. Ask God to give you a humble heart that desires, more than anything, to be effectively used to communicate the truth of God to people in a clear, faithful, and engaging way.

Work at it

Be willing to work at your preaching and teaching. Some guys seem content to just settle in and say, “This is who I am.” Well, we must remember that while we may be boring at times, God’s word is not. It is our job to get out of the way. The first step here is to be willing to work at it. If a guy is not willing to try to get better than there is no use reading anything else here.

Listen to yourself

This is painful but so important. We have so many technological advantages today that previous generations did not. Take the opportunity to listen to yourself preach. Listen for long pauses, repeated phrases, swallowing of words, random or disconnected thoughts, or simply a monotone voice. If you expect others to listen to you the least you can do is listen to yourself. As you do, give yourself some honest feedback.

Get feedback

It is invaluable to have people around you who are willing to give you honest feedback. These people are rich blessing to you and your ministry. Listen to them, don’t tune them out. Ask for constructive criticism. And, don’t get frustrated when they don’t simply compliment you with, “Man, you are just like John Piper.” Remember, it is about feedback and getting better not simply affirmation and staying the same. My wife is one of the best avenues for feedback; I know she will shoot straight and reserve compliments to their appropriate serving size. I also enjoy constructive feedback from fellow elders and friends.

Get creative

So you want to get better? You have to work at it. Here are some ideas:

Read broadly: I am not particularly drawn to fiction books but I read them just to have my mind shaped and informed by something that is not theology, sports, or my own experience. Reading fiction opens you up to a whole new world. It will allow you to import antidotes and illustrations from those world as they apply to the sermon. I try to have at least one fiction book going at all times to draw from. I would also suggest reading a newspaper instead of just reading or watching the 24-hour news channels. The newspapers (at least the good ones) tend to have more broad information and interaction that tends to be helpful in communicating the truth of Scripture. (more info on this)

Use illustrations: Can you imagine if Jeb Bush actually mixed in some word pictures or provided some compelling illustration to make his point? If you want to improve your preaching then you need to use word pictures and illustrations. These homiletical tools are like opening windows in a musty basement. They get fresh air in. Your sermon should not smell or look like grandma’s basement. Open some windows. Hang some nice art (word pictures). Put on some fresh paint (use current events to show the cultural idols, etc). This whole world is stamped with God’s creative seal, therefore find how it illustrates, elucidates or further communicates your point and go and get it. If you want more help on this read Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. You could also read Thomas Watson, my man was a homiletical artist.

Mix it up: If you always give application at the end of the sermon, try moving it to the middle or at the beginning. If you have become predictable then shuffling things up. How effective would a baseball pitcher be if he had the same pitch sequence each batter? Fastball, change-up, cutter. Repeat. By the fifth or sixth batter he is going to be throwing batting practice.

Make eye contact

If your head is buried for most of the 30-45 minutes then it makes it more difficult to engage with you. Try to rely less on your notes and interact with the people. Look them in the eyes, engage with them, and read them.

Remember what makes you compelling is not you. If you have read everything above you might be thinking, “Erik, you sound like a pragmatist.” Well, pragmatism is not bad, it just can’t govern us. The power is in the Word of God. What makes you compelling as a preacher is not how you turn a phrase, use an illustration, fluctuate your tone, or look people in the eyes. It is your preaching of God’s word. It is the giving away of the truth of God. This is the big difference from a politician who has to talk about themselves and various issues. We are supposed to be talking about God! How glorious is this? This is the compelling aspect of preaching. We must do our very best to get out of the way and give our people the Word of God and the God of the Word.

I’m hopeful that some of these may be helpful to those who preach and teach the Bible. I’d love to hear back from you with some more suggestions.

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13 thoughts on “Preachers: Thou Shalt Not Bore People”

  1. Chuckt says:

    I go to an evangelical-emergent Church which I don’t want to and that is all they do; they amuse goats instead of feed the sheep. They never teach me anything and if I ask around what people learn, they haven’t learned anything other than man’s wisdom. If I didn’t do my own learning, I would forget what it means to be a Christian.

  2. Paul Horne says:

    Thank you for the article. As an up and coming preacher these are good things to hear. I often video tape my sermons, but was unable to do so this last time. So I can watch my body language as well as vocal tone, pauses and the like. I have found that the biggest step for me is prayer. I need to make sure that the sermon has been prayed for and over extensively. When I haven’t prayed very well for a sermon I tend to think I have to try harder, but when I am trusting God the sermon delivery goes much smoother. I tend to manuscript my sermons as that is how I was taught in seminary, but am trying to not lean so heavily on the page. Not memorizing it either but keeping the main points larger and filling in as led. I have found the eye contact to be somewhat challenging sometimes because there are some people so busy taking notes (i hope) that they are not looking up at me. Anyway, thank you again for your insight. God Bless,


  3. Matt Abel says:

    All solid points. Perhaps, they are tired – spiritually and physically? And so, perhaps some instruction on rest and how to keep the Sabbath holy will help them be more engaged and less tired. If it can be hard to hear the Gospel when hungry, it follows that it could be hard to hear it when fatigued.

