12 Things I Wish I’d Never Said when Preaching

To be frank, this post is embarrassing. I write it primarily to say to preachers, “Be careful what you say . . . but trust that God can still use you after you say something you wish you hadn’t said.” 

I preached for the first time when I was sixteen years old. I’ve been in full-time ministry now for over 42 years. When you preach that much, you say some unfortunate stuff.  I’m glad that all of these listed here are from the early years of my ministry, but I’m sure I’m not immune to making the same mistakes in the future:  

  1. “I’m convinced Jesus is coming back before I graduate from high school.” I preached this message when I was a junior in high school in 1978.  I was wrong. Seriously wrong. 
  2. “I’m sure all of you already know this story.” That story was a well-known Bible story, but I was wrong to think everyone in my congregation knew it. I assumed too much about my hearers.
  3. “I don’t need to be married to understand marriage.” I was a single pastor, and I wanted to convince my church that I could do marriage counseling. I still argue that a single can do that counseling, but I really didn’t understand marriage back then. Actually, I’m still learning . . . .  
  4. “All video games are of the devil.”  It was the early 1980s. ATARI was popular. I was convinced that all games were distracting and demonic. Somewhere in the midst of my legalism, I had lost the gospel.
  5. “The only thing left to do is pray.” That sounds good, but it relegates prayer to a last resort. If you know me at all today, you know how strongly I now stress proactive rather than reactive praying.
  6. “The Christian life is not a bunch of ‘don’t do’s.’ It’s a bunch of ‘do do’s.”  My attempt to move out of my legalism and stress positive obedience led to an embarrassing expression . . . .
  7. “I’m not going anywhere.”  It was easy to tell my church these words then, as I was genuinely convinced I would never leave them. I’d apparently forgotten that God makes that call.
  8. “Please pray for me. I didn’t have as much time as I needed to prepare this week.” Most of us really don’t need to tell our congregation this information; they’ll figure it out on their own when we start preaching.
  9. “Can I get an ‘Amen’?” I’m not at all opposed to folks affirming the Word of God with an honest “amen.” What I regret is asking for “amens” as if I needed them for affirmation. If you have to ask for an amen, I’m not sure you deserve one! 
  10. “There are no gray areas in the Bible.”  At the time, EVERYTHING was black and white for me. I took me a while to learn to deal with non-essential issues over which strong Christians might disagree.
  11. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Many of us preachers were saying something similar back then. What I now know is that God’s saying it settles it–whether or not I believe it.
  12. “I heard this joke once.” How I regret saying this one not only because the joke didn’t fit well into the sermon, but also because I’m not good at telling jokes. It took only one attempt that fell flat to teach me not to go in that direction again.

What have you said from the pulpit that you wish you’d never said?


  • Scott Douglas says:

    I chastised our church for how horribly some were treating a longtime pastor. It sounded great on paper and in my head but when it came out it was whiny, in the flesh, and an over eager young guy trying to prove himself. Almost got fired for it and still have people walk out of the services when I fill in. That was almost 5 years ago. Thankfully most people recognized the heart intent and patted me on the head and said “bless your heart”

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Sounds like it already has.

  • While preaching on serving I made the statement that if people want to be pew-sitters then they leave and go to some other church to do that.

    In my zeal for people to become active in the church, I lacked care and delivered the statement out of frustration. Plus, I wasn’t do any other churches a favor!

    While I still want people to move beyond the pew, I’ve come to realize there are much healthier ways to motivate!

  • David Turner says:

    Thanks for sharing. It’s a much needed encouragement to realize your not the only one who lets your lips move faster than your brain. Blessings to you and Pam.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, David. Good to hear from you.

  • Steve Reynolds says:

    I’ve probably said so many things that I can’t seem to remember them. I do remember a colleague, when preaching on Solomon, who said, “I don’t know how Solomon had all those wives, I have enough trouble with one!” Actually his wife took it rather well. But he wasn’t exactly a hit with some of the women in the church.

  • Mike Harris says:

    During one sermon I said the words, “Hopefully this church will not be doing the Will of God for the next eight months.” In context, we had just finished 8 months in Daniel and we were starting a new series on “Understanding the Will of God.” I told the people I was really learning new things preparing for the series and I didn’t know how long this series would last, “but hopefully…”

  • Stewart McCarter says:

    Thank you for your honesty! I believe I can check off all of those and more besides. In fact, it was a great encouragement to caution me about current “habits” in the pulpit that might not be the best approach!

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