“Jumping the shark” is a phrased often used in the television industry to refer to the moment it’s realized that a once-good program has begun a downward descent into mediocrity and eventually obscurity. It refers to a classic set of episodes from the program “Happy Days” where the character Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli (you may know him as “The Fonz”) attempts to water ski over a section of ocean containing a shark. Since then, the phrase “jumping the shark” has become a popular reference to a desperate stunt or attempt to save something that is rapidly headed south.
I don’t view preaching in the same light as producing a television show. Unfortunately, though, our modern tendency to place the pastor in the role of the transformational motivational entertainer has certainly highlighted certain similarities between the creative processes employed in Hollywood and what happens behind the pulpit (or “between the ferns” in some churches) on a Sunday.
That said, I’m curious to discuss experiences we may have had where we felt preaching may have “jumped the shark.” (We might also call this “When Good Sermons Go Bad”.) Your stories can be personal or merely observed. The only thing I ask is that a reasonable degree of anonymity be preserved (aka if I google the situation you are talking about, will it immediately show up?). Our goal here is not to bash sincere attempts to communicate God’s Word, as I’m certain no one who has preached would be able to cast a first stone regarding every sermon or lesson they’ve ever delivered. But it would be helpful to be warned (especially for younger folks in ministry like myself) against blunders that while the preacher may have thought they had accomplished a new high point in the history of preaching (like I’m certain the writers of Happy Days thought of their sending Fonzie over shark-land) were really a sign of that all was not well.
Some brief (though not exhaustive) possibilities that may qualify for “Shark-jumping Preaching”:
1. Sermons that sounded great until you realized later nothing of substance was said.
2. A “gimmick” used that took all the thunder from the actual point of the sermon.
3. Good sermon, but TOTALLY wrong time/place for it.
So have you experienced any of these? Have you ever seen preaching “jump the shark” (perhaps while you were the one on the water skis!) If so, here’s your chance to help the rest of us learn how we might be better stewards of the privilege and responsibility of teaching God’s Word.