Revolutionary teachers desire to give God and class 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 thirty, forty, or even more.
By the time Sunday comes around, 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 have thirty or forty-five 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 what will be shared so that the most important point is able to be made?
I read a helpful recent article in Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox entitled How to Trim Your Sermons. In the article, Warren shares how he trims his “sermons after a long week of studying.” His four places that he trims apply to Sunday School lesson preparation as well. Consider Warren’s four places to trim in all capitals followed by my commentary:
NUMBER OF VERSES. Most curriculum choices available today narrow passages to ten to fourteen verses. They do so for a reason! They have included an amount that most teachers have found to be the maximum that can be covered in one Bible study session. Notice I said maximum. There is no law that says you have to cover everything in the teacher’s book! When you have spent time in God’s Word, you come to realize the most important point that God wants you to lead learners to hear, learn, and apply to their lives. Now, what verses do the best job of communicating that point? If you trim some verses, they may see that point more clearly!
BACKGROUND MATERIAL. I like how Warren started this section in his article. He said, “I hate to tell you this, but your members aren’t nearly as fascinated by archaeology and linguistics as you are. Do as much background study as you can in the exegesis, but share as little of it as possible in your sermon.” He points out that we are teaching for life change and should not explain everything in a passage. In fact, he says describing “too much detail of the text can actually hide or dilute the power of the text.” In other words, we can lead them to get distracted by “secondary issues” in the passage and not help them get the main point. Trim background material you will use in order to reinforce that main point!
POINTS. Instead of starting ten nails, why not drive one home? Instead of a lesson with lots of content they hear but don’t understand or obey, would it not be better to teach a lesson in which they understand the point, realize how they need to respond, and are motivated to do it? Warren’s illustrations here are worth checking out the link (above) to his article. He concludes by stating, “When you confine your sermons to fewer points, you get a sermon with power.” The same is true of a lesson. In fact, if you can narrow it to one or two at most, they will be more like to “get it.” So trim the number of possible points to the one or two that best communicate what God wants learners to hear and obey!
QUOTES AND ILLUSTRATIONS. Stories and illustrations can be essential in reinforcing points. But each story, quote, and illustration should be examined carefully to make sure it is driving home the point. Many are only tangentially related and are likely to distract rather than help. And many are too long. Shorten them. Leave out unneeded details and you can make them clearer and more powerful. Sometimes you can even tell it better in your own words. Cut out less relevant, less impacting stories, quotes, and illustrations. And trim the ones you use!
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. Be revolutionary!