Here are 4 things I try NOT to do and 4 things I DO in response to a Sermon Fail:
4 Things I Try Not to Do in Response to a Sermon Fail:
#1 - I try not to go around afterwards and tell people how bad I felt the sermon was.
This can be a real temptation for me because somehow it feels better to tell people (especially newer people to our group!) how bad I thought I did in preaching, just so they understand I can do better. It also can be a passive aggressive way for me to try and receive affirmation from people when I am feeling bad. Me: "Wow, I bombed that message." Other person: "No you didn't, it was great!"
Don't get me wrong, there are appropriate people and times to share your internal thoughts on how you thought the sermon went. But I have found that right after you speak to the group you just preached to it isn't the most healthy or realistic of places to do this. Every Pastor will tell you, some of the most awful preaching moments in their memory are often recalled as the times when God was working the most powerfully in a someone's life. When we complain to people how awful our preaching was, we often can unknowingly be minimizing what God was doing in someone's life thru the sermon. God doesn't need your "good", "great" or "awful" sermon to work by his Spirit in people's lives!
#2 - I try not to disappear after the bad sermon
This is the fight or flight syndrome played out in the pulpit. When I fail in my preaching, my first thought is run! The last thing I feel like doing is talking with people afterwards or hanging out in the back of the room drinking coffee saying goodbye to people as the leave. All I want to do is go run back to my Church office get in the fetal position under my desk and cry "momma"! Yet as a entrusted shepherd of God's people, I need to and want to be available to care for, listen and point people to Jesus. The old saying, "2 wrongs don't make a right" is true in this case. Missing on my sermon is one thing, but being absent from people in the moments following the worship gathering doesn't help anyone either!
#3 - I try not to be mentally distracted after the bad sermon
This is another common temptation I experience after a bad sermon. As I talk and listen to people in the moments after my sermon, I often will be physically present, but mentally distracted. What I mean is, someone will be talking to me and I see their mouth moving and I nod at the appropriate moments, but all I can think about and listen to is my own voice saying, "you bombed, you bombed, you bombed." Almost every worship gathering I have to prayerfully remind myself to be physically and mentally present with people afterwards, but especially in the times after a bad sermon.
#4 - I try not to blame myself other people or circumstances for the bad sermon
This is another huge temptation for me after a bad sermon (Wow, this is a really therapeutic blog post!). It can be easy to really beat myself up after a bad sermon. Lies from the enemy can come flooding into my head, "you aren't a good preacher", "no one want to hear you", "you have nothing to say." The lies come fast and furious after a bad sermon. It can also be easy to blame my sermon failures on things like, the Powerpoint didn't work, or my time was cut short because the other elements in the worship service went long, or John Piper and John MacArthur didn't leave any archived sermons on the Biblical passage I covered (kidding, kidding, well sort of kidding). A Bad sermon usually has lots of factors to it, but playing the blame game never result in anything Godly or healthy being produced in my life.
4 Things I Do After a Bad Sermon:
#1 - I thank God for continuing to make me humble and dependent on Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit after a bad sermon
A good or great sermon tempts me to become self-sufficient and prideful. As much as there are equally powerful temptations after giving a bad sermon (see above), a bad sermon also serves as a great call and reminder from the Lord that my dependence is solely on Him. I need Jesus as a Pastor. I know this seems obvious, but a bad sermon serves as a wonderful reminder to me of this beautiful truth.
#2 -I re-read and dwell on 1 Corinthians Chapter 2 after a bad sermon
I love, love, love Paul's encouraging and truthful words in this letter to the Church in Corinth.
My friend and former co-worker Charles Huyett, who Pastor's Faith Chapel EV Free Church in Burlington Wisconsin, shared this passage with me after one particular bad sermon I gave that I was wallowing in. His encouragement to look to this passage forever changed my outlook on bad sermons! Read Paul's words for yourself from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
"And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."
#3 - I pray and ask God for wisdom after a bad sermon
James 1 tells us to ask God for wisdom when we lack it and He will give it to all generously. Within 24 hours of giving a bad sermon, I try to sit alone with God in prayer and ask Him to give me wisdom and insight into how I can prepare differently next time I preach. I also ask the Lord to give me wisdom into what went wrong in my prep and delivery of the bad sermon. Did I try to shortcut my preparation thru an unhealthy reliance on commentaries, celebrity pastor podcasts or old sermon archives from my files? Did I ignore the Holy Spirit's promptings and direction in my preparation? Did I spend inadequate time in prayer over my sermon? Did I have unconfessed sin and unreconciled relationships that weren't dealt with prior to the sermon? It has been amazing (even this morning) how God deals with me so kindly after a bad sermon and gives me grace and wisdom to understand what went wrong and how to prepare differently next time I preach.
#4 - I stay focused on continuing to be obedient and faithful to my calling after a bad sermon
A bad sermon doesn't define my ministry (just like a good sermon does not either). I am in this for the long haul. My calling isn't defined by one message. Being a Pastor is not like being a contestant on American Idol or an athlete in the Olympics who has one shot at success. My calling is defined by God who tells me in 1 Peter 5, "shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." I also love and I am so encouraged by Eugene Petersen's words in the great book, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction", where he writes, "“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”
Here are some additional random thoughts about bad sermons...
People either love or hate the English comedian, "Mr. Bean." I love him. Here is a screen shot from a classic bit he does about being bored at Church. You can watch the video clip here.
Here is a classic "Dad" joke about a boring sermon:
The new minister stood at the church door greeting the members as they left the Sunday morning service. Most of the people were very generous telling the new minister how much they liked his message, except for one man who said, “That was a very dull and boring sermon, pastor.”
A few minutes later, the same man again appeared in line and said, “I don’t think you did much preparation for your message.”
Once again, the man appeared, this time muttering, “You really blew it. You didn’t have a thing to say, pastor.”
Finally, the minister could stand it no longer. He went to one of the deacons and inquired about the man.
“Oh, don’t let that guy bother you,” said the deacon. “He’s a little slow. All he does is go around repeating whatever he hears other people saying.”