Why Pastors Should Consider Preaching (At Least) 5 Minutes Shorter

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

What if you already only preach for 10 minutes? (-:

The kernel of truth is that preachers need the discipline of structuring their messages well, so they don't wander and circle and coast. Assuming the meat is there to begin with, people who love the word will stay with you just fine if they can see how your message is structured, clearly see the main idea, know where you're headed and know where you are on your journey together.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I agree with Aaron.  I have heard messages longer than 1 hour, where I wondered where the time went, and messages of 20 minutes that were interminable.  I'm sure others have experienced the same.

Dave Barnhart

Ron Bean's picture

The facts are that very few of us can preach long sermons that are of high quality and that all of us could benefit from more discipline in our preparation and presentation. That being said, my current pastor preaches for nearly an hour from a manuscript (although you could never tell) and every minute is rich. Personally I preach from a near-manuscript and stay in the 35 minute range. 

BTW, did you ever consider how many of the memorable speeches of history were delivered from manuscripts? Even MLK's "I Have a Dream" was memorized and delivered more than once.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that a common chord in almost all of the "interminable" sermons I've heard is that the pastor delivering them uses the text not as his text, but rather as a springboard to talk about what he really wanted to talk about at length.  The worst thing about it is that it subtly trains the congregation to do the same, and hence it is a subtle but powerful reinforcement not of Scripture, but rather of the prevailing culture of the church.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

John E.'s picture

No matter what I cut, I always fear that I cut what should've stayed and left what should've been cut. I love preaching except when I'm doing it, then I'm terrified. 

DLCreed's picture

This is about the 5th such post/article I've seen on the topic of shortening sermons in the last week somewhere on the Internets.  Excuse me while I take a few seconds and reflect on all the posts I've ever seen on the need to shorten the music/worship time or announcements. (It won't take long.)

{Exit Sarcasm mode}

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

John E. wrote:

No matter what I cut, I always fear that I cut what should've stayed and left what should've been cut. I love preaching except when I'm doing it, then I'm terrified. 

That's very interesting. I'm almost the opposite. I love preaching except when I am not doing it. The prep is often enjoyable also, but tinged with anxiety... Or used to be. After 6 or 8 yrs, that dropped off dramatically. But some passages still prove to be a bit frustrating to get something "sermon shaped" out of... Seem determined to be two sermons or 4 1/2 etc. , strung loosely together. Those can be awkward to deliver! (and to hear)

@DLCreed... (-:

TylerR's picture

Editor

Maybe. You have to decide if you're just padding and being redundant, or if you really have some interesting things to say from the text. Lately, my sermons have been about 50 minutes. That bothers me, because I like to shoot for 40.

I agonize about cutting things, because everything I say is related to a text. It's not like I go off on rabbit-trails or waste time telling stories. I get positive reactions from the congregation, but I'm certain folks wish I'd keep it at 40. I'm trying to do that. The reason why I'm going longer is that I''m trying to go through the Gospel of Mark in larger chunks, which means I'm trying to cover more space, which means I have more to talk about. I'm going to have to ditch that approach and take shorter passages for preaching. It's the age-old problem; the balance between wanting to take the passage in context (which may mean using a longer section) vs. the need to avoid atomizing the text to death and taking 10 years to go through a book!

I did John 1:1-18 and the implications for the Trinity yesterday, and got it done in about 45 minutes. I was happy with that. I am determined to get Mark 5:35 - 6:6 done in 40 minutes this Sunday. It WILL happen. I'll just talk faster!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Isn't the length of the sermon something of an acquired taste?  If I were the new pastor at a church that was accustomed to 30 minute sermons, I believe I would aim for that length at first.  Then, when people are used to my style, and hopefully, responding with encouragement for more, I would gradually increase.  Even at that, I would probably aim for 45 minutes as the ideal.  Spurgeon used that figure as the ideal in his day, and I doubt that most Christians are prepared to benefit from more today.  Yes, I have had people tell me that they wished I had continued rather than close it when I did.  (God bless you!)  But I would rather quit with people desiring more than have people wishing for less.  I know Mac Arthur often preaches an hour or more.  God bless him!  I also know I'm no Mac Arthur, and I believe wisdom dictates that I do less.  (And in all honesty, I have often found Mac Arthur's introductions unnecessarily long and a bit tedious, but after that, he's usually riveting.)

 

 

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

I personally don't like MacArthur's preaching. It's like listening to a running commentary. I know it's well-nigh heretical to say this, but I said it anyway.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

I was talking with another retired pastor this weekend and we asked ourselves if people really listened and retained what we were preaching. I suppose we could give them an exam at the end (it's been done) but I wouldn't advise it. I recall preaching on the account of Elisha, the widow, and the oil and grain. In the congregation was a pastor whom I knew well and whose church owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to people who had purchased bonds to build his ministry and who had been sending miniscule payments per court order to them for years. His ministry had just come into more than enough money to pay off all the debt but he refused and hid the money in his general fund. I knew this as fact and was feeling feisty so I looked him in the eye as I emphasized that the first thing the widow did was pay her debts and supported my point with Psalm 37:21. The guy, who was also my boss, didn't even blink and thanked me for the "great sermon" afterward. The lesson learned was that we may have much to say but we need to realize that our audience probably is not going to hear and retain our vast amount of content no matter how meaningful it is. 

