Stuck in the Mud

Some sermons seem to get stuck.

Some that I preach.  Some that others preach.  The sermon is moving along well, perhaps moving at a decent pace through a text, engaging and interesting, then suddenly, the sermon seems to go into thick mud.  Suddenly the momentum is lost and the experience for preacher and listener alike changes significantly.

Why does this happen?  The message is following the standard guidelines for sermons.  The text is being explained, the relevance is being emphasized, illustrative material is helping listeners see the message clearly, etc.  But momentum drains away and progress becomes elusive and there is a struggle on for the next ten to fifteen minutes as the sermon simply seems to stand still.

I was observing this recently from the listener’s side.  It seemed that at a certain point in the journey through the message, the momentum stopped and we felt like we were spinning our wheels.  Restatement.  Repetition.  Illustration.  Repetition.  Illustration.  But no progress.

Have you experienced this phenomena?  What would you suggest to avoid it happening?  I’d suggest we look at the outline or manuscript and prayerfully evaluate it for progress and momentum, as well as for content and clarity.  While a third illustration under the same point may compound the clarity, it might also feel like an anchor keeping the sermon from arriving at its destination.

I’d also suggest prayerfully preaching through a sermon to experience it through your own ears.  Sometimes sermons look perfect on paper, but in reality simply don’t “come out well.”

One more suggestion – when it happens, take the time to evaluate why it happened and try to learn from you (or someone else’s) mistake.  The tendency is to flee the scene of what feels like a sermonic flop, but perhaps there is more to learn there than when a sermon’s momentum was faultless.

How do you make sure your message keeps moving?

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2 thoughts on “Stuck in the Mud

  1. I like the picture:) and yes I have had this happen more than i would like to admit and have also experienced the desire to flee the scene. As I have evaluated when and how this happens there seems to me to be some commonalities. It seems that sometimes I can be focused to narrowly in the text and do not progress through it quickly enough. This can happen as I study and find important little clues in the text which inform me where it is going and so attempt to bring them in for the hearers. This could be illustrated by the person who comes to the doctor with a problem who really is longing to just have the problem go away. The doctor is going to prescribe some testing and then wait for the results of the test in order to be better able diagnose the problem. When the patient comes back to the doctor, what the patient wants is to know how to fix the problem and may not be as interested in all the diagnostics to determine how to proceed. While some patients like to know all the ins and outs of the diagnostics, not all will want to know the specifics. The bottom line is that if I, who happen to like the diagnostics, think that everyone is interested in all the specifics, then there is the possibility that I might bore them with the details. For what it is worth, I find that I need to go through larger portions of a book and bring it out in narrative style to keep the sermon moving.

  2. Good ideas for a too common problem. I think the main thing is knowing where you are going with the sermon before you write it/preach it. Usually I want to get my direction from the text–so I don’t want to come to the text with a direction already decided. But at some point I have to decide which ONE of the ideas and applications the text presents–which are often many–I will follow. Then draw a line from where your listeners are to where God wants them to be, and let your sermon follow that path.

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