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Preachers either sink or swim

What’s the worst sermon I’ve ever heard? Hmm, good question. Thanks for asking. There are two that come to mind.


First, there’s really no such thing as a bad sermon; rather, there are sermons I didn’t like for some reason. It may well be that a sermon I could class as ‘bad’ helped move someone else closer to God and gave them a greater insight into faith. So, we’re really just talking about personal preferences here.


I’m also quick to add that I’m sure I’ve preached many sermons that some people would class as being bad. To be honest, I’ve thought that myself after some of my sermons!


Many years ago, I was attending a corps where the officers decided to do a series of meetings reflecting on the first days of The Salvation Army. The Booths were, of course, a key focus as were things like the commencement of social services, the international spread of the Army, the first use of brass bands and so on.


One Sunday, we were led through some old songbook songs about the Army flag, and when we got to the time for the message, the officer said she was going to read, from ‘Orders and Regulations for Local Officers’, the role and duties of the colour sergeant. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is the person who cares for and holds and carries the flag when the occasion calls for it.


I thought, well, this is an interesting opening to a sermon; let’s see where she takes it or what sort of theme she finds. So, she read from the O&R and then closed the book and said, ‘Now, for our closing song …’


Okay. So apparently the chapter from the O&R book was the sermon. Wow.


At a different corps, Tracey and I were attending as cadets and the officer decided to focus on the ‘water of life’ as her theme. She read some key Bible verses that reference water and then she launched into her message.


It became clear very quickly that she had decided on doing a deep dive into the theme of water – and that pun is just an indication of what the next 25 minutes held for us. She pulled out every water pun she could imagine, made every water reference she could think of and pushed the whole theme way past its helpful point.


“When we dive into a life with Christ we have to decide if we’re going to sink or swim or merely float through life on the waves of doubt and conviction as they swell around us and flow through our soul as it drowns in a sea of depravity, and we get washed upon the shore of despair time and time again looking for Christ our eternal lifeguard to revive us once more.”


Twenty. Five. Minutes. She was relentless. In some ways, it was an absolute showcase of a talk – I couldn’t believe how she maintained the approach – but as a sermon it, well, sunk. It was mind-numbingly confusing as she moved from theme to theme across the Bible; her focus was more on, “How many water references can I squeeze in?” She finished and I turned to Tracey and said, “What did she just say?” and Tracey looked at me shell-shocked and said, “I don’t know.”


There are others I could mention but these two stick in my mind as the worst I’ve heard. While they didn’t work for me, I pray that they resulted in a crowd of people wanting to be colour sergeants or, in terms of the latter example, wanting to take swimming lessons.


– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos


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