There are shortcuts that inevitably are attractive to busy and often tired preachers. Here are a few variations:
1. Harvesting Imperatives – you scan the passage and determine there are about three imperatives in the text. Bingo. Three point sermon. But what if those imperatives are all working together, but actually two-thirds of the passage has no imperative? There’s a lot more to making sense of a passage than just spotting terms that look like they might be imperatival.
2. Chunk Chopping – you scan the passage and determine a specific number of roughly equal chunks and chop the passage accordingly. Divide and conquer! Then each chunk becomes a point, and voila, a sermon! But what if there is an internal logic to the passage that isn’t simply about numbers of verses (there usually is something more going on!)
3. Highlight Spotlighting – you scan the passage for something “that will preach” and then you put the spotlight onto it. For instance, I heard a sermon where the preacher spent almost half the message extolling the virtues of getting out of financial debt, all because the passage made a passing transitional reference to having no debt except…well, except the one thing the passage actually was addressing (but that didn’t come through in the message, and nor did the actual message of the author).
4. Morals as Morales – you scan the passage, especially narratives, and identify a moral morale of the story, then preach that. Essentially you are using the text to make your “improving society” speech, but you are probably not actually preaching the text in its context. Certainly the Bible does address morality issues, but it does so in the context of a greater God-human framework than would lead to trite after-dinner morality speeches.
5. Shallow Starters – you say enough about a passage to look like you’ve said something about the passage, and then you get to say what it is you want to say. But this is preaching your own wisdom, why bother? I guarantee God’s content is better than yours.
There are other ways too, I’m sure, but it all boils down to this: do we believe that God is the greatest communicator? If so, then let’s do our best to actually preach the message of the passage, not just settle for a message from a passage.