Put Your Sermon on a Diet

By Guest Contributor January 20, 2016

It was the Sunday after Christmas. My wife and I, while visiting my parents for the holidays, attended worship at a local church. That was where I heard another one: a three-sermon sermon. My head spun, trying to keep up with the multiple themes. So, with another 20 minutes left in a 40-minute (plus) message, I checked out. Yes, the speaker was energetic and passionate in his presentation. That didn’t matter; I still checked out. And before the youth workers reading this begin to point fingers at “those long-winded senior pastors,” you should know that the speaker was this church’s director of student ministries.

There are many roles associated with Christian leadership. One of them is to faithfully and effectively communicate God’s Word. This is a sacred trust that takes prayer, focused study, and long hours of preparation. It is hard work. Charisma and passion are not enough. Nor is volume or cleverness. The goal is to engage your audience; present a memorable, succinct, and focused message; and lead students to personal, life-changing application. If we strive for anything less than this, we’ve failed.

Years ago, after encountering a different three-sermon sermon, in frustration I began a list of dichotomous descriptors related to effective communication. We talk about these in the communications class I teach at Denver Seminary. They make for great conversation as we explore ways to increase our effectiveness and impact as speakers, teachers, and preachers. Here are a few of them:

Length ≠ Lucidity

Short and Succinct ≠ Simplistic

Volume ≠ Value

Charisma ≠ Competence and Clarity

Passion ≠ Power

Enthusiasm ≠ Effectiveness

Sincerity ≠ Substance

sermondiet_quoteCheesy and simplistic? Maybe. But hopefully you get the point. In communication, less is more—as long as the message is well-designed and organized, taking the listeners somewhere, giving them focused content, leading to understanding and application. This does not discount learning, practicing, and employing the skills of effective communication. Organization and structure, word choice, intonation, body language, powerful illustrations, and other skills are critically important. But what good are they if you roll your overflowing wheelbarrow of content and multiple themes onto the platform and then dump them all on your listeners. Your eloquence and oratorical skills cannot overcome content overload. And your listeners, just like me, will check out.

To heed my own advice, I’ll end now before I meander into another sermon. Instead I’ll close by sharing a few books that will help those of you who feel challenged to gain more focus in your communication. Pick one and read it. Notice the importance placed by the authors—all expert communicators—on the necessity for and power of constructing one-sermon sermons.

Speaking to Teenagers: How to Think About, Create, & Deliver Effective Messages by Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins. (Zondervan, 2007)

Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones. (Multnomah, 2006)

About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More