A Starter for Ten?

It’s great to have another guest post, this time from a Welshman in Italy.  Huw Williams was in the Cor Deo programme in 2011 and every week Huw and I enjoyed great conversations about preaching as he pursued his mentored personal study in the area of homiletics.  Since finishing Cor Deo, Huw and Alison have moved to Turin, Italy, where Huw is the pastor of the International Church (check out his blog here).  Huw’s practical insight here is so on target for us all as we try to be clear and effective biblical preachers…


Over the Christmas period, I found myself preparing three short talks, each of around ten minutes. As a newbie to the rhythms of the preaching calendar (I’m at the end of my first three months in full-time pastoral work) there were a few surprises in store for me. Here are a few reflections.

Firstly, I have learned that it’s difficult to speak for only ten minutes and say something. (I guess it’s relatively easy to speak for ten minutes and say nothing but I’m assuming none of us are interested in that particular art.) I was struck by how hard I had to work on my material to say something of substance, in (I hope) an engaging way and remain within the time limit. In my naiveté, I had reasoned along the lines of “well, I normally preach for around 30 minutes, so this should be a third of the preparation time.” 

Won’t be making that mistake again.

In turn this caused me to reflect on my ‘regular’ preaching, by which I mean, those times when I am going for the 25-30 minute sermon. If I find it a challenge to distil and expound the message of a passage into ten minutes, then isn’t there a possibility that my longer sermons might just have a bit of unhelpful padding around them?

What I mean is this; I’m a pretty convinced exponent of the one-point sermon (which you can read about elsewhere on this blog) and as part of my weekly sermon preparation, I usually try and get to a one-sentence passage summary. I find it a great exercise, to try and condense all my text-observation study into a single summary sentence, which usually serves as my key preaching point.

But what happens next is perhaps the weak link in my preparation chain. Because it is at this point that I simply start writing. And writing. And writing. And what begins with a single sentence summary, often turns into – a few hours later – the realisation that my sermon is too long and unwieldy.

So here’s a thought. What if in my preparation, I moved from summary statement, to 10-minute sermon, and then to ‘full length’ sermon? What if my ‘ten-minute version’ was a halfway house in the preparation journey? Having reached this post, and if things have gone well, I have found a way of saying what I trust the text is saying, succinctly and briefly. Now the final stage in my journey – all those extra minutes – are all then put to the use of complementing the argument; further sharpening, further illustration, further application, all of the one main argument of the text.

I think I’ll try it. Perhaps I’ll let you know how I get on.

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