Do Your Sermons Impress Your Seminary but Confuse Your Church?


Preaching and speaking are emotionally taxing experiences. There are few places in our life where we are expected to stand in front of a large group of people and be interesting, insightful, helpful, and accurate. Can you imagine a political speech that maintained these requirements? Did I mention these speeches happen every seven days? Luckily our preaching goal isn't to impress but to help people digest. The digestion of truth allows for application that leads to transformation. In this post, I focus on making messages more simple. Not simplistic, but simple. ______________________________ One more thing: I'd love to work with you, your team, or your campus pastors on communication and preaching. I offer a six-session mastermind course on this topic online or in person - Additionally, I'm happy to preach for you one Sunday and spend time that afternoon and the following day working together. If that's of interest, let's chat soon. My 2023 calendar is filling up. I'd love to save you a weekend. Just reply to the email and we'll go from there. Talk soon.

I want people to think I’m smart.

I’m guessing you do, too.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with me (or you). I think we’re just human.

If you’re a pastor or preacher, you especially know this feeling. Speaking to a room full of people is a daunting experience. All eyes are on you. We want to be helpful. Insightful. And interesting.

I have often wondered if the pressure is greater today than in the past. Before the internet, people couldn’t simply listen to the best preachers and communicators on the planet. But now? I mean, I worked for Andy Stanely for over a decade! Every time I preached at our campus or at North Point, the benchmark was set pretty high! I’m unsure if anyone in the room was judging me to this level, but I was. And I assumed they were, too.

I eventually put most of these feelings behind me through some counseling conversations. While I’m not qualified to be your counselor, I can share how most preachers combat this pressure and provide a better alternative.

Deep Sermons are Impressive, Right? 

Since we naturally want to look good when all eyes are on us, we seek to impress. Intuitively, most pastors believe a message is only good if it’s deep, layered, and rich. If we were baking a cake, that would be true. But this is a message. A deep, layered, and rich sermon might impress an audience or a seminary professor, but it typically doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Worse, it’s not memorable or easily applicable.

I have trouble seeing this in my own messages at times, but as is often the case, what’s difficult to see in the mirror is clear through a window. I was recently helping a friend write a message. He had a GREAT idea. Very personal. Very helpful. And it was beautifully simple. But there was something in us both that wanted to complicate the content. We wanted to cover every angle and answer every issue.

Luckily, before he and his message hit the stage, we both remembered this basic preaching truth: Simple is better, because simple is digestible and applicable. Consider your preaching goal. No pastor has ever said (at least aloud), “My goal is to impress my congregation.” The goal of preaching is application that leads to transformation. I teach all about this in Masterclass Group Experiences and with individual churches.

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So, if you are trying to impress a crowd, go deep, layered, and rich. But, if you want people to understand and apply the truth you spent hours and hours studying and preparing, throw out the cake and work toward simplicity.

[Tweet “If you’re preaching to impress, go deep, layered, and rich. If you want people to understand and apply your message, work toward simplicity.”]

Here are a few steps I take when searching for message simplicity:

1. Find focus.

What is the idea you are attempting to communicate? I like to start with a one-sentence description and build everything from there. Starting with one clear idea allows me to stay focused on one clear idea. I know this is common sense, but too often, it feels uncommon. We could call this “beginning with the end in mind.”

Working with Andy Stanley has helped me understand the power of message focus for sure (what a huge understatement, right?). He has taught me to answer a few basic questions before I begin crafting a message. These questions may help you, as well:

    • What do they need to know? 
    • Why do they need to know it? 
    • What do they need to do?
    • Why do they need to do it? 
    • How can I help them remember?

Again, these questions provide the clarity I need to remain focused as I write a message. As a rule, I will not begin writing a message until I’ve answered these questions.


I offer a six-session masterclass on this topic. Additionally, I’m happy to preach for you one Sunday and spend time that afternoon and the following day working together. 

If that’s of interest, let’s chat soon

My 2023 calendar is filling up. I’d love to save you a weekend.

2. Cut your darlings.

I first heard this within the context of writing. Often an author must cut their favorite section or sentence to find the desired simplicity. When it comes to crafting messages, the same principle holds true.

I can’t count how many times I went into a message with an illustration, story, or idea that I loved, yet discovered later it wasn’t a good fit. It’s painful to trim, but it’s worth it. The good news is what’s on the cutting room floor provides great material for another message.

3. Make ONE point.

In conjunction with focusing on one idea, leverage this one idea to make one point of application.

Here’s a personal example:

When I was in seminary, I took a preaching class. We all recorded and submitted a video of us preaching for our final grade. My message was built around ONE IDEA and ONE POINT. While I received a decent grade on the message, the professor was displeased with the lack of multiple points and scripture references.

I allowed a week to pass before emailing him two questions: “Do you remember the message I preached and my point? Do you remember messages from my peers?” And my point was made. Or should I say my “ONE point was made.” The professor immediately recited my bottom line idea and my point of application (One Idea: The most effective way to change behavior is to change the heart. Bottom Line: Christianity is not about behaving, it’s about believing). He couldn’t recall any of the “three-point and a poem” messages.

4. Marinate your message.

Like a good piece of meat, the longer you allow a message to marinate, the better it will taste. When you study, prepare, and write a message weeks in advance, you allow the Holy Spirit time to marinate the content in your soul, heart, and mind. I’m not saying God can’t work miracles in a Saturday night special, but my experience has been the more time between writing and preaching, the more powerful and focused the message.

Also, the marinating process provides time for other ideas, illustrations, and stories to surface. It’s amazing how many things I stumble across the weeks between writing and preaching. So build in time for your message to marinate. Margin is never a problem.

Ironically, simplicity is more difficult than complexity. Anyone can stand on a stage with Greek words and 15 scriptures. It takes more work to take the complex and make it simple, but it’s in this work that our audience reaps the reward.

The Gospel is not complicated. So let’s commit to making following the Gospel less complicated, as well.

Am I the only one? Are you tempted to fall prey to complexity over simplicity? I’d love to know!

SIMILAR POST: 6 Strategies to Preach Your Best Sermon