Not Created Equal

Preparation and presentation are not the same thing.  For example, consider the issue of details in the preaching text.  In one sense every text is made up of details.  Nouns, verbs, adjectives, participles, grammatical constructions, quotations, allusions, etc.  It can be a narrative, a speech, a letter, an exhortation, a poem, a wisdom saying, or whatever.  Every text is built with details.

In preparation we begin with an interest in every detail.  It is important to see and interpret every element of a text.  It is often helpful to note what is not present too.  As diligent exegetes we consider every detail important enough to study and interpret in its context.  We continually move back and forth between analysis and synthesis, between details and big picture.  However, during the course of the study process, some details will be seen as more critical to a solid understanding of the text.  Every detail matters, but not every detail is equal.

In presentation we are limited by time and motivated by purpose.  Our purpose in preaching is not to present every avenue of inquiry that we have pursued at our desk.  Our purpose in preaching is not to download (or dump!) all of our acquired knowledge to our listeners.  Our purpose is tied to our main preaching idea and its application.  So we carefully cut unnecessary explanation of details that do not drive forward the main idea and purpose of the message.

In the study, diligently analyze the details.  In the sermon, remember that some details need no more than a passing comment, others just a careful presentation in the reading.  However, some details are critical and central, calling on us to highlight them and clarify their significance to our listeners.  We don’t want to lose the forest for the trees, but in order to enjoy the forest fully, some trees have to be highlighted.  Details.  They all matter, but they are not created equal.

4 thoughts on “Not Created Equal

  1. Your post should be seminary issue for every young preacher. I cringe when I look back to those info-filled messages. I hope I cringe 10 years from now–that means I’m still learning.

    I agree. Exegesis and homiletics are not just adding but taking away.

    You made me think of a sculptor: He mines for that perfect rock (our perspective of the passage), he chips away at it from every angle (exegetical outline), he polishes it (homiletic outline), he wants to present it well (pulpit outline), and finally, a sculptor wants to position the piece in a prominent place for all to enjoy. Light and vantage point for onlookers need to be optimized (application/illustration/presentation). Different from a rock sculpture, the process of sermon preparation is less static and more fluid. He chips for the eye, we chip for the ear.

  2. DVDs get to include a director’s cut or alternate or deleted scenes.

    There are times when I wish a sermon (or series) could have “Bonus Features” with some of the stuff that didn’t make it to the pulpit.

    Some of it’s really good, but you can’t say all you want about a subject and I’m thinking it takes years of experience to begin to perfect what goes and what stays.

    I know I’m not quite there yet.

  3. Wonderful way of putting things.

    Don’t know how many times I find myself getting closer to Sunday with too much information, and a debate rages in my mind as to which parts are most important to the overall idea.

    I’m still learning much, but I see so many teachers and preachers unloading tons of information, leaving the listeners with overload and perhaps misunderstanding of the point.

    Two questions I like to ask: 1) What’s the point? 2) So what?
    My hope is that people leave the sanctuary with a clear answer to both questions, because I am assuming that is what they are asking, whether they know it or not.

    Great Post!

  4. Fine article…
    In reality, the more seasoned the preacher the more that will end up on the “cutting floor”. Young preachers often ask “How am I going to fill 30 minutes twice a week, every week?” Seasoned preachers ask, “How am I going to cut it down to just 30 minutes?” (30 minutes used proverbially).

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