When you’re preaching, the clock is ticking. In one setting, you may have 20 minutes; in another, you may have 45. The reality is, though, that messages expand to fill the time available fairly easily. So it is important to think carefully about what to include. Perhaps more importantly, what to exclude. Where can time be trimmed?
Sometimes, a message needs a longer introduction than hard and fast rules allow. The problem doesn’t come from a long introduction, though, but from an introduction that feels long. If you need to go long, give a sense of relevance and a hint of Bible so that the fussy won’t get worked up. (Sometimes, just reading the first verse of a passage switches off the introduction monitors in the congregation!) However, often the introduction can be trimmed to avoid making the message play catch up.
The problem with good illustrations is that you know them well, and listeners will resonate. When they do, you sense it, and before you know it, the illustration has grown. Beware of expanding illustrations.
Historical and Literary Context
Some preachers never include either, and their preaching suffers significantly. However, choose to include what is pertinent and helpful. Don’t give an extended background to the entire Roman occupation when you need to press on with the message. Enough to make sense of the passage is usually enough.
The end of a message can often be far punchier if it is tightened up. See if time can be saved by nailing a specific conclusion, rather than waffling to halt.
It is easy to add five minutes to the end of a meeting by having a full song and a longer prayer than necessary. Why not let the sermon soak and leave people pensive rather than switching off with a closing volley of church ammo?
If you rein in the message at every place possible, you’ll probably finish on time. If, by some miracle, you finish five minutes early, absolutely nobody will mind at all! All of this, of course, has to be balanced with achieving your aims. The goal of preaching is not the early finish; it's the transformed life.
How do you edit/shorten your sermons? Please share your secrets with us in the comment box below.
Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at BiblicalPreaching.net and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014). Follow him on Twitter.