The Cutting Room Floor

Delete Key

You’ve just finished writing an epic sermon that is sure to cause your congregation to be overwhelmed by the Spirit. They’ll 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. 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 fine theological point you put in there. What do you do with that excess, yet excellent, material?

Back in the analog days when people used actual film or audiotape, trimming out excess material meant literally cutting it and letting the leftover film or tape drop in a pile on the floor. 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 was wasted and people got to enjoy the edited material in another context.

Every preacher should 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 help drive the point home for your congregation during the week and give you an outlet to expand on the stuff you said in the sermon. Here are a few channels where you can use that excess material effectively:

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 main 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 adults for the sermon.

Midweek blog or podcast. We often think of the sermon as being a Sunday event, but technology now allows us to communicate the message all week. An advance blog post, podcast, email or text can use some of that excess material to generate interest and prepare people for an upcoming sermon. Or it could be a post-sermon follow-up to encourage people to continue thinking about 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.

Future sermons. If you’ve been preaching for a long time, you know that you will eventually come back to a text again. Develop a filing system for edited material. Save that edited illustration or theological point you cut, and do it in a way that allows you to easily come back to it the next time you address the text. You can do this with a variety of software programs, simple keyword searches, 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 it may even fit a 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!”

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Over the years of publication Homiletics Online has had many contributing authors. This team has worked diligently to thoughtfully craft material to assist in sermon preparation.

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