How to Talk about bad sermons
Way back in December 2020 I wrote about how we should listen to sermons. The intention was for that to be one post in a series. Here is part 2.
How we listen to sermons is a lot about us. If we can be prepared, be attentive and have good intentions when someone begins preaching, that will go a long way. There are instances though when something happens or is said or the sermon is just plain bad. Perhaps the lesson includes something you believe to be doctrinally incorrect. Perhaps they have said something you are confused by or concerns you. Perhaps they are boring or seem otherwise unprepared.
Bring it up or not?
You hear that bad sermon and the natural response for most is to verify that they are right. To do so requires asking a couple of closer friends what they thought.
"Man, was today's lesson a little off?"
"Yeah, it went a little long too."
"Umm, I thought it was OK, definitely not one of _________'s best"
There is nothing there that inspires you to go have a talk with the preacher about it.
Usually, if we get to that point, it is because there have been more bad than good lessons or you are concerned about the content of what you are hearing.
These are all valid and it is much better to have the conversation than to avoid one.
That having been said, I have heard from others and experienced myself both good conversations and infuriating ones.
You don't want to be a source of pain, but you do want to speak the truth in love. So, how should you go about it?
Here are 4 things to keep in mind:
Be gracious - delivering a sermon on Sunday may be a big part of this person's weekly responsibilities and thus take up a good portion of their week to prepare. It is fairly common for ministers to spend far more time preparing than one would ever see. I know of men who have read entire books in a week to get a better understanding of their topic. Some rehearse on stage and others are constantly rehearsing in their minds. This makes preaching exhausting and emotional. Imagine giving nearly half of your work week to preparing and then teaching one lesson. Then within 24 hours most of the people who heard it do not even remember the main ideas and points. All that work leading up to the event and then *poof* its done and gone. Teachers who prepare lessons, will get to teach the same thing to multiple classes or year after year. Actors in plays put more work into learning their lines but then usually have many performances over several weeks. Don't get me wrong, if the sermon is bad, its bad. If it is doctrinally wrong, its wrong. You are going to have the conversation, I'm simply giving you some context that can help you have more grace.
Be clear - If you spent the weekend planning dinner: shopping, chopping, steaming, roasting, etc. and then you feed your family and someone says, "I didn't like it." How much is that really helping you? Not much. The easiest thing to do it discount their opinion and move on. But if you are tired and invested, those 4 words of complaint may really sting. The assumption is that they are saying they didn't like any of it and that can easily sound like, "I don't like you." So you didn't like the sermon - do you know why? Be as specific as possible. Then consider if the things you don't like are within the realms of their control. Perhaps you realize that your confusion was your own fault or something environmental. Maybe it is something they can fix, maybe it isn't. You should know before you go to talk.
Be open - Seek clarity and understanding - If the issue is doctrinal, you should judge that too. How big is this issue? Is it going to lead people astray? Will it keep people out of heaven? There is a big difference between, "You were wrong about X" and "This Sunday you mentioned X, can you explain to me more of what you meant by that?" Then take the time to hear them out. Remember, they are spending hours every week studying the Bible and digging through doctrine. That doesn't mean they cannot get misled, but could make your objections come off as whimsical, trivial or undeserved.
Be honest - while some personalities may rashly overstate their distaste for Sunday's lesson, another type of person will get to the meeting and wilt like a flower. I believe if you can honestly approach the conversation with grace, clarity and openness, then speaking the truth should not be difficult. There are other challenges though that we infuse without thought, but they are a form of dishonesty. An example would be like taking the conversation I mentioned initially in which you got some buy in and a couple of others in the audience confirmed the badness of the sermon. This can become dishonest when that gets translated, "There are a lot of us who are concerned about this." One other person or even two others plus yourself does not equal, "a lot." We say things like this to bolster our points but it is not profitable. Instead of driving home one idea you add several others to the preacher's mind: "does everyone hate my preaching?" "Why are they not talking to me about it? Am I unapproachable?" "Is that why they were laughing in the back?" Unless you have pulled the short straw and are honestly representing a larger cohort, speak for yourself only.
These are some great guidelines to begin with. We've all heard stinkers. Most of the time they are aberrations that we don't feel the need to be confrontational about and other times we do feel compelled to speak up. Make sure to be prayerful about your interactions too and ask that God would work through and bring fruit from your endeavors.