A Friday Question – Microscopic Preaching?

March 30, 2007

OK, so it finally got to me. After helping preach through Jeremiah in large chunks (on two ocassions, covering three chapters in a single sermon), I cracked. Faced in preparation with one measly chapter of 27 verses, I could no longer leap and bound across the text.

After some outlining work of Jeremiah 13 and identifying 5 sizeable sections, the penny dropped: I couldn’t do justice to each point. Even in summary….

So what am I now planning to do?

At the moment, I’m hoping to briefly summarise the five warnings of Jeremiah chapter 13. Then we’ll take the microscope to the first section (v 1-11). My thought is that we might be able to chew over our spiritual food rather than gulp it down. And, from the look of the passage, there’s enough danger of indigestion as it is, without adding to the likelihood!

Is it just me? Are there are ocassions when we fail to do justice to the text because we’ve bitten off more than we can chew? Do you think there can an optimum length for given preachers before they start to skim unproductively over the text?


  1. Just wondering, but can you ever do justice to the text? Is it not always a matter of discerning what the authors’ main intent was and running with that?

  2. I think preaching is about life change, not information exchange. Large sections of Scripture can be read, but the preaching might be from a small portion of the passage. One point, one goal, one theme is much more likely to be applied than a five point sermon with multiple points of focus. Spurgeon focused like a laser on his practical aim. For example, I’m preaching from Isaiah 52-53 this Sunday, but my focus will be on the shocking love of God in 53:10: “It was God’s will to crush him”.

  3. I’ve preached from Romans for 63 weeks so far. Outside of Christmas, one week to speak to our 70th anniversary as a church, and one week of a Missions Conference, I just concluded an extended look at Romans 12 which began in early September. I found myself thinking that if i am going to do justice to the demands of discipleship in this text, I needed to go slowly. There were one or two times when I intended to preach on a short section and it evolved into three sermons. In looking back, I don’t regret moving so slowlyl through that passage.

  4. I know exactly where you’re coming from. I recently got convicted as I tried to deal with the life of Joseph a chapter at a time. I got through one message and straight after I felt the injustice I was doing to the account. I had to start breaking it up into smaller chunks.

  5. It depends on the text. When I first studied expository preaching, the first step was to define the limits of the text. That still seems like an important first step that I all too often don’t give adequate attention to.

  6. I think it depends on what message you feel God has called you to present from the text at that particular point in time. There may be times when your message is drawn from a larger passage of Scripture, and that’s fine. Then there will be other times (perhaps with the exact same section of Scripture) when your message will be drawn from a much smaller set of verses. Part of determining the limits of your text is determining the focus of the message that God is calling you to preach.

  7. In the intro to his PNTC volume on John, D.A. Carson, suggests preaching larger sections on that book because the material can become repetitive week after week if you move to slowly.

    I’ve been following his advice, but at times feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. On the other hand, many of the passages in John are simply large units and it would be hard to split it up nicely while still maintaining the same message as John intended.

  8. Thanks for all your stimulating comments…

    John (how are you?!) I think we’re actually on the same page with this. No preacher can do “justice to the text” in the sense of dealing with its detail exhaustively. In my mind, “doing justice” to the text would precisely mean “discerning what the authors’ main intent was and running with that.” What I’m wondering, however, is whether our sections can be SO big that we are covering multiple points in the author’s argument. So for instance: should we encourage preachers to tackle all of Romans 3 and 4, when Romans 3:21-31 is tucked in there?!

    Or another example. Take David Jackman’s sermon I referred to last Thursday. My feeling was that he could easily have spliced his text into two, since there wasn’t a strong main theme connecting them. No doubt this was why he took over 50 minutes, which was OK. But my feeling was, he was pushing it.

    Milton, I agree that it depends on the text. When I preached on Jeremiah 8,9 and 10 for example, I didn’t feel like I was skimming too much, because the main theme (impending judgement) held the three chapters together. On the other hand, you can attempt a one chapter sermon which fails to account for three or four substantial themes that may be hard to cover.

  9. Hi Colin, I suspect I’m not the John Percival you think I am – I don’t work at St Peter’s Barge in London. I’m the other John Percival in the British evangelical world – working as a ministry trainee for Emmanuel church in Hastings. Sorry to disappoint!

    I’d definitely agree that it’s possible to pick a chunk of text larger than the author’s main units of thought (eg as you suggest, Romans 3-4, although Mark Dever has shown that you can preach whole books of the Bible in one go, just picking up on the main theme of each one).

    However, I was a little nervous about breaking things down into chunks that are too small – so that you’re not so much preaching the author’s intent, as your own systematic theology as it intersects with that particular verse. But I see that’s not really the focus of this discussion and perhaps one for another day – maybe when I’ve got a clearer idea of what I think!

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