Those days are long gone now, but I don't miss them. Instead of trying to paint masterpieces, I now spend many hours each week preparing lessons, writing articles, and studying the Bible. I'll be the first one to admit that most of my sermons are not masterpieces. Ironically, sometimes I will present a lesson that I think is outstanding, and I get the impression that others did not perceive it as anything special. On the other hand, sometimes a sermon that doesn't seem like much to me may really resonate with a listener.
I guess a lot of it has to do with one's perspective and personal preferences. With art, a masterpiece to one person is nothing more than a picture to someone else. It's the same way with sermons and preaching. Even the best sermons fail to some extent. There are many reasons why this happens. Let's consider five such reasons briefly at this time.
1. Some sermons fail because people don't pay attention.
It doesn't get much simpler than that. When people daydream during sermons (or any other learning opportunity), they've determined to make the lesson a failure for them personally. One cannot learn when his mind is elsewhere. Is this a problem unique to our day? Nope. The apostle Paul was an inspired preacher! Surely, there is no better preacher than an inspired one, but nevertheless, Eutychus fell asleep (Acts 20:9)!
2. Some sermons fail because people ridicule that which is preached.
In the city of Athens, Paul preached of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Athenians mocked the sermon (Acts 17:32). Many of them scoffed at the notion of life after death. To the extent that they rejected the sermon, they deemed it a failure. People still ridicule sermons today--sometimes verbally, sometimes mentally.
3. Some sermons fail because people consider themselves unworthy of eternal life.
Although that may sound harsh, the apostle from Tarsus stated this very reason for why his preaching failed for some in Antioch of Pisidia. The Jews were so envious of Paul and Barnabas that they contradicted the sermons that were preached--they judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life (Acts 13:46). Certainly this still happens today.
4. Some sermons fail because the hearer will not endure sound doctrine.
They want to hear sermons that tickle the ears, not Biblical preaching with substance. They resent reproving and rebuking, and they reject the truth of sound doctrine (II Tim. 4:2,3).
5. Some sermons fail because false doctrines and fables have already been accepted.
Some listen to sermons with their mind already made up (II Tim. 4:4). Their view is set in concrete, so to speak, and they will not yield no matter how powerfully the preacher presents his points. This type of hearer has no room for the truth.
Dear listeners, when a sermon fails, it might be because the preacher didn't prepare adequately or present the truth effectively. Or, it could be that his words are falling on deaf ears! Some people simply will not listen attentively with the intent to learn and make changes in their life where necessary. These sort of people have been around since Jesus' day - "And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull, their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them'" (Matt. 13:14,15). Friends, make every effort to ensure that you are not of that number! "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" the life changing message of God's word (Matt. 13:9)! The sermons you hear will not always be masterpieces by worldly standards, but if God's message is being preached truthfully in love, what more could you want?