The Cutting Room Floor
So, you’ve just finished writing an epic sermon that is sure to cause your congregation not only to be overwhelmed by the Spirit, but also to marvel at your stunning command of biblical exegesis and the brilliance of your powerful illustrations. This one is definitely a home run — a grand slam, even. Problem is that your finished draft is going to be too long to fit in the allotted time for your weekly sermon. As painful as it is, something needs to be cut because of time restraints, but you don’t want to lose that funny story or that fine theological point that you put in there. What do you do with that excess but excellent material?
Back in the day when people used actual film or audiotape, trimming out excess material meant literally cutting the tape and collecting it in a pile. Hence the expression “the cutting room floor.” Then, as now, astute producers would save that extra stuff for possible use in a blooper reel or as “deleted scenes” for the future home video, DVD or Blu-ray. Nothing is wasted and people get to enjoy the edited material in another format.
I suggest that every preacher consider a similar approach when it comes to good material that you just can’t fit into your sermon. There are other ways you can use it that will not only help drive the point home for your congregation during the week, but also give you an outlet to expand on the stuff you said in the sermon. Here are a few ways to use that excess material effectively:
Use it in your children’s sermon. If you do a weekly children’s sermon, consider using it as a place to talk about some things you left out of the sermon. This works particularly well for background material on the historical and cultural setting of the Scriptures. Kids love to imagine what life was like in a different time and what they might have seen or touched had they lived during Bible times. Adults love it too, which is why using this time with the children can be a good place to do some background storytelling work to prep people for the sermon.
Use it in a midweek blog or podcast. We often think of the sermon as primarily being a Sunday event, but technology now allows us to communicate the message all week. A midweek blog post or podcast can take some of that excess material and use it to either prepare people for the upcoming sermon or to follow up afterward as people continue to consider what you said. Midweek is also a great time to reflect on the texts you might have skipped over to get to the preaching text for Sunday. This is especially helpful for lectionary preachers who want to fill in the gaps for their congregations.
Develop a filing system for edited material. If you’ve been preaching for a long time, you know that you will eventually come back to this text again. Consider saving that edited illustration or the theological point you cut, and do it in a way that allows you to come back to it the next time you address this text. In my Bible study software, for example, I always make notes next to a particular text I have been studying and also note any illustrations or thoughts that come to mind. When I come back to that text again, those notes are already there to jog my memory and remind me of that illustration I haven’t used yet. You can do this with a variety of software programs or even do it the old-school way and just write it down and keep it in a file. The point is that you’re saving it for later and chances are that it will fit your future sermon better than it does the one you’re working on now.
It’s tempting to want to cram all your work into one sermon, but it’s also true that we don’t have unlimited time for preaching each week. Do as good of a job at editing as you do at writing and you’ll not only make your sermons tighter and more effective, you’ll also have a treasure trove of material to use creatively in ways that impact your congregation beyond this week’s sermon.
And all God’s people said, “Cut!”