Clarity Trumps Cleverness

Clarity Trumps Cleverness

We’ve all done it.
We’ve all spent time on it.
We’ve all made the mistake.

As a preacher, you spend time in preparation. If you plan ahead, the weeks coming into a message are filled with preparation and reading scripture and commentaries. The week of the message you’re fine-tuning each word and relearning the text. Maybe you even listen to other sermons on the passage you’re preaching on or read books on the topic. You probably look up certain words and craft an outline. Maybe you even write a full manuscript and type out most of every word you plan on saying.

A prepared preacher is a powerful preacher.

As preachers, we want what we say to be memorable. We want what we say to be inspirational, transformational, and practical. We want it to be something people can chew on throughout the week. We want it to be something that’s not just another speech to listen to, but something people resonate with.

But, I’m willing to bet we’ve all moved beyond this where we try to get clever. You know what I’m talking about. You try to find the perfect word for your point. You try to craft a sentence that is catchy and gets the point across. You break out the thesaurus and you go to work. You try to find a word that starts with the same letter as your previous point but conveys something else you’ve had in your head. If we’re not careful, though, we can misconstrue our message by trying to make it more memorable.

Remember, clarity trumps cleverness.

I’m not saying you can’t be clever. I’m not saying your message title can’t rhyme or your points can’t spell a word or all start with the same letter. What I am saying is, when you’re left with a choice, always choose to be clear over being clever.

In our Instagram and Twitter world, it can be really tempting to try for the one-liner over being faithful to the text and the Spirit. Resist the urge to water down or get “kinda close” to the point you want to make for the sake of being memorable and clever.

How do you do that? How do you keep clarity while also trying to be unique and have your message be memorable? Ask yourself these 3 questions.

Is there a better word I can use that may not be clever but can be clearer?

If I have no past knowledge of the text, does this still mean the same thing?

Does it fit in the context of my passage?

Those 3 questions will help you navigate the waters of one-liners and being true to your message. At the end of the day, yes, we want people to remember our message, but we really want people to know Jesus and the Gospel in a clear way. It’s not worth sacrificing the grace message of Jesus for a clever, tweetable one-liner.

Jonathan Pearson is the Connections Pastor at SpringWell Church in Taylors, S.C. Jonathan is the co-host of the Next Up Podcast and author of Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make (June 2014) and the upcoming book Be the Switch. He is married to Melissa and has a son named Riley. They live in Greenville, S.C. Find Jonathan online at

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