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Perhaps the length, and complexity, of teaching ought to take into account the audience's ability to comprehend--like the old "Far Side" where the kid raises his hand and says "Excuse me, Mr. Osborne?  May I be excused--my brain is full!".  That would also be a powerful warning against rabbit trails--you have only so much time and so much comprehension on your audience's part, so you might as well use that for what matters.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

Time length doesn't matter.

what matters is coherence and cohesion. Basic writing skills. Have a proposition (or thesis), make every point support it, don't be cute, quit when you are done.

that last is what I tell visiting preachers when they ask about time limits, quit when you are done

if you are just talking and telling stories with no apparent point, everyone will wish you would quit five minutes ago

the real benefit of sermons is the building of a biblical worldview. I can probably count on one hand specific sermons I remember over the last 40 years

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

When preaching through narrative books like Mark, Acts, 1 Kings, etc. I found that I needed to learn to summarize better. Keeping the study moving at a good pace precluded looking at every verse, so I often selected the parts that we would focus on and summarized what was in between.

But I strongly prefer an eyes-on summary -- so it would be like "Note that beginning in v. 12 down through 26, this happens and that happens; we'll pick it up at v. 27."

John E.'s picture

I should probably clarify what I meant by "when I'm doing it." I enjoy and love the study, prep, and writing (I manuscript). It's that actual doing it, stepping into the pulpit, that I find terrifying, for a myriad of reasons including feeling the weight of my own sin as well as being acutely aware that I probably don't know what I'm doing. I'm still a very novice preacher, having only been preaching for three years now and not on a regular basis. So far this year, I've only preached 6 times.  

Ron Bean's picture

John Ellis recently preached at our church. His Godly fear and respect for the responsibility of preaching God's Word was evident to me. His concentrated and successful effort to stay on topic assured there was no wasted time and his familiarity with his manuscript assured that most if not all of us didn't know it was a manuscript. He set a good example for all of us. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

G. N. Barkman's picture

Different strokes for different folks.  Fortunately for Mac Arthur, there are more than 10,000 people who eagerly attend his preaching every week.  As near as I can tell, his church is built almost entirely by his expository pulpit.  It will be interesting to see what happens when he's no longer in the pulpit.  As to his style, I find it helpful.  His goal is to exposit Scripture, and that's what I look for in preaching.  I remember first hearing him on the radio in the early 80's, and thinking, "I need to find out more about this man and his ministry."  I have been personally blessed and helped by Mac Arthur.  I believe I am a better preacher today because of him.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've heard his earlier sermons, before he began to write his NT commentaries. They were warmer, friendlier and more down to earth. I think he started sounding like a running commentary when he started doing his NT commentary series. I like MacArthur and have read several of his books. I just don't always like his preaching style. I could have my Kindle read a NAC or EBC-level commentary and get most of the same thing! It's just a personal preference with me.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

What Pastors need, honestly, are collaborative, honest sermon critiques. I wish we had a mechanism in my context to do this. I'm just so busy, and the other pastor is far too kind to be critical the way I wish he would be! If local pastor fellowships could commit to reviewing one sermon from a member per month, that might go towards making this dream a reality. If a fellowship of 12 pastors does this, each pastor will receive a critique once per year. We could even form a consortium of interested folks from SI to do the same for one another, I suppose.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

Here's what I did and still do, even though I'm retired. My sermons are posted on the church's website. I've enlisted the following: an older retired pastor friend,  an old friend (probably unsaved) who's in a United Methodist Church, two of my (now former) co-workers; both of whom are professing Christians but attend different churches, and my most brutal critics, my wife and grown sons. I'd also meet with the other elders. 

I also employed Spurgeon's principle of having a blind eye and deaf ear. I'd tended to ignore "that really was a terrible sermon-I hated it" and "that was a wonderful sermon-I loved it".

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

pvawter's picture

Tyler,

I just picked up Who Will Preach? by Mark Hallock and he recommends starting what he calls a "Spurgeon League" in your church (and maybe in cooperation with nearby churches) to raise up preachers in the church. If I'm reading him right, this would allow you to train up some men who could give you some feedback as part of their own training and growth process. Might be worth checking out.

  https://smile.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1732229120/ref=dbs_a_w_dp_1732229120

TylerR's picture

Editor

That sounds like an excellent idea ... for a less busy time! The pastor's fellowship angle is the only realistic option for me right now. I also reached out to somebody on SI for a semi-regular sermon critique, too. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I'm with Ron 100% there--he's got a group of men he ASKS for feedