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The Hardest Part of Preaching


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.


  1. Diane Schreck says:

    This information isn’t just for preachers! I found the above points to be very applicable in my communications with others. Although the pandemic has pretty much squeezed the chat out of me, I definitely need communication with other adults. Being me… I have always felt I needed to present every single fact, the back-up for whatever topic I’m discussing – up to and including what day it occurred, and other completely irrelevant data. I have always enjoyed talking with others and listening to others share their stories. However, today’s world seems to have lost the taste for every day casual chitchat. If you are not discussing a major topic of controversy – a lot of people just aren’t interested in a discussion. I run from controversy and I will go a mile out of my way to avoid an argument. Because of this I am choosing fewer words to make my point. And I’m making darn sure I have a valid point before I even begin to speak. At my age I have certainly had more than my share of years of small talk. I’m OK learning to give it up and I am also grateful I have this awareness about today’s conversations. My take away from your article: Know the point you want to discuss, and get there without detours.

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