Tapping a nail into a wall with a sledgehammer, or pulling out a tooth with a tractor, would probably be considered an excessive use of force. I remember hearing about someone trying to loosen a wheel-nut on his car with a blast from a shotgun (he did get injured!) When we preach, we should aim to use appropriate force for each goal we are trying to achieve. Excessive force can really backfire in the pulpit. Here are some examples:
1. Overstated introduction. Your message is unlikely to solve every problem on the planet, so don’t over-egg the introduction. One of my teachers used to say that you shouldn’t roll out a cannon, only to fire a pea. This doesn’t mean that your introduction should be weak or full of supposedly humble disclaimers. Whatever you are preaching, create a thirst for the message and the passage, a thirst that the message can then quench. Promising too much can really backfire when what you do give feels like a disappointment.
2. Overpowered illustration. It is good to include content that will help to engage your listeners and enlighten them during your message. But if your personal story or powerful anecdote is too much, then it will backfire. Make sure your illustrations drive the main idea forwards, not overtake it and bury it in their dust. Even if the story is all true, and it happened to you, and it is relevant . . . it may be worth holding it back rather than letting it bury your message.
3. Over-the-top wording. We live in an age of extreme claims. Social media is full of absolute and total statements, as well as increasingly shocking headlines serving as clickbait. Be careful not to bring that tendency into your preaching. You have 20, 30 or even 40 minutes, not just 280 characters. Shocking a congregation, or describing something or someone in extreme terms, will be tempting. Don’t do it. Speak carefully and precisely so that people can sense that you are trustworthy with your words.
4. Over-relevant application. If you are a visiting speaker you can often hide behind your lack of personal knowledge of the local situation. But if this is your church, and these are your flock, then you need to be careful. A passage may sit up nicely for an application about divorce, financial integrity, or whatever. Yet if your congregation has a known marital breakdown, or a director under review for embezzlement, or whatever, then it may be better not to be quite so relevant with what you say on Sunday.
5. Overblown humor. It is not a sin to say something funny while preaching. But if you have to try too hard to get a response, then you are trying too hard. Don’t do it.
6. Over-pressured persuasion. There is a place for persuasion in the pulpit. But there are ways of pressuring people to respond to the Gospel, or to an application, that are excessive and unhelpful. Trust God to do the life changing as you seek to faithfully and effectively herald God’s Word. When their response becomes contingent on your pressure techniques – in wording, in tone, in manipulative practices – then your force is excessive and it will backfire.
Where else in a sermon can you apply too much force to get the job done?