15 Commandments for Preaching

The following are tips on preaching gathered from a variety of people around the church who have some sense of what does and does not work in sermons.

1. Did Jesus need to suffer and die for this sermon to be preached? If not, don’t waste your time or ours with it. It’s probably just clean mental health for religious people.

2. Never speak of yourself in the tub, shower, or in bed. It’s hard enough for parishioners to follow a sermon without imagining the preacher in the altogether.

3. Never start your sermon with “When I was asked to preach….” Drawing attention to your effort preparing the sermon will create too much interest in whether or not it was worth your time or theirs.

4. Never start a sermon with an I. It’s God’s word you’re proclaiming, not your own. A way to check how you’re doing is to count the number of times you say, “I.” Remember there is someone sitting out there doing just that.

5. Never say, “It’s hard to find any gospel in this text.” It will make you seem like an athlete of the text if you happened to find some, giving the impression that you are going to do something really hard, for which you, not God, should be praised.  God wasn’t clear, is the implication, although you are.

6. Never begin, “Her name was Jill” or “The water rippled brightly as we stepped into the lake.” It’s the homiletical equivalent of “It was a dark and stormy night.”  If you can tell stories well enough to keep a congregation interested for 10 minutes, you’re in the wrong business.

7. Never tell a bathroom or bedroom joke in the pulpit, especially on Ash Wednesday or Maundy Thursday. It is always inappropriate, but on these days it really wrecks concentration.

8. Never preach on love after you have had an argument with your congregation or even one person in it. Even if you think you were in the right, it sounds like special pleading and usually burdens the conscience of your opponent. Any group will have its disagreements. Disagreements are not sins that you have been given the keys to bind and release. Most sermons on love turn out to have the sub-text, “You haven’t been very nice to me.” Your work is to relieve the burdened conscience with the forgiveness of sins. Burdening the consciences of your people so you can come out in the right is an abuse of your office.

9. Never start a sermon with “And now we begin our Lenten journey.”  The gospel is not a mood piece set into the more important liturgical year. You are preaching the word, not the season.

10. Never preach an Easter sermon dressed up like an Easter bunny. Or use any secular holiday trimmings for a high holy day. A long time ago, Christians thought these symbols were pagan, or at least inappropriate for church.

11. Remember the bon mot: “Other people’s love is disgusting.” You may think you are the most interesting person in the world, but how interesting you are to others tends to diminish, usually, the further away you are from their blood line, unless you are a movie star or a royal.

12. Always assume someone is listening to you for dear life. They may be dying, or helping someone who is. Don’t assume all the hurting people have stayed home and those sitting before you have come to be told they need to do more for others.  They may, in fact, have come to be strengthened for the work they are already doing and don’t know how they can manage.

13. Always remember no one hears a thing you say after the noon whistle blows.

14. Always assume that someone out there is counting to 100 five times to make the time pass more quickly.

15. Always mention the name of Jesus at least once. Assume when you preach that there is a life and death struggle going on in the heart of someone in your audience who needs Jesus Christ.