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Recently my family of 8 packed into our mini-van for an early Spring vacation. When I say “packed in” you may be thinking in terms of seats (i.e. a Honda Odessy only has 8 seats, therefore, we were packed in). This is not what I mean. We were packed in. The trunk was filled to the top, the floor had shoes, books, bags, and blankets. The front seat was full of distractions for the little kids as well as entertainment for adults and big kids. We were packed in. But then when we got closer to our destination (10 hours away from home), we went to Costco to buy food for the week. In this we were now officially fully packed in. Kids balanced cartons of eggs, coffee, vegetables, and milk while we finished our course.

The vacation ended and my normal duties resumed last week. I prepared a sermon and then delivered it on Sunday. After I was finished I was reflecting upon it and critiquing various elements of it and I was drawn back to our road-trip.

As preachers we have the tendency to stuff our sermons so full of content that it can make for a tough trip. The parallel is perfect. Early in the week I prepare an outline and structure, this is like the packing list. Soon I’m writing, putting clothes on the homiletical bones, this is the initial packing. Through my zeal and love for the content the paper usually fills up pretty fast. The car is nearly packed. However, as I stew over the passage and think about illustrations and implications, I always add more. A paragraph here, an illustration there, and before you know it—the van is fully packed. But this is not all, there are extemporaneous additions to consider. In the moment, fully engaged with the delivery of the sermon I am firing fresh arrows out of the homiletical quiver. This is like a stop at the Outlet Mall or the Gift Shop. Of course we can fit in some new running shoes for Dad, new jeans for Mom or sleds for the kids! The car and the sermon are packed.

The most liberating thing for me is to remember when thinking in terms of a road trip is that it is a long trip; I am not moving to the location, only visiting. The preaching ministry of a pastor is likewise a long trip. It is impossible to give everything to our people on every Sunday. Just like a Dad has to break it to his little girl that she cannot bring 7 stuffed animals and 4 dollies, so to the preacher needs to break it to himself that he can’t bring every good quote that Tim Keller has ever said about the gospel. For the sake of your family, you have to leave some stuff behind.

(note: we needed everything that we packed for the trip. My wife did an amazing job planning what was needed and saving us a lot of money by going to Costco. The trip helps with my preaching, not the other way around.)

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4 thoughts on “You Can’t Pack Everything Into Your Sermon”

  1. Ben Thorp says:

    My experience was that when I first started out preaching, I didn’t really have that much to say (and probably spent too long saying it). As I grew, and read, and learned, the amount I had to say grew, but I hadn’t yet learned the art of editing because I had never needed to.

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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