Giving your message a good trim can turn a good sermon into a great one. In a great sermon, every word is solid, lean meat; it’s all muscle. You don’t have filler or fluff.
Don’t try to squeeze everything into your sermons. It’s important to have far more material than you can possibly use. But make sure every piece of your sermon—from the Scriptures you use to your illustrations and quotes—has a purpose.
The point of preaching is transformation, not information.
When I sit down to edit a sermon, I focus on the following four areas.
I trim the number of verses I use.
I struggle with this part because I usually collect far more Scriptures than I could possibly use in my sermon. In fact, I often study four to five times as many verses than I actually use. You would probably agree: Once you’ve finished the hard work of studying the Scriptures, it’s tough to give them up.
I often lean on my wife, Kay, to be an objective, second set of eyes on the verses I use. When you’re so close to the sermons you preach, it helps to have someone do surgery on the parts you want to keep, then smooth out the rest so your sermon isn’t too long.
I trim background material.
Your members may not be nearly as fascinated by archeology and linguistics as you are. Here’s a rule that has helped me when thinking about background material in my sermons: Do as much background study as you can during your exegesis, but share as little as possible in the message.
The background is really more for you than them. Your purpose isn’t to teach them the background of every passage. Your purpose is to change lives.
Just because something comes up in the text doesn’t mean you need to explain it in every detail. Your congregation can actually miss the point of the message because you share so much detail and share it all as if it has equal importance. People aren’t looking for information today. They can find information in a simple web search. People are looking for meaning.
I trim my points.
I enjoy reading Puritan preachers because they were so exhaustive. They’d often have more than 30 points in a single sermon. You can’t do that today. Exhaustive sermons will exhaust your congregations, so you’ll need to limit your number of points.
Anything you can compress becomes more powerful. That’s why a slogan has more power than a paragraph. If you want a powerful sermon, try reducing the number of points. You may give up a good point, but you’ll make it easier for your congregation to digest the truth. You can’t pile everything into a sermon and expect your congregation to digest it.
I trim my illustrations and quotes.
You water down your illustrations when you stretch them beyond where they need to be. Most illustrations can be either two minutes or five minutes, depending upon how many details you include. To be effective, your illustrations should be as short as possible. Trim your illustrations so they still illustrate the point of your sermon—without any of the fluff.
Also, sometimes you’ll find an archaic quote with a kernel of truth in it on the Internet or in a book. Don’t quote the whole piece. Your congregation doesn’t know who the person is anyway. Just summarize it in a simple 50-word statement.
Remember, the length and detail of your sermon doesn’t equate with its depth and value. You’re not simply transmitting information. You’re trying to change lives.