If there’s one thing you never set out to be as a leader or communicator, it’s boring.
And yet everyone who communicates, preaches or even tries to persuade someone of an idea has discovered that sinking sense that you’re sermon just isn’t as riveting as it could be. Or that you’re dull. Even when you’re preaching the Word of God that is anything but dull.
Let me ask you: how exactly does that happen?
It happens for at least seven different reasons.
By the way, I just launched my brand new course, The Art of Better Preaching, a 12 part course I developed with Mark Clark, lead pastor of a rapidly growing megachurch in Vancouver BC. Each weekend for years, Mark and I have preached to thousands of post-modern, post-Christian people.
Hundreds of leaders have already jumped in on the course and (thanks for the suggestion!) we just made it easier than ever, adding a 3 part payment plan to make taking the course even easier (it’s still a fraction of the price of any seminary course you’d take). One of the big questions from early participants? “Where was a course like this when I was in seminary?”
But in the meantime, back to the key question. Why are some sermons boring?
Here are 7 common reasons why:
1. You’re Actually Bored with the Message
Oh, I know, let’s start by going right for the heart.
But let’s be honest: have you ever preached a message you were bored with?
Looking back, I have.
So why would you ever preach a boring message?
Well, there’s the pressure of Sunday morning. You’re scrambling to get a message done and you just didn’t linger long enough over it to make it pop.
Another reason you’re bored with a message is that you haven’t yet figured out why it matters. We’ll look at that in more detail below.
If you sense you’re bored with a message, make that a hard stop. Don’t move forward until your message engaged you.
I promise you this. Preachers, if you’re bored with the message you’re delivering, your audience will be too.
So what do you do if you’re bored with the message? Move on to point two and ask yourself “Why does this even matter?”
You need to know why it matters internally, and then you need to explain it to your audience, which will engage them.
2. You haven’t explained why what you’re saying matters
Simon Sinek was right, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Most preachers are really skilled at telling people what they need to know (as in ‘here’s what God’s word has to say to us…”)
But if your message comes across as boring, almost guaranteed you haven’t explained to your listeners why any of it matters.
Why establishes relevance. For example, everyone knows you should eat healthy and exercise, but many don’t anyway. Why change? After all…food tastes good and exercise is hard.
But imagine going to your doctor and learning you are developing Type 2 diabetes and you’re a prime candidate for a heart attack in the next 6 months. All along, you’ve known the what. But you just got deeply motivated by a why.
Do people think your preaching is boring?
Spend some time explaining why what you’re sharing matters to families, to parents, to kids, to neighbors, to co-workers. Explain how this biblical teaching can change their self-talk, draw them closer to Christ, reduce the conflict in their marriage.
Explaining why something matters makes people lean harder into what you’re going to tell them. So explain the why before you explain the what.
If you think that’s trivial, then ask yourself why God gave us scripture in the first place. Clearly, he thought it mattered. There is a why behind God’s what too.
Find it, and everyone will be more interested in your message. Including you.
3. You’re answering questions no-one is asking
I’ve seen far too many preachers try to answer questions no-one is asking.
Few people care about the holy day rituals in ancient Israel.
One way to see if you’ve found an obscure topic only you care about is to fill in the blanks on this sentence before preaching: Many of you are struggling with _______________.
If your answer is “the rhythm and frequency of holy days in ancient Israel” you know you’ve got a yawner on your hands, unless you’re speaking to Old Testament PhD students working on Levitical laws. (In which case you still likely have a yawner on your hands.)
You actually could create a fascinating message around the Holy Day rhythm though if you jump back to point 2 and figure out why it matters.
In fact, exhausted CEO’s and parents would probably love to hear a message about rhythm and rest. So would people who never take a day off, or struggle with anxiety and stress.
Still not convinced? Ask yourself why God would want us to spend 1/7 of our life resting and then add a bunch of celebrations in on top of that. An anxious world that’s forgotten God needs to hear that message and wants to hear that message.
The principle here? Deliver what people need to hear in a way they want to hear it.
Often rephrasing the question and uncovering the felt need underneath that will help you get to where you need to go on an issue.
4. You haven’t understood or empathized with your audience
There is no such thing as a ‘generic’ audience; you really can’t connect with your audience if you don’t understand them.
Recently I spent some time with a friend talking about a conference we’re both speaking at.
Because I knew the audience better than he did, he spent 40 minutes asking me exactly who would be in the audience, what their hopes and fears are, what they struggle with and how he should approach them.
I was amazed by this for a few reasons.
First, my friend is a multiple New York Times bestselling author and speaks to large influential audiences all the time. If anyone could just waltz in and speak, he could.
Second, even though he has far more offers to speak than he can possibly accept, he is infinitely interested in the audiences he speaks to.
The fact that he’s so in demand, so good at what he does and that he cares deeply about his audience is likely all connected.
The more deeply you care about your audience, the more deeply they’ll care about what you say.
5. You haven’t described a gripping problem people want to solve
The problem with a lot of communication is that it doesn’t start with a problem.
Too often, communicators or writers just start.
Your audience is asking one question: why should I listen? Why should I read further? I have problems to solve and you’re not helping me.
Counter that explicitly.
If almost always start any talk I’m doing describing a problem people face—at work, at home, in their relationship with God or in their relationship with each other.
How do you do that? Describe the problem in detail: ie. You’re so frustrated with God because He says he’s a God of love, but you read the Old Testament and beg to differ. And you wonder if you can even trust a God like that.
If you really want people to drill down on the issues, take the next step. Make the problem worse. Describe it in such detail that people are no longer sure there’s a solution to it. Quote an atheist. Explain that God seems cruel, mean and angry.
Then go to your main point, which for argument’s sake might be explaining how he shouldered his own anger on the cross in love.
The idea here is to try to uncover and bring to light every objection people have to the main point you’re trying to make. Think about what they’ll think about driving home (oh yeah, he didn’t deal with X) and then deal with X.
They’ll lean in when you do.
6. You don’t personally own the message
There was a season when cool church was enough.
But people are tired of slick. They’re suspicious of polish.
One of the keys to authenticity is personally owning everything you say. People want to know you believe what you’re saying.
In a world of spin where so much is sold, people are looking for real.
When you own the message—when it comes from the core of who you are—it resonates.
So own your message. Start early…process it. Pray over it. Digest it. And believe it.
That means you’ve processed it deeply enough that it has become part of who are, not just something you say.
7. You’re relying too heavily on your notes
In public speaking, people won’t stay nearly as engaged with your message if you’re reading it.
It comes across as a press release. Or a statement someone else prepared. Or something you think they should believe, but you don’t believe yourself.
I know that’s tough for people who are tied to manuscripts.
Please hear me: reading from your notes doesn’t mean you’re insincere, it just means people often think you are.
So is there help? You bet.
In The Art of Better Preaching we have an entire unit that will train you on how to give a talk without using your notes. And yes, I’ve helped hundreds of leaders do just that. It is more than possible.
Want the heart of it? (There’s much more…but this will get you started.)
It’s this: don’t memorize your talk. Understand it.
You don’t memorize your conversations before you have them because you understand them.
So understand your next talk.
You can always talk about things you understand.
A Powerful New Resource for Preachers
Ready to start preaching engaging sermons that reach the unchurched without selling out? Then it’s time to start using the right tips, lessons, and strategies for communicating better.
The Art of Better Preaching Course is a 12 session video training with a comprehensive, interactive workbook that will help you create, write, and deliver better sermons. The course contains the lessons Mark Clark (lead pastor of Village Church, a growing mega-church in post-Christian Vancouver) and I have learned, taught, and used over decades of being professional communicators.
This is the complete course you need to start preaching better sermons, including:
- 7 preaching myths it’s time to bust forever
- The 5 keys to preaching sermons to unchurched people (that will keep them coming back)
- How to discover the power in the text (and use it to drive your sermon)
- The specific characteristics of sermons that reach people in today’s world
- Why you need to ditch your sermon notes (and how to do it far more easily than you think.)
- How to keep your heart and mind fresh over the long run
And far more! Plus you get an interactive workbook and some bonus resources that will help you write amazing messages week after week.
In the Art of Better Preaching, Mark and I share everything we’ve learned about communicating in a way that will help your church grow without compromising biblical integrity. We cover detailed training on everything from interacting with the biblical text to delivering a talk without using notes, to writing killer bottom lines that people will remember for years.
In the meantime, let’s share some learning.
What are some other things you’ve seen that create a boring message?