It will happen to you. One Sunday, you’ll find yourself in the pulpit preaching, looking at the congregation and realizing that the sermon you’re preaching isn’t connecting. It isn’t flowing. It’s not clear to the congregation. It’s not clear to you either, in fact, it’s just falling flat.
That is a very difficult moment for one who is charged with proclaiming God’s word to God’s people.
I need to confess that more than a few times it has happened to me. After a bad sermon I’ve found myself wanting to retreat immediately to my office after the closing prayer and lock the door and wait until everyone has departed from the church building.
What can you do after a bad sermon? Here are some things that help me when my sermon on Sunday falls flat.
Rest in the sufficiency of Jesus
A great oratory performance and the applause of people does not earn you standing with God, Jesus death on the cross does/did. When we judge ourselves by what we do and how we perform, we’re destined for heartache. I could preach the worst sermon in the word and it wouldn’t change how much God loves me in Christ. I’m thankful for that. After missing the mark on Sunday go home, eat well and rest, literally and spiritually.
Remember your ministry is measured by more than one sermon
One of the central components of the pastor’s ministry is the public proclamation of God’s Word. When that goes well a pastor feels useful and confident, and when it bombs badly, confidence can be shaken. Most of the congregation has heard a bad sermon before, your sermons included. As a pastor your ministry to them should not be limited to the 30-40 minutes you preach on Sunday. Pastors are called to disciple, encourage, teach, pray and shepherd their flocks not just just preach to them. Ministry like this establishes relational connections with the people in your church and creates space for grace and understanding. Using a baseball analogy-every pitcher, even good ones, throws a walk now and then and sometimes even beans a batter with the ball. One less than stellar sermon now and then means you’re pretty normal.
Reflect on your sermon
Don’t do it immediately, perhaps late in the coming week, give some time to reflection on the sermon that didn’t go so well. Consider your preparation. What was your approach? Did your normal routine get disrupted by time demands or schedule anomalies? Were you prayerful? Did you work hard or did you phone it in? Consider your circumstances. Was there some life event or happening that impacted you emotionally or spiritually? I remember one time having to preach just moments after a major family discipline crisis with one of our teenage children; I don’t even remember what I said in the sermon. I do remember that it didn’t go well.
Re-read your notes or script
There is some value in going back and looking at a bad sermon with fresh eyes and emotional distance. Where in the delivery did you struggle? What looked good on paper but didn’t translate when preaching? File your insights away in your mind and learn from the experience of delivering a less than stellar sermon. If you record your sermons listen or watch them and take note of things you would do differently.
Relax when you preach again
Tim Keller speaks about the text and subtext in delivering a sermon. The text deals with the scriptures and our notes or content of what we will be preaching. The subtext is all the rest: tone, inflection, affect, posture and motions, facial expression, how we handle the notes or outline on the pulpit, confidence and preparedness. When the subtext sends a louder message that speaks about our nervousness or fear or indicates something is amiss the congregation will pick up on that. It’s easy to say “don’t be nervous or anxious” and then actually do the opposite, especially the week after we’ve missed it in our preaching. Preparation and practice and lots of prayer will help you get back up there and proclaim God’s Word for His glory and the good of the congregation.