Most preachers have a routine of sermon preparation and delivery that has become natural and even reflexive. Some preachers prefer the study and writing, while others prefer the act of delivering the sermon. In order to be effective, preachers have to find a level of proficiency in both, otherwise the sermon will either be all heat and no light, or vice versa.
For me, the hardest part of sermon preparation has been the decisions surrounding what not to say. Allow me to explain.
I believe that the Bible contains the inexhaustible truths of God. So to select a text and then attempt to plumb the depths of every insight is impossible. When a pastor prepares a sermon, he or she brings all of their prior knowledge to the table, then adds the collective wisdom of reference works, commentaries, historical contexts, original languages and multiple English translations. This collection of scholarship, added to the revelation of God’s Spirit and personal experience, can yield an overwhelming amount of information. The temptation preachers have is to try to bring the entirety of their preparation into the pulpit. Thus, the sermon sounds like a book report rather than a message from God.
Years ago I had the honor of interviewing preaching and New Testament author and professor Fred Craddock for a paper I was writing for my doctoral program. When I asked him the question, “What is the hardest part of preaching?”, he quickly replied, “determining what not to say.” That insight has perhaps helped me in my personal preaching more than any other I have learned.
If preachers are disciplined about developing a “main idea” (Haddon Robinson), everything that is prepared for delivery must pass across that bar of judgment. The main idea serves as the litmus test for what is to be included and what is to be saved for another sermon on another date. If the information does not serve the main idea, then edit it, and focus more on illustration and application. One idea presented with clarity will have more impact than ten points that are unclear and overwhelming.
Remember, the goal of preaching is transformation of lives, not transmission of information.