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Tennis Troubles

Preaching Faults When Serving Up a Sermon
Tennis Troubles
Image: Victor Vazquez / Getty


Sometimes preachers run into trouble when serving up their sermons. Like tennis players, preachers may cause infractions that may get in the way of communicating to their listeners. As experienced homiletical Line Judges, we have carefully studied the violations that occur in preaching and submit to our readers some sage interpretations that may help in serving up better sermons.

Racket Abuse

The offense of slamming the Bible on the pulpit, or worse, on the ground when trying to emphasize an idea in one’s sermon.

Audible Obscenity

When the choir sings a 12-minute anthem at 11:45am leaving the preacher 10 minutes to preach and is usually uttered in a whisper into the lapel mike but is distinctively audible on the digital copy of the service.


When a parishioner provides real-time sermon feedback through text message to the preacher’s smart phone or tablet with the expectation that they will read it, respond to it, and incorporate this well-intentioned coaching before the end of the sermon.

Ball Abuse

When the preacher, while using a laptop/tablet on the pulpit, cannot find the last point of their sermon on the opened file and slams it shut while extemporizing an ending to the sermon—usually with a bouncy cadence in their voice.

Verbal Abuse

When the preacher attempts to impress people with sentences that begin with, “The Greek says …” or “The Hebrew says …,” and that end with things that the Greek and Hebrew most definitely do not say.

Visual Obscenity

This penalty is applied when the use of facial or hand gestures contradict what the preacher was trying to say in a sermon.

Time Violations

This penalty is multifaceted. Time violations occur when introductions or conclusions are too long or too short. Time violations can happen with the entire sermon—they’re too long or too short. For example, various congregations including, Baptists, AME, Episcopalian, or Presbyterians, have different sermon time violation rules.

Best Effort

This punishment occurs when the preacher watches a British murder mystery Saturday night until midnight and fails to internalize the Sunday sermon leading to a confusing effort 11 hours later.


When the preacher uses an illustration in a sermon, and 90 percent of the congregation realizes that the same illustration was used less than 30 days earlier.

Doubles Attire

When the preacher must change from skinny jeans in the early service to a suit in the traditional service, and often manifests itself as finishing tying a necktie on the way to entering the service.

Late for Match

When the Sunday School hour children’s program goes overtime past the beginning of the worship service. This penalty also is applied when the preacher preaches too long and makes listeners late for lunch at the Cracker Barrel. A final application of this penalty is given to guest preachers who show up late to preach.

First Round Retirement

Such a penalty happens when a 25-year-old preacher announces their retirement during a sermon with phrases like, “It has been a long and winding road,” and “Over the last few decades of ministry …” when they graduated from seminary six months earlier, and this is their first church.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

While preaching the sermon, when the preacher criticizes a member of the church anonymously but everyone listening knows exactly who it is.

Leaving the Court Without Permission

This penalty occurs when the preacher decides to leave the pulpit—and even goes out of the church building—in the middle of the second point.


Tennis troubles can sometimes be sermon troubles. As preachers who want to help our listeners stay in the game, we want to avoid any penalties that get in our listeners’ way. The infractions listed above have a measure of levity layered within them. Yet, we confess that we want to take our preaching troubles seriously so as not to prevent our listeners from hearing solid preaching and seeing solid living in our lives as preachers. Serve up your sermons well!

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