Neither Padded, Nor Dense

It takes more than a good story, good actors and good visual effects to make a hit movie.  Think of a movie you particularly liked.  In most cases that movie could have been made in the form of a 10-minute featurette.  It would have been a whole lot cheaper to make, but it never would have made any money.  Why is that?

What is the difference between a 10-minute featurette and a full two-hour blockbuster?  The answer is not padding.  It is almost the opposite.  It is careful development of characters and scenes, giving space for the audience to grow into the plot.  But it is also numerous scenes cut and omitted to keep the flow from being too dense or too long.  All padding is typically cut out, but room to breathe is carefully included.

The same is true of good preaching.  You could take a decent sermon and hammer out the bottom line in a 10-minute sermonette.  You could include the main idea, the outline, etc., but you’d be missing a lot.  And the difference between that and a fuller version of the same sermon shouldn’t be 20-30 minutes of padding, nor should it be 20-30 minutes of dense information.

It is only the beginning preacher that wonders how they will fill the time.  Experienced preachers know the real challenge is in what to leave out.

This week I was speaking with a good friend who has trouble keeping his sermons from becoming overwhelming monsters of content.  All good stuff, but too much to take in for the listener.  We spoke of the main idea and its role in sermon development.  And we also pondered the possibilities of having a three step process.  First, define the main idea.  Second, work out a 10-minute development of that idea.  Third, move up to the full length.

So, how to go from the 10-minute to the full message?  The temptation here is to cram in the information.  But when information is crammed in, then there is a real problem for the listeners.  Actually, there are several problems:

1. They will have to be selective in what they take in.  It isn’t possible to grasp everything when there is too much.  Do you want listeners to pick and choose, or to be gripped by the whole?

2. They may select elements as take home material that was incidental in your eyes.  For instance, the passing remark, the humourous illustration, or the side point, could all become their memorable take home gem.

3. They may check out altogether if it is overwhelming.  While some may selectively choose highlights, others will switch to something their mind is motivated to cope with: their plans for the afternoon, their challenges at work, etc.

4. Their hearts are unlikely to engage.  This one suddenly takes us to a whole new level.  Not only is the issue with their ability to mentally grasp information, there is an issue with their experience of that information.

Tomorrow we’ll probe this fourth point some more.

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