The Ten Deadly Sins of Preaching
John Ortberg's insights from the National Pastors Convention

Monday was a great day to leave Chicago. The wind-chill was thirty degrees below zero and the Bears had just lost the Super Bowl. This week I'm in sunny San Diego for the National Pastors Convention. Although the main sessions don't start until later today, on Tuesday I attended a five hour "Critical Concerns" course on preaching.

John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, CA, and the author of numerous books with really long titles, presented about preparing the soul to preach. His focus was not simply getting spiritually juiced for Sunday morning, but rather becoming the kind of person that preaching flows out of that pleases God. It was really about character formation.

Part of Ortberg's discussion included a list of the ten deadly sins of preaching. (John said he originally intended to create a list of seven deadly sins, but preaching offered so many temptations that he had to expand the list.)

1. The temptation to be inauthentic

We want to present an image to others that makes us appear more holy, intelligent, or godly than we actually are. In the end this is a foolish pursuit because the truth of who we are will always leak out.

2. The temptation to live for recognition

After finishing a sermon the question that runs through most of our minds is, did they like it? But we need to learn to root our identity in something other than applause. Ortberg cited Dallas Willard's ability to present his material and give no thought to people's reactions. He's like a child who releases a helium balloon. He says what God's given him to say, and simply lets it go.

3. The temptation to live in fear

What if I fail? That question plagues many pastors. But there is a difference between failing at something and being a failure. You are not a failure. Again, our identity must been hidden in Christ and not our accomplishments.

4. The temptation to compare

With the radio, television, and the internet our generation faces this temptation more than any previous generation. Our culture of celebrity pastors causes us to compare ourselves to others. This does nothing good for the soul.

5. The temptation to exaggerate

This seems closely linked to temptation number one. Overstating facts is how we often try to manage our image and appear better than we are. John also linked this to plagiarism - passing someone else's story, sermon, or idea off as our own to win approval.

6. The temptation to feel chronically inadequate

(I couldn't write fast enough to take notes on this point. Does that make me an inadequate blogger?)

February 07, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 25 comments


February 21, 2007  7:32pm

Great article. Pastoring a small church is very easy to fall into thinking you are the only one in the world with these type of feelings. It's helpful to know these experiences are felt worldwide. Whew! Muchas gracias.

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February 19, 2007  9:29am

Applicable to teachers and (small group) leaders as well ... thank you.

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February 18, 2007  5:42pm

Very good article. I think most of it is right on. I am not a pastor but I find myself struggling with those same things in ministry settings. The Henri Nouwen is also very good and convicting.

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Pr James Kaitaba

February 16, 2007  11:14am

Thank you very much for all the important correspodences and for me as a pastor this very one was very spot on. God bless you. Your brother in Christ and his Vineyard. From Uganda. James.

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Laurence Simpson

February 13, 2007  9:38pm

I am not a pastor, but all the lessons, including some of the 11's are applicable to Christians in their work outside the church. We are guilty of many of these same errors in our ministry outside the church, and sometimes, the results of our inadequacy in our witness are just as damaging. In regard to K.R.Leslie's comments, there is also another temptation. I was speaking to a group of politicians, and made the point that so often we have our message ready, and then we look up the Bible to find texts that support our message. We should instead be looking for what the Bible has to say to us and then, find illustrations from our lives to enhance the message. It is then His word, not mine.

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Eric Spangler

February 13, 2007  7:00pm

Ahhhh. Freedom.

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February 13, 2007  6:48pm

Good stuff, but let's not jump over #5 too quickly. I have a feeling a lot more of us are guilty of #5, specifically the issue of plagiarism, than are willing to admit. I'm one that never preaches word for word someone else's sermon, but I definetly will pick and borrow the best of what I see as a way to help grow people's faith.

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February 13, 2007  4:08pm

Enjoyed the article on pastors. So true in what you shared. Thank you.

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Jim Martin

February 13, 2007  3:55pm

Thanks so much Skye for posting these. These are really important.

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February 10, 2007  11:52pm

hmm good stuff. tho i as leslie said i think a #11 should be added, The temptation to preach our own message rather than God's. as well as the temptation to be a people pleaser rather than speak the truth

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