I love preaching - both listening and participating in helping to expound the word of God. Over the years I have listened to thousands of sermons, not just in church services and festivals but via classes, podcasts and live video feeds. They have fed my soul and my mind and undoubtedly they have shaped who I am. While remaining absolutely committed to preaching, I have to admit I have sat through countless dull sermons, and I have also spoken to many other Christians who find their local preachers frustrating, tedious and soporific. How can you remain committed to your church family, and get round the problem of the boring sermon?
1. Change the way you process
Taking notes definitely helps me. It helps me process and remember the brilliant sermons, and stay awake through the boring ones. It tunes me into the structure and ideas and stops my mind wandering. It enables me to make my own connections - with what God has been teaching me, with contemporary culture, with practical applications.
This is particularly helpful when the preacher has been unable to make those links. When I learn differently to how my preacher teaches - visual or verbal, linear or wandering, logical or exploratory, traditional or contemporary - the sermon can be adapted on the paper in front of me to suit the way I learn. Sometimes the sermons raise questions - by jotting them down it helps me mull over them in the week ahead, or even to have a mutually productive discussion with the preacher afterwards.
2. Change the preacher
Mark Batterson, a Canadian writer and preacher, puts it well as he challenges preachers: "Let me be blunt: if your life is boring your sermons will be, too. If you have no life outside of church - no hobbies, no friends, no interests, no goals - your illustrations will feel canned, your applications will feel theoretical instead of practical, and your sermons will be lifeless instead of life-giving."
Perhaps your preacher needs to get out more and have a wider range of experiences. Why not invite them into your world to see your challenges at home and at work and at play. Perhaps their preaching would connect with the realities of your professional, personal and practical life if they had experienced it? Change your preacher not by finding another one, but by showing them insights into how their preaching actually changes you.
3. Change your feedback
Some parenting advice that I have always found helpful is "Catch your children doing something good." Why not apply the same principle to your preacher? Can you catch them doing something good and let them know? Positive reinforcement can be a great way to help someone improve their skills. Chances are this will really encourage them and spur them on to do more of the same.
Tell them when you appreciate an illustration, an application, an explanation, a connection and a reflection and you may well get it again. Be careful though, if the most positive feedback you can offer is about their choice of jacket, then you are not likely to see great change.
4. Change your expectations
In our media-soaked culture we sometimes compare our preachers with the world's best stand up comedians, communicators and festival speakers and berate them for falling short. But it is almost impossible for our local preachers (or our local comedians for that matter) to measure up to their standards of communication.
We wouldn't expect TV standard at our local comedy club, just as we don't expect our parents to serve culinary masterpieces as good as Raymond Blanc or Albert Roux. But although their food may never come close to being awarded a Michelin Star, there is something remarkably precious about familiar home-cooked food and hospitality from people who love us. Similarly we need to stop comparing our pastors' preaching with what we may have heard at an inspirational conference or on a podcast, and appreciate our familiar preacher flaws and all. In fact, if your preacher was a 'world-class preacher', chances are they would not be there at your local church, chatting to you week in week out. Before we decide our preacher is boring double check who you are comparing them to. Take time at the beginning of each sermon to pray for them, bless them and thank God for their ministry, asking for a generous spirit in the way you receive what they are saying.
5. Change the way you prepare
I have heard many a member of a church complain that their preacher doesn't prepare enough. This may well be a valid critique, and many church leaders would readily agree that they struggle to achieve the high expectations of delivering the degree of strategic leadership, pastoral visiting, administration and sermon preparation required by their congregation. However we must be careful not to fall into the trap of spotting the speck in someone else's eye while not seeking the plank in our own. How much time do you spend preparing for the sermon? When was the last time you read the passage the sermon is going to be on before you arrive at the service? When was the last time you spent time praying and meditating on the passage before the preacher began the sermon? When was the last time you sent the preacher a clipping, a link to an article that you might help in their preparation? Perhaps if we put more time into being prepared to hear the sermon the more we will get out of it.
So are you bored in the sermon? How about rethinking what we can do about it? When you feel bored, ask yourself the following questions. Have you:
B = Brought a notebook?
O = Opened up about your challenges?
R = Reinforced the positive?
E = Expected the realistic?
D = Done your preparation?
If you are still bored thank God for the opportunity to sit still and do nothing, pray that God would be speaking to somebody else in the room, plan who you are going to speak to after the service - or if all else fails thank God for the gift of rest and take a short power nap to fuel you to serve Him in the week ahead. (Just try not to snore).