Revolutionary teachers desire to give God and attenders their best effort. They start early in the week prayerfully preparing for the Bible study encounter on Sunday. They study the chosen passage, the greater context, the book of the Bible, the author, setting, customs, language, and more. Frequently this study uncovers parallel verses, related passages, and additional context in other Bible books. In other words, instead of ten to fourteen verses they end up studying 30-40 or even more. At this point, there is no plan to trim the lesson.
By the time Sunday comes, they have lived with God in His Word long enough that they have more to share than there is time or attenders’ ability (or interest) to absorb. They may have 30-45 minutes to lead attenders to grasp the importance of what they have spent hours studying. What then? What are your options? Is it best to share everything even if it is more than attenders can absorb, or is it better to narrow the focus? Is it better to trim the lesson so that the most important point is able to be made and remembered?
I read a helpful article in Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox entitled How to Trim Your Sermons. In the article, Warren shares how he trims “sermons after a long week of studying,” and the four places that he trims apply to lessons as well. Consider Warren’s four places to trim in all capitals followed by my commentary:
Places to Trim the Lesson
- NUMBER OF VERSES. Most literature focuses on 10-14 verses. They include the maximum amount that most teachers can cover in one lesson. But there is no law that says you have to cover everything in the teacher’s book! When you spend time in God’s Word, you realize the most important point that God wants learners to hear, learn, and apply to their lives. Which verses do the best job of communicating that point? Trimming some verses may make that point clearer!
- BACKGROUND MATERIAL. Warren said, “… your members aren’t nearly as fascinated by archaeology and linguistics as you are. Do as much background study as you can… but share as little of it as possible in your sermon.” When teaching for life change, we should not explain everything in a passage. In fact, Warren says giving “too much detail of the text can actually hide or dilute the power of the text.” Don’t lead them to get distracted by “secondary issues” and miss the main point. Trim background material to reinforce that main point!
- POINTS. To counter too much content that they hear but don’t remember or obey, it may be better to teach a lesson where they understand the point, realize how to respond, and want to do it. Warren says a sermon with fewer points is “a sermon with power.” The same is true of a lesson. To help them “get it,” trim the points to the 1-2 that best communicate what God wants learners to hear and obey!
- QUOTES AND ILLUSTRATIONS. While these are essential in reinforcing points, each story, quote, and illustration should be examined carefully to make sure it is driving home the point. Do some distract rather than help? Many are too long; shorten them. Leave out unneeded details to make them clearer and more powerful. Can you tell it better in your own words? Cut out less relevant, less impacting ones. And trim those you use!
You Make the Call
Think about this. Which will be better: to trim the lesson in advance to make it more effective or to get halfway through the lesson on Sunday and realize you are not going to be able to finish? And even worse, you are not going to be able to make the most important point! Don’t let that happen. Prayerfully prepare well. Focus your lesson on the truth God wants learners to hear and obey. Then trim the fat. Teach lessons that lead learners to life change. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!