By Haddon Robinson, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.
There is an old story that preachers tell: A man came to church one Sunday and the only person who was there, besides himself, was the preacher. The preacher was hesitant to preach his sermon to one man sitting in the front row, but the man said, “Look, I came to church and I expect that you preach. I need to be fed.” So the preacher got up and preached his sermon and he got caught up in the moment.
When he was through and on the way out, he stood at the door. This one listener shook his hand and said, “That was good, preacher. But I was the only person there and I want you to know if I have one cow, I don’t give them the whole load of hay.” Basically what he was saying was, “You fed me too much.” By the way, that would’ve been true if there had been one hundred people there.
As I have reflected on preaching, it strikes me that less is more. When I got out of seminary, I thought more was more. I thought the essence of preaching was to give everything in the passage and give it all the same kind of weight. As a result, my sermons were weighty and heavy but they were not good communication.
A while ago, I was looking at a sermon I preached thirty years ago on Ephesians 5. That is the passage that begins by talking about husbands and wives, goes on to talk about parents and children, then servants and masters. I preached the whole thing—25–30 minutes—I preached the whole thing. I can’t imagine doing that today.
I think if I were going through that passage and I came to the admonition, “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and the admonition in the Lord,” I would preach a sermon on that. You’ve got all kinds of questions you have to answer:
- Why was this addressed to fathers and not mothers?
- How do you provoke your children to wrath? What do you do to make your kids angry?
- Do fathers do that more than mothers? (I think they do, but you have to think about it.)
- Why does provoking them to wrath keep me from bringing them up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord?
- What does “the nurture and the admonition in the Lord” mean? Parents have admonitions (e.g., Bring in your bike! Go to bed! Eat your food!) But what does it mean when you say, “the admonition of the Lord”?
That’s one verse! But if I could get that across on a Sunday morning to many congregations and help them to see what that meant, it would be a good sermon. In fact, it would be far better than starting in Ephesians 5 and going all the way through Ephesians 6.
Somebody has said that people come to church and need to be fed, so give them a loaf of bread—don’t give them a wheat field. I’ve come to the place in life where I think I’d do better if I give them a good slice of bread, covered with jam, and see to it that they enjoyed it and ate it.
I believe less is more. Don’t give them the whole wheat field. Give them a loaf of bread, maybe even a slice of bread, based in the Scripture, which indeed is the bread of life to the people to whom you are preaching. In our preaching, less is more.
This post is adapted from “In our preaching, less is more” by Haddon Robinson in Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry, edited by Scott M. Gibson (Lexham Press, 2016).