On a recent mission trip to Haiti, we somehow we managed to pack 10 full-bodied adults into a beat-up Land Rover on our way to a ministry site in a dusty little village. Imagine 10 people stuffed into the cargo area and on one another's laps. One woman even had her derrière hanging out of the passenger side window. Local Haitians pointed and laughed. We managed to get where we were going as the suspension bottomed out and people got tossed around in the cab.
We got there the hard way! I could have used two vehicles. I could have taken two trips. We overpacked. It’s just as easy to overpack a sermon. Many a preacher has arrived at his/her destination in the same way, and it makes for a bumpy uncomfortable ride for your listeners. We need to streamline our sermons.
Here are four ways to avoid overpacking your sermon.
1. Protect your central point.
You need to get one. That’s important. You can’t begin to develop any sermon well until you’ve answered two questions: (1) What am I saying in this sermon? (2) Why am I saying it? You need a central point.
You need to guard your central point as though your life depended on it. After the hard work of whittling your thoughts down into one central idea, don’t allow sermon research to clutter it into obscurity. Guard your central point the way newspaper editors guard word count. Guard your central point the way a mother German Shepherd guards her puppies.
2. Don’t over-research your sermon.
In the age of the Internet, digital Bible software, and ease of access to thousands of commentaries and study Bible notes, it is really easy to collect a great deal more data than can be processed into a clear and coherent sermon. It is far better to be clear with one central idea than to be cluttered by adding too much information.
I’m not telling you to dumb down the content of your sermon. I’m saying draw hard boundaries on your research. It need only support the central idea. Over-researching is a quick way to become like the little boy building a fort with every blanket in the house. Before he knew it, his fort was so ornate and unstable that with one tug on the corner of a blanket by his little sister it all came down.
In preaching, less is usually more. Make one point well. Don’t clutter your sermon with everything every dead guy ever said on the topic or passage of Scripture.
3. Allow the content of the Scripture to drive the content of your sermon.
Of course I’m an advocate of expository preaching. However, this principle applies to a topical or inductive sermon just as directly. If you seek to say what the Scripture says and no more, your sermon will be like the Scripture—to the point.
4. Allow the logic of the passage of Scripture to drive the logic of your sermon.
Follow the same thought process of the Scripture. If Paul said it in five verses, surely you can say it in less than 50 minutes. Sermon clutter often comes from not following the logical flow of ideas in the passage of Scripture from which you are preaching.
When a preacher gets away from the thought progression of the passage he is expositing, he’ll often meander around related thoughts and pick up a bunch of pet topics to pile into the sermon. Clutter is anything that distracts from the central point of the passage of Scripture and the central idea of the sermon.
Remember what Oswald Chambers wrote about preaching. “A New Testament preacher ... has to be surgical.” Some preachers are more like excited travelers telling a story than surgeons excising spiritual ailments with the scalpel of a sermon. Don’t over pack your sermons. It is far better to shoot one arrow into the very heart of your target than to pepper the field with missed shots.