Piling On

In football there is a penalty known as “piling on” which is assessed whenever players excessively tackle an opposing player who has already been brought to the ground. There have been times when listening to preaching that I have wished I had a flag to throw for similar infractions.

How often have we heard preachers who, having already made their point, continue to pile on extra illustrations and superfluous commentary in the attempt to accomplish what has already been achieved. I am not a homiletic referee, but I have often wished that I could blow a whistle on that kind of thing.

The preacher who piles on is betraying a lack of confidence in the sermon. The irony is that this attempt to strengthen the impact through the addition of excessive material actually weakens the impact of what we hear. The extra story or proposition actually diffuses the focus of the sermon, creating a kind of fog in the listener’s consciousness. By trying to make the point sure, we actually serve to loosen our hold upon the listener. We do exactly the opposite of what we had intended.

Of course, piling on in preaching also serves to unnecessarily lengthen the sermon. I know we sometimes feel the sermon has to reach a certain length, but in preaching, as in life, the old adage is most often true: less is more.