I’ve been writing a book about preaching to teenagers lately and I have spent a bit of time wondering if I’m qualified to write this book. I do preach to teenagers, but whether I know how to preach to teenagers is a whole different issue. I have made a few mistakes in my time. There are the obvious ones like preaching too long, being boring, having illustrations that overpower my point, being overly confessional, unnecessarily using Hebrew or Greek words, etc. But then there are a few mistakes that I suspect are unique to me. I’ll tell you three of my biggest preaching mistakes:
(Just before we get started, when it gets finished I am planning on giving the preaching book away for free. So if you want to get your hands on it, subscribe to get my emails – in the popup when you get near the bottom or on the right-hand sidebar – and I’ll make sure you’re one of the first to get it.)
1. Not Preaching
The first time I ever had to preach was in 2001 and I didn’t preach. I was so scared of preaching that I just played a piece of classical music and told people to think about God. It was a nice piece of music but I’m not sure it could really be considered a good sermon. Now maybe my first sermon would have been so bad that listening to a piece of music by Chopin was a better testament to the character of God than I could have dished out. But I’m also pretty sure Tim Keller would have given me zero marks for preaching Jesus. Me too. I give me zero marks for preaching Jesus. But go listen to the piece of music and think about God. It can’t hurt. Then go read the Bible, that can’t hurt less.
2. Getting Drunk While Preaching
Ok. I didn’t actually get drunk. But I did pretend to. In 2004 I was preaching on 1 Kings 18 about Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. In my opening illustration, I asked for suggestions from the congregation about how to make church more exciting while I drank apple juice out of a whiskey bottle and pretended to get drunk. I ended the illustration by standing on a pew and threatening to drop my pants. I think my point was that Israel was acting inappropriately in their worship, just as I was.
I’m actually still in two minds as to the quality of this illustration. I still think it’s pretty funny, but in retrospect, it probably wasn’t just an illustration of inappropriateness, it probably just was inappropriate.
Also, I chipped my tooth on the whiskey bottle. Just another example of me suffering for the gospel.
3. Making Stuff Up About the Bible
This is probably the one I’m most embarrassed about. In 2007 I was preaching on David and Saul’s relationship in 1 Samuel 18. I was talking about how we need to fit in with God’s plans, rather than fight them, and I said: “Better to be like Jonathan who ended up happy, and protected, and looked after, then to be like Saul who fought it and ended up dying by his own sword.” And then I went on to waffle on about God’s plans while it dawned on me that I actually had no idea what happened to Jonathan at the end of his life. You can hear it as I talk, I slowly grind to a halt, then confess my ignorance about the fate of Jonathan. I looked out at the congregation and saw a guy in our congregation who was drawing his thumb across his neck and it became very clear that Jonathan ended up dead, not “happy and protected”. “Oh bugger!” I said, into the mic, “I mean, darn”. I tried to talk my way out if it with this “new” information that had come to light but it was obvious to me and everyone else that I had just said something completely untrue while preaching.
So what did I learn? Read your Bible, research your sermons, make sure you know what the Bible says before you try and make points from it and confess your sins quickly.
If you wanna hear the whole embarrassing debacle, I kept a recording of it. Have a listen if you want some truly inspirational preaching:
Tom tells a Bible Furphy
So I still don’t know if I’m qualified to teach people how to preach, but hopefully, I am at least qualified in knowing how not to preach. If you’re a preacher and you make sure you preach, don’t get drunk, and don’t make up stuff about the Bible you’ll at least be doing a better job than me.