The Struggle to Simplify

Thank you to Matthew for this comment – I found your blog through the Church Leaders post you did on the 11 Types of Preachers. I find that I am in the “Professor Preacher” type and have been at a loss for some general principles to help simplify and bring clarity to my preaching. It is hard to remove pieces and connections that seem to grip me in the study. Help!

I am glad to see I am not the only one!  It is so hard to be gripped in the study, but then slim down the content in the message.  For one thing, nobody wants to come across as simplistic or uninformed.  More than that, the complex layers of interdependent history and texts makes a matrix of information that is fascinating for the student of biblical history.  But the challenge remains – we don’t want to overload listeners with good information that will keep them from feeling the impact of the text we are preaching.

Here are a few pointers for myself, Matthew and any other “Bible-history-oholics” that might be listening in.  My thoughts are slightly on the background issues as I am working on a message from Jonah and was in that phase, but will turn my thoughts to other aspects of co-textual complexity, perhaps tomorrow!)

1. We should never cut down our understanding of the complexity in order to preach simply.  This will only result in simplistic explanation and errors on our part.  This won’t help people.  We have to go the more difficult route of informed simplicity, rather than uninformed simplicity, if we are to handle the Bible well.

2. We need to make sure we allow time for clarification of information, not just accumulation.  It is so easy to steal time from prayerful consideration of listeners, from sermon formation, from family and even from sleep, when we have the scent of a good trail in biblical history and context.  There is seemingly no end to connections and facts and insights and maps and cross-references, etc.  We have to impose an end for the sake of everything else.

3. We must pause and consider the key threads of detail.  That is, stopping and thinking through this question – “If I only had a couple of minutes to explain the background and context of this passage, to someone who is neither super-informed, nor longing for me to impress them, what would I include?”  Later, in light of the main idea of the message, as the message is formed, we need to do this again (lest our historical background comments take the entire time and turn the sermon into a Bible school lecture!)  We do the same in sharpening the main idea itself, as well as the message shape.  It takes much more work to preach clear, than to be complex!

Tomorrow, let’s add some more thoughts related to this quest.

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