Mourning the Dead Sermon

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There are days, thankfully only a few, when the sermon dies a tragic death somewhere between the pulpit and the pew; before it even reaches the ears of the congregation. What felt like a God-inspired masterpiece in the study has become a lifeless, dead, tragic waste. Oh, we might try an emergency rescue, go off script and try to improvise our way into a better message, but it almost never works. Instead, just like at a funeral, everyone is watching, even passing by, and thinking about what could have been–mourning the dead sermon.

I’ve preached my share of dead sermons, and maybe more than my share. It’s tragic. Occasionally the sermon dies because I didn’t prepare the way I should have prepared. Sometimes the sermon dies because I didn’t understand the message the way I originally thought I did. And to be honest, sometimes it dies because I just wasn’t spiritually prepared for the preaching moment. I skipped prayer, devotions, and personal worship, Bible reading. I hadn’t paid attention to the spiritual disciplines in my own life and the sermon meant to bless the lives of a congregation died because of it.

I’m fully aware that every preacher experiences this from time to time. I’m not alone. We’ve all preached the dead sermon. We’ve all slipped into the functional mode of preaching and seen the spiritual life ebb out of our preaching. We might make it work for a while. We can hide it for a time. But eventually we have to deal with it. We have to mourn the dead sermon. And move on…

Here are three steps to mourn the dead sermon:

Understand why the sermon died.

Don’t assume you know. Pray over it. Ask a trusted colleague and/or congregant. Ask yourself the hard questions about your own spiritual and work life: Did you do the work? Were you spiritually attuned to God’s direction? Did you understand the text? Did you understand the congregation’s need? Etc… If you understand why the sermon died you can make the necessary corrections to avoid future sermon death!

Own the responsibility.

It’s easy, and self-deceptive, to slide into the practice of situational blaming to explain away the death of a sermon. “The room was lifeless.” “Attendance was down and I wasn’t feeling the energy.” “What do you expect? The music was awful today.” Yes, these things might occasionally be true, but most often when a sermon dies it’s the preacher’s fault, and it can’t be blamed on situations or other people. If we are going to avoid the future death of a sermon we have to own our role in its death.

Let it go.

The death of a sermon happens to everyone who dares to stand and preach. Every preacher has experienced this situation. So let it go! Don’t stew on it too long. You can get trapped in worrying about what happened and why it happened and, the next thing you know, that worry has killed two or three more sermons. Let it go. Do the work you need to do to have a living, passionate, life-giving sermon the next week.

So there are the three steps to mourn the dead sermon. Understand why it died, own the responsibility for it, and let it go! Then, next week, stand to preach the Gospel message unhindered by the dead sermons of the past. Stand to preach the Good News of Jesus full of the life-giving Spirit of God, and allow the dead to be dead. But remember, God specializes in raising the dead!

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