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Preacher, Avoid These Mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes, but there are limits to what goes wrong and who did it.  Attorneys who err in critical courtroom battles or airplane pilots who miscalculate landing planes by a few feet do not have the luxury of a forgiving clientele.  Bill Cosby’s old line about the surgeon who says “Oops!” is funny only to the audience at the comedy club; the patient is not amused.  The consequences of mistakes by professionals are much worse than those made by amateurs because professionals “profess” expertise.  Preachers should embrace their calling with the same level of professionalism as the most elite practitioners in society.  For even one soul to be harmed or misled by a preacher means eternal consequences.  

Now that I have sufficiently scared you to an NDE*, I will boldly predict that we will make mistakes.  By the same token, I also firmly believe that we should be very cognizant of the dangers, and strive to avoid them.  No one may file a malpractice suit against you in this life, but we will give an account to God for those placed in our care.  Preachers who take their calling seriously will guard against malpractice in and out of the pulpit.  Here are ten notorious errors (sins?) in preaching: 

Misquoting a Bible verse.  There are fewer excuses now for misquoting a verse than there have ever been.  We have multiple Bibles lying around, electronic Bibles, Bibles on smart phones and iPads, audio Bibles on CD’s, and Bible verses projected on screens while we preach.  Also, remember that we have Bible quizzers in the congregation, plus scores of former Bible quizzers who have committed hundreds of verses to memory.  Flubbing an article or preposition may be overlooked, but a major gaffe indicates a lack of serious study.  If you don’t really know a verse, don’t try to quote it.  Say, “Put that verse up there so I don’t misquote it!”  People appreciate that more than they do barreling on through with some gross inaccuracy.  

Misinterpreting a Bible verse.  We preachers are charged with “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”  Every scripture has an intrinsic meaning, but many scriptures also have multiple meanings for different times, places and people.  These meanings must be defined according to vocabulary, context and corresponding scriptures.   Let the Bible speak for itself.  Don’t make a verse say what it doesn’t say, even if your theme is valid.  Embellishing, enhancing, liberally paraphrasing or twisting scriptures invariably make your case weaker, not stronger.  Also, if you are not a Greek or Hebrew scholar, give attribution to a scholar whenever you refer to these languages in your message.  

Misapplying a Bible verse.  I heard a preacher take his text from the verse about the woman with the issue of blood.  His title was “The Blood is Still the Issue.”  It was an unfortunate choice.  There are so many specific scriptures about the blood of Christ that could have been selected, yet this scripture, in an effort to be clever, was taken totally out of context.  Subordinate your creativity to solid and proper application.  Our mission is not to be cute, creative or shocking.  It is simply to preach the truth.  

Confusing Bible stories.  Keep your stories straight.  You may get by with a momentary lapse of recall, but if you continue to put the wrong name with the wrong character, or put an event into a different story or era of time, your credibility will suffer.  Rehearse your Bible illustrations and stories until you know them forwards and backwards.  

Using confidential incidents as illustrations.  A breach of confidence by a preacher inflicts damages that may never heal.  No matter how apropos the illustration may be, never yield to the temptation.  Someone in the audience may know someone who knows who you are talking about.  It may seem safe enough, but the risk is too great.  Whenever you use a real life experience, get permission from the principle person in the story, or change a substantial part of the story so that no one can make the connection.  Always tell your audience that you have made this change so they know that you are protecting someone and you are not misstating the truth.  You are safest when you avoid referring to others altogether and limit your stories to personal examples. 

Feigning knowledge.  If you don’t know what you are preaching about, don’t say you do.  First, you are being disingenuous.  Second, you may be spreading an untruth.  Last, there may be someone listening who really does know what you say you know.  You’ve just given that person a huge reason to doubt you.  Why would preachers pretend they know something when they don’t?  It’s either an ego problem or a work ethic problem.  Anything worth including in your message is worth getting right. 

Fabricating facts.  It seems unthinkable, but some pulpiteers have made things up on the spot, and because they were able to sound authoritative, they got by with it.  Anytime you are not sure of your facts, admit it.  (Do your homework ahead of time and you won’t find yourself in that situation!)  Most people are fine with rounding, approximating and even guessing if you are honest about it.  They are not fine with manufacturing numbers and stories out of thin air when it is deliberate and calculated to deceive.  If you want to preach about integrity, you have to demonstrate integrity. 

Attacking individuals.  Whether through righteous indignation, personal grievance or a misguided attempt to set people straight, launching an attack against an individual from the pulpit is always out of order.  All preaching should be delivered at a high level of decorum, untainted by animosity.  Your objective is to proclaim a timeless truth.  Targeting a person trivializes the Word of God. 

Sermonizing.  The difference between preaching a sermon and sermonizing is that the former is done to serve God and people, but the latter is done to serve one’s own self.  If our focus is only on delivering a homiletically correct, oratorically excellent, perfectly poised sermon, we are sermonizing.  Mount the pulpit with true sensitivity to God’s Spirit and a concern for souls.  Excellence is better found in the results rather than the performance.  

Insincerity.  The gravity of preaching precludes posturing, showboating, attempting to impress, entertaining, performing a duty or any other dubious reason why preachers might preach.  Understand that preaching has been ordained of God to save souls!  (1 Corinthians 1:21)  The sincerity your hearers will perceive in your message will make up for any lack in composition or delivery.  Souls who are truly thirsty for God desperately need a sincere, anointed preacher.  If you are anointed, your message will be anointed as well. 

*NDE = Near Death Experience 

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