Recently listening to a young man who has great promise preach, I was reminded afresh of a fact of which I became aware early in my teaching of homiletics at Westminster Theological Seminary:
YOUNG PREACHERS—AND SOME OLDER ONES TOO—TEND TO PREACH TOO MUCH IN A SERMON.
The sermon to which I refer ranged far and wide, over Old Testament and New, into various doctrines and their subpoints, all (mind you) in 25 minutes! Apparently, the young man had never considered the fact that you can say more about less.
Were I to attempt to describe the activities in which I was engaged last summer in 25 minutes, I’d be saying such things as
Then I went to several other places (I wish I had time to tell you where and all about them) and did some very interesting things (perhaps at some later time I could mention these in detail), etc., etc.
But, if I took 25 minutes to tell you about one event on one night at one place last summer, I could tell all—colorfully, interestingly, and in a way that you could understand. Instead of hurriedly racing hither and yon, I could stop, examine in detail, describe in depth, delineate and delete! But all of last summer? Why, all I could do is vaguely sketch what took place!
The same is true of preaching. The young man had a decently chosen preaching portion, but, instead of delving into it, he ran all over the Bible. He should have explored its main telos (purpose) in depth, related it carefully to the contemporary scene, and sent us away with one whale of an impact from the Word of God. Instead, we went out barely touched by it. His effort was dissipated by scattering his shot. Someone has said, “A rifle is more powerful than a shotgun.”
So, let’s stop using buckshot in the pulpit.
Now, for my suggestion. Preachers are always looking for ways to reuse old sermons. That is OK; New Testament preachers did. But here is one of the best ways of all. Review your first three to five years’ sermons. You will notice that (if you are like most novices) you tried to preach the entire corpus of Christian truth in every message.
“OK,” you say, “I’ve looked at them (shudder!), and the charge is true. What do I do now?” My suggestion is this:
Use each of the three to five points in each sermon, itself as the basis for a complete sermon. Perhaps some points could be so fully elaborated (remember, you can say more about less) that they could form the basis for a series of sermons.
There, you have it. Take it to heart. Don’t dump those old, unusable sermons in the wastebasket. There is some valuable ore there to be mined. Go to it, now that you know how!—J.E.A