How do you escape a boring sermon if you're the one preaching it?
How do you escape a boring sermon if you're the one preaching it? (Unsplash/Richie Lugo)

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We all preach boring sermons from time to time. The trick is not to make a habit of it.

I'm almost tempted to say a pastor should give his people a boring sermon once in a while, if for no other reason than to help them appreciate the good ones when they come.

Bill Baker was pastor of Clinton, Mississippi's First Baptist Church. He told me this one himself. At the Friday night high school football game, during halftime the other team's band marched onto the field and did their show. Right in the middle of their presentation, a group of students on the other side of the stadium called out, "B-O-R-I-N-G!!" Real loud and very slow.

A 4-year-old girl was puzzled by that. "What are they doing, Mama?" she asked. Her mother explained that sometimes students will do that when they feel the other band is doing poor work. "It tells them they stink," she laughed.

That's why the very next Sunday, right in the middle of Pastor Baker's sermon, this 4-year-old stood in church and did the same thing.

I've preached boring sermons. And I'll bet you have too.

Often, a sermon is boring when we have not thought the subject through sufficiently. Or the subject is too much for us and we do not grasp it well enough to be able to convey it simply. Or, we are tired and not able to give this our all. Or something has distracted us from being able to give our best effort. Or we're preaching something assigned to us but about which we do not feel strong convictions.

Which is to say: A sermon can be boring for a hundred reasons.

What to do when you are listening to a boring sermon: 

People have written jokes about "10 things to do during a boring sermon." Stuff like make your grocery bill, count the times the pastor says "uh" or "you know." That sort of thing.

But seriously...

  • When caught in the middle of a sermon that is lulling everyone to sleep, the best thing to do is simply make the most of it. Just get through it.
  • Pray for the pastor. Pray for the people. Pray the preacher will do better next time.
  • And watch what you say to him after the service ends. You are not allowed to say something like, "Another snoozer, Preacher" or "Not one of your better ones, Brother Tom." Nope. Do not do it. The simple fact is he already knows this was not one of his better efforts. So don't make matters worse.
  • If you do speak to the pastor after the service, plan ahead of time what to say. I suggest something encouraging, like "You're a wonderful pastor, Brother Ed." Or "That was a fascinating subject today." (Maybe the sermon wasn't, but the subject may have been.) Or say something off the subject, like "I'm looking forward to hearing your message tonight on (whatever is in the bulletin)."

But what if you are the pastor and in the middle of the sermon you realize it is b-o-r-i-n-g?

It happens to all of us from time to time.

  • My first thought is to give yourself credit for knowing the difference in a sermon that is connecting and one that is deadening. Not all preachers seem to be able to tell when they are anesthetizing the congregation with the sermon.
  • Pray. Yes, you're preaching, but you can send up a panicky, "Father! Help!"  Or, in the words of the apostle who found himself standing on water, "Lord, help! I'm sinking. Save me lest I drown!" Something like that.
  • Recognize that you may be doing better than you think. All of us have had the experience of coming home from church and announcing to the family that "I didn't have it today," only to have the phone ring and someone say, "Pastor, thank you. That sermon was exactly what I needed today."  Sometimes we are not the best judges of our own preaching.
  • So, if you are dead certain you have a message from God for today and this moment in time your job is to plow on through with this sermon, then give it your best shot. Go for the gold.
  • Do something. Vary your timing, intensify your delivery (or slow it down and personalize it), or something. If people are sleeping, it's usually because your voice has become monotonous and the droning is lulling them off. So, put some variety in it.
  • Stop and tell a story–if you have one that fits here. People love a story and will rouse from their stupor to hear one. That is, unless you constantly tell lots of stories in your sermons. In that case, another illustration probably won't do the trick.
  • Depending on what you are preaching, what the situation is today, what the needs of the congregation are, and how much courage you have, you could even shut the sermon down. I mean, just stop it. It's been done by better preachers than you and me.
  • How would you stop a sermon in the middle, once you realized you were not connecting?  There's probably not a perfect way. I've known a pastor to stop in the middle of the sermon and ask, "Deacon Logan, would you please pray for me. I seem to be having difficulty preaching today." That'll wake up the folks, believe me. (Of course, someone might have to wake up brother Logan to do the prayer!) When done sincerely, the congregation appreciates the pastor's awareness of what is happening and will rally to his support.

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books and trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.

This article originally appeared at joemckeever.com.

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