Let me begin this way: Preachers, get this book, read it, and do what it says. If you do, your preaching will go to the next level. Whether you’ve been at it a few weeks or a few decades, there is wisdom here for all whose privilege it is to have preaching as a vocation.
Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact is a brand new book from my friend, Talbot Davis, pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. I don’t recall when our paths first crossed, but in 2014 (and in a new appointment for me) Talbot’s influence led to a major shift in my approach to preaching. I did not change my commitment to serious engagement with the scriptures. I did not change my commitment to preaching the gospel. I did not change my commitment to preaching the holy love of God that empowers people to embody that holy love. What changed was the communicative framework for all of that. I began to pay more attention to the homiletic package, not just the content. I began to give more energy to wordsmithing, not just word-assembling. I began (and here’s the crucial change) to preach the “bottom line.” What does that mean? It means I began organizing my sermons around a single memorable (and hopefully provocative!) sentence that communicated the one point of the text being preached that week. I learned this from Talbot Davis.
At that time, Talbot had not written a book on his approach to preaching. I learned the approach over time through observation and interaction. Now that Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact has been published, things will be much easier for you. You can simply read the book and do what it says. And if you do, more people will remember more of your sermons. And the transformative power of your sermons will be enhanced and felt more deeply by your hearers.
Here’s what to expect. Talbot will lead you on a journey from clutter to clarity. This has largely to do with the movement from numerous points to a single point. You will learn strategies for crafting that single point that will make it more memorable. You will learn an approach to scripture that makes it feel more like an adventure than a lecture. There’s help on how to creatively apply what you find in scripture to what you find in the world and in your congregation. Talbot will teach you how to write sermons that help people listen better, that amplify the gospel. And all of that comes with example after example from sermons Talbot has preached to show you how the strategy pays off in the pulpit.
The book is brief and imminently readable. It’s funny and eye-opening. Most importantly, it will make you a better preacher. As I was reading, I thought how I’d like my preaching students to read this book, not only once during the semester, but two or even three times. I’ve already ordered extra copies to read with the folks on my preaching team. And it will likely be a book we revisit frequently. Since I began preaching the “bottom line” of the text, I’ve often thought how we need a handbook on the method. We have that now, which means we are all without excuse.
PS: Check out the accompanying website with extra resources – simplifythemessage.com
Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary. He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.