How To Trim Down a Sermon

How To Trim Down a Sermon

If you keep “glorifying God through faithful and clear communication of your text” as the goal of your preaching, then trimming down your sermon can become just another act of faithfulness and worship.

For me, the hardest part of preparing a teaching or sermon is figuring out what information to leave out. Cutting down a sermon is incredibly difficult. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that it is very hard to find actual guidance on how to trim down a sermon. There are dozens of great resources for how to write better sermonshow to outlinehow to write sermon application. But I have found very little concrete guidance for how to discern what parts of a sermon to keep, and what to edit out.

The Problem of Over-stuffed Sermons

There is an unfortunate tendency to equate a good, Biblical sermon with how many details a preacher or teacher gives. This tendency leads to what I will call “over-stuffed” sermons. These are sermons that are Biblical, sound, but try to communicate too much information in the allotted time slot. Sermons that are over-stuffed end up becoming less clear to the congregation. Listeners spend so much time trying to keep track of the many details you are giving rather than meditating on the main point of the text.

Now, I want to make an important distinction before going on. As a Bible-teacher or preacher, you must go into a great level of detail in your analysis when preparing a sermon. In your Bible study leading up to a preaching or teaching, you must dig into any and all details contained in your text. You must cross-reference, outline, look up the original languages, make observation after observation, and more if you want to get to the meaning of the text you are teaching. However, the art of preaching is in discerning which details to actually present to your congregation in a Sunday morning sermon. In other words, when you go from your study to the pulpit, you must trim down your sermon to only the most important textual details. If you simply go up and preach your detailed Bible study notes, chances are you are preaching and over-stuffed sermon.

The Solution: Trim Down Your Sermon to the Essential Details

In my experience, sermon length is generally driven by how many details you end up communicating in your sermon. How many points and sub-points do you have? How many words do you define from the pulpit? What cross-references do you include? Historical anecdotes? Illustrations? Applications? Therefore, to trim down a sermon, you must discern which of these details are essential to communicate, and which are secondary. The essential details should end up in your final sermon. Secondary details, on the other hand, you can trim out of your sermon to fit your allotted time and to ensure your congregation does not get lost in an over-stuffed teaching.

This seems obvious so far. But the question is how do you trim down a sermon? How can you discern which details are essential and which are secondary? Most of the time when I have asked for guidance on trimming down a sermon, I have gotten some form of “there is an art to it” or “I’m not that great at it myself, so I’m a bad example.” While it is certainly difficult to make universal rules, there is a helpful process you can go through to at least help you discern what details are essential and which are not. The process is simple: go through each section, point, detail, or cross reference in the first draft of your manuscript, and ask the following four questions (in order):

1. Does this detail give information that is mostly repeated elsewhere in the sermon?

I call this the “redundancy” test. Repetition is important in communication, but if you go to 10 cross-references in a sermon which all make the same point, maybe you can cut 8-9 of those cross-references and save yourself (and your listeners) some time. If a sermon point, observation, or application is too similar to information previously given in your sermon, you should probably cut it. Redundant details are by definition secondary and non-essential.

Read More

Scroll to top