  4. Tyler says:

    These are great suggestions! One of mine would be for the preacher to read the Biblical text from the pulpit with fervor. Make the Bible interesting and not monotone! I don’t read my child stories in a monotone voice, so why is it okay for preachers to read the Bible as though it is the most boring piece of literature ever written?

  5. Eric F says:

    If someone told you that they found gold and it made them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams and here is how you can go find some, would that bore a person? Now if someone tells you about how they found a piece of coal and how that piece of coal looks and feels and sounds and where you can find your own coal then you will be very bored. So how about if we will pray to God that we realize the value of what He has given us in Christ? Then it will be as easy as telling someone about the gold that you found. Our boredom problem is not due to lack of our effort, but lack of experiencing His grace.

  6. Joe H says:

    I think you mean “anecdotes” not “antidotes”. :-)

  7. Andrew K. says:

    Good thoughts here. Additionally, a friend of mine who is a great preacher told me he listens to comedians because nobody understands how to connect with and read a crowd like a comedian.

  8. Marc Wilson says:

    Perhaps political parallels and pragmatics in communication are not the best illustrations to highlight when speaking of pulpit preaching. Rather, we may gain a better understanding by going to our Bibles. For example, the apostle Paul’s confidence was in the ‘weakness’ of the Cross which was both the ‘content’ of the gospel he proclaimed and the ‘means’ of communicating it. That is the wisdom and power of God for salvation which is foolishness to the world. Preachers are called to have this confidence. We must trust in the clarity and sufficiency of God’s Word to do His work in His People by His Spirit. Therefore, may we, as preachers, pray for our Lord to give us strength to faithfully proclaim His Word. Apathetic, and even hostile, responses to the proclamation of the gospel are to be expected. Nevertheless, such apathy and lack of passion for God’s Word should never characterize the preacher. Negative responses to faithfully proclaiming and teaching God’s Word are recorded throughout Scripture. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul and our Lord Himself all preached to those who were apathetic and hostile. People refused to listen. Eutychus even fell asleep on Paul. This real expectation of how some people will respond to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word should bring us to our knees; trusting in our Lord to work in His People through our faithful preaching. In His grace, may we turn away from worldly wisdom and avoid relying on our human ability to maintain the idiosyncratic attention spans of the people we serve. The preacher of God’s Word is not there to entertain but to proclaim, preach and teach Sound Doctrine. God savingly works in those He calls just as He has worked, and continues to work, in His appointed preachers. Thanks be to God for His sovereign and powerful ability to transform lives by His Word and Spirit. Thanks be to God for allowing us weak, frail and insufficient preachers to be used by Him in this great work for the growth of His kingdom.

  9. HZD says:

    As both an ordained minister and as someone who has to listen to preaching most Sundays, I would suggest the following to be the #1 principle: EDIT. You are not as interesting as you think you are. If you are preaching for forty minutes, chances are it would be much, MUCH better at 25 minutes, not because people are too lazy to sit there for forty minutes, but because most of us aren’t economical with our words. We drag things out, belabor the obvious, repeat ourselves too much, and just generally think too highly of what we came up with. I have found as a good rule of thumb that my sermons are best when I finish a manuscript and then cut out a full third of what I have written. People should feel hungry for more, and not feel like you force fed them a horse that had been flogged to death.

  10. Jonathan Nichols says:

    Mr. Raymond, your depiction of Jeb Bush, whom I have never given much attention, is disrespectful. I would not expect any worse from a secular journalist who has no regard for individuals but is inhumanely hungry for “accuracy,” their best attempt at truth. Is this how you mean to conduct yourself? And when giving pointers on how to preach nonetheless?

    Did you say anything that was not true? No. Did you acknowledge your own ridicule? No. Instead you scapegoat Donald Trump – you nail your rudeness and your disregard of the man Jeb Bush to an easy target, and you walk away innocent.

    Do you realize that by your ugly treatment of Jeb Bush, you discredit the good points that you make because you nest them in the laughable illustration of Jeb Bush putting people to sleep?

    The worst part of this is that many people will not even see the rudeness. They will see that you used Jeb Bush as a joke and because you compared yourself to him in a light hearted manner, it will be referenced as justification that making fun of someone is acceptable when there is a point to it, like how to preach more engaging sermons.

    You have a voice here, Mr. Raymond. Please use it with discretion.

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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