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Preaching Points: Redundancy and Precision

  • Calvin Miller Posted Aug. 9, 2010
  • Updated Aug 31, 2010
Preaching Points: Redundancy and Precision


is a tricky fellow. An antonym is precision. Most all pastors are guilty of redundancy and short on precision from time to time. All of us have a desire to get it out of our sermons; but before we can eliminate it, we must be able to hear it, which requires trained and dedicated ears.

There are two very large dangers with redundancy. The first is the boredom that results from all things twice or thrice said. As has been well said, there is no such thing as a bad short sermon or a long good one.

In a soundbite world, we have been conditioned to hear 30-second commercials in which a lot of things happen in a very short time. In the Geico commercials, points are made quickly, the argument settled and we're on to the next soundbite from another advertiser. In such a well-edited world, a 55-minute sermon seems to be a pterodactyl (often a King James pterodactyl).

The second danger is more invasive: Redundancy is habit forming. Preachers who give it a place in their lives find it is a camel with his nose in the tent. Soon the camel owns the tent and the preacher goes on for the rest of his life taking 55-minutes for a 20-minute message. Thus, he spends an hour a week, multiplied by a factor of 52 weeks, multiplied by a factor of 50 years, which equals a lot of imprecision. I've rarely known a preacher whose sermons got shorter as he got older.

Therefore, I offer you four steps to replace redundancy with precision.

1. Admit you could have a problem.
This is always the first step in any diagnosis. Think of it this way, "Hi, I'm Joe. I'm redundant!" You probably won't be able to find the support group you really need, so you're just going to have to trust the higher power and start working on your addiction all by yourself.|

A word of caution here: There has developed a feeling among evangelicals that "long" is a sign of godliness—the mark of a preacher who really digs into the Word. Remember Jesus' Sermon on the Mount can be preached in 18 minutes, and it is beautiful and to the point. If he had used a redundant style, the Book of Matthew would have six more chapters and be far less interesting. 

2. Transcribe, then edit your sermons after you preach them.
The trouble you have staying awake during these editing sessions should indicate the depth of your problem. Cross out the things you already said once, even if you said those things with different words. What you didn't need to say subtracted from what you actually said always will equal pulpit interest.

3. Write out your sermons before you preach them.
If you find yourself dozing during the exercise, once again you can see the depths of your need. Once you get good at this, you can skip Step 2 altogether. The more you write out your sermons before you preach them, the less you will have to edit your long, long transcripts after you preach them.

4. Listen to yourself as you preach.
Let the left lobe of your brain serve as the watchdog to the right brain as you deliver your sermon. This is the process by which you edit as you go. Because the brain is located between your ears, this should be a fairly efficient way of catching yourself in the act.

Reading your audience also will help you cut back. If the people to whom you are speaking are looking at you, they're probably listening. If they're not, remember: Not everyone out there with their head bowed is praying. Beware! Slumber and devotion often look similar.

Get started working as soon as you can on this. No one knows how near or far the second may be, and you need to be as exciting as possible until Jesus returns. If He should come back at 11:55 on Sunday morning, you already should be shaking hands at the back door. If your place in the rapture is awarded solely on the basis of pulpit precision, try to be the one who is taken and not the one who is left behind. Sloven preachers who refuse to work at precision could be stuck here through the tribulation. It would only be fair.