Preaching Articles

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.

In addition to shepherding the flock as Pastor of Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Chris Surber is also Founder and Director of Supply and Multiply in Montrouis, Haiti. 

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Stephen Belokur

commented on Nov 6, 2014

Great insights! Thanks and PTL!!

Terry Phillips

commented on Nov 6, 2014

Thanks for your excellent article (from the other side of the Pond!) When I am listening, I ask: 1 What is he talking about? (subject); 2 What is he saying about what he is talking about? (details); 3 So what? (application). Terry (UK) -

Chris Surber

commented on Nov 10, 2014


Paul Burgio

commented on Nov 6, 2014

Such a good article Chris; thank you so much!

Derrick Tuper

commented on Nov 6, 2014

Good stuff. I've made this mistake before. i had to learn early on when preaching topical sermons that you have to fight against including every verse that pertains to the topic. Overload! Also, thinking of how Terry put it, we could also see it like this from the listener's standpoint: What? (what is he saying), So What? (why should I care) and Now What? (what should I do with what he said).

Chris Surber

commented on Nov 10, 2014

Thanks for comments. I think this is a topic preachers have to keep coming back to. We can get really focused on length of sermon and forget that each sermon needs to tell a story that is rooted in expositing the content of a given passage of Scripture, applying to the lives of listeners, building a theological context, and pressing for Christian discipleship. Some sermons will be shorter or longer but the point is does this sermon have a clear central idea and does that idea come directly from the text and does that idea permeate the entire sermon and point me to how to be a follower of Jesus.

Mike Brenneman

commented on Mar 7, 2019

Chris, very helpful article. My weakness has been over-researching, going down rabbit trails that don't add much value. Your point was well understood and received by this reader. Thank-you!!!! You kept this lesson short and to the point, obviously practicing what you preach. Still I think one more point should have been made. Longer, scattered sermons not only give the listeners a bumpy ride, but they cause some people to stop listening to a lesson. Question: In the heading is the question "Perhaps your sermon outline is actually a sermon series. Can you tell the difference?" Do you have any insight on this? I could use it. Mike

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