Sound-Bite Sermons

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed political speeches include increasingly more “sound-bite” type statements. Speechwriters know the media will only play short clips of the speech, so they feed them ready-made lines to appear on the evening news. These sound-bites are driven by the campaign’s foundational “talking points” which is why you feel like you hear the same speeches over and over again.

The problem is that most political speeches have become a constant stream of sound-bites without any effort to provide substantive content. On the rare occasion a politician takes time to explain the “why” behind his campaign goals, they get killed by pundits for being “boring”. As a result, most political speeches are pretty shallow these days.

I prefer a speech that mixes important content with memorable sound-bites.


Often, when I preach, I try to have several sound-bite type statements sprinkled throughout my sermon. Not because of the media, but because a short, memorable statement is a good way to wrap up a point and help the hearers take it with them. These statements are usually the last piece of my sermon to develop as they are in many ways the transitions and summations of the key points of the sermon. The danger I have to avoid, however, is the temptation to develop a sermon full of short, witty statements that inspire people and get them excited, but don’t really teach them anything new or direct them toward life change.

As an example of sound-bites in a sermon, here are some of my transitory statements from a sermon on 2 Timothy 2:14-22:

  • How disappointing is it to God when the feuds and drama within His church are mirror images of the workplace fights that happen among those who don’t even know him?
  • Handle the Bible in such a way that there is no question as to the RIGHT way to live.
  • Whatever your talents, resources, position, or possessions; use them in ways God would approve.
  • If we are not willing to rightly handle the gifts God has given us, we cannot be useful to him.
  • We need to discipline ourselves so that our first response to temptation is to flee.
  • Because of faith, God has already declared me righteous, so when I pursue righteousness, I am simply living up to the person God has already declared me to be.
  • Faithfulness is demonstrated by consistency over time.
  • Faithfulness is choosing to consistently rely on Christ every day. This kind of faithful life is the catalyst for righteousness.
  • When I’m consistently relying on Jesus to provide my righteousness, I have no need to take care of myself. Therefore, I can focus my attention on others… on loving them.
  • The greatest obstacle we face in pursuing loving relationships is too great a sense of self-love. I cannot completely love you the way Christ loved me if I am worried about fulfilling my own needs and desires.

An added benefit of creating these sound-bites is that they are ready made for social media. I can tweet these, put them on Facebook or create Instagram and Pinterest graphics with them. I might use them to spice up my YouVersion live event or in an all-church email the week after I preach. If my church members follow me on social media, these quick statements are a great reminder throughout the week of how God has spoken to our community.

These statements are not the “meat” of the sermon, they are the seasoning. They won’t provide the protein, but they make the meal memorable. If one of these sound-bites sticks with someone and enables them to receive God’s truth so that It changes their life, then my time spent developing them was well spent.

How to Bake the Perfect Sermon

The most difficult task when preparing a sermon is knowing what NOT to say.

Almost every week, more of my study material is left out of the sermon than makes it in. I ruthlessly cut and trim because I want to sharpen the main point of the message.

I recently read a tweet from @JoshWeidmann. He quoted H.B. Charles , “People don’t want to know the details of the recipe, they just want to smell the fresh baked bread.” My pre-sermon study discoveries are the flour and the eggs and the yeast and whatever else you put into your bread (raisins maybe). The sermon is what comes out of the oven.

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I came across this article at Fast Company recently. The author, Judith Humphrey, writes this:

Streamline your thinking down to a single, essential idea–the point you want your audience to buy into. Sometimes speakers have too many ideas, or else they have no idea what they’re trying to say. Too many ideas or no idea–both produce the same thing: confusion.

If I can’t identify my main point before I stand up to preach, I am likely to do my listeners the great disservice of confusing them with my words instead of pointing them to His Words.

Humphrey suggests five criteria by which to evaluate your message before you speak. If your message meets all five, you are ready to present a clear and compelling concept which will hopefully lead to action.

  1. It’s one idea
  2. You can express it in a single, clear sentence
  3. It’s engaging
  4. It carries your convictions
  5. It’s positive

Her five criteria all apply to sermons as well. Checking your message against this list may help you bake just the right sermon for next Sunday.

The Three Temptations Of The American Pastor

I’m going to write a lot more about this some day and I envision it will be a parable-type story I might want to create… (like a Patrick Lencioni book)

I would call it The Three Temptations of an American Pastor (I know, Lencioni wrote one very similar to this…)

The Three Temptations

  • Building
  • Bodies
  • Bucks

I sometimes wonder how much our kingdom mindset is skewed by our devotion to these three measurements. In my experience, most people (especially pastors!) judge a church’s success based on these three temptations.

Church Success

  • How big is your building?
  • How many people attend on Sunday?
  • How sizable are your offerings?

Of course, this doesn’t exactly match the Jesus model…

  • Not only did He not have a building, He didn’t have a home.
  • More people left His ministry than stuck with Him. (He eventually became so unpopular, they killed Him)
  • The biggest offering His followers ever took up was the bribe Judas received for betraying Him.

Maybe instead of these temptations we should be teaching our people to be hospitable, missional, and generous?

–> These ideas are a methodological snack for us to chew on. I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments.