Preaching penalties that can occur when driving the sermon.
The Race Officials Jared Alcántara, Scott M. Gibson, and Joel C. Gregory
Image: Jerry Ballard / Getty Images
Many a preacher has faced a penalty flag when preparing to preach or while preaching a sermon. Sometimes in the preparation and the preaching there are wrecks that cause spiritual injury to the preacher and listeners. As experienced Penalty Flag Officials, we have engaged with the rules and offer the following insights to our readers that we trust will be helpful in avoiding homiletical fender benders, or worse, a sermon smash-up.
Starting Position Penalty
The penalty is assessed when the preacher begins the introduction but re-starts it multiple times, failing with each attempt, to connect the need expressed in the text to the need of the listeners—due to a lack of preparation.
Stop and Go Penalty
This penalty is assessed when the preacher uses various phrases to signal that the sermon is about to stop such as, “Now, before I conclude,” or “As I come to a close,” only to keep going. The listeners think the sermon is about to end but it is far from over.
This penalty is assessed when the preacher explains the nuances of a compound preposition prefix of a Greek verb at 200+ words per minute while the congregation looks on in wonderment.
This penalty is assessed when the preacher begins the sermon by saying, “As I was planning my sermon on the car ride to church this morning . . . .” Whenever this statement is heard in public worship, a trap door ought to automatically open behind the pulpit.
This penalty is assessed following the sermon, typically in a post-sermon discussion group when a lay person is able to explain the passage in a clearer way than the preacher did in the sermon.
This penalty is assessed when the preacher attempts a shocking statement at the beginning of the sermon that offends the entire church or uses an unfortunate physical prop that does not work amusing the congregation. The proclaimer never gets the sermon back—the sermon ultimately crashes.
Racing the Car You Practiced With
A penalty charged against a preacher who decided to swap out the planned sermon with another one off-the-cuff when stepping into the pulpit. A more egregious example is when a preacher uses someone else’s sermon without giving credit.
This penalty is assessed when the structure or outline of a sermon is so difficult for listeners to discern that the wheels fall off the message sometime after minute eight and before minute 15.
This penalty is assessed when the sermon veers off the announced text and topic, contradicts the meaning of the announced text, wanders off the carefully planned complimentary liturgy, and affirms something no preacher in Christian history ever found in that text.
Pitting Outside the Box
This penalty is assessed when the preacher uses illustrations that have nothing to do with the intention of the text or illustrations that are completely outside the listeners’ understanding.
Failing a Pre- or Post-Race Inspection
This penalty is assessed when the preacher presents their manuscript to a former preaching professor who suggests changes but the preacher refuses; or, after the sermon, when a retired preacher walks out the church door without shaking hands with the preacher but gravely shakes their head in solemn silence.
Being aware of homiletical no-nos will help any preacher drive a sermon to its proper destination. Careful steering will aid both preacher and listener to stay clear of any penalties that might occur. Our hope is that this amusing way of approaching preaching will help readers to take the task of preaching seriously—as we drive carefully on the homiletical highway.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out the rest of the articles in this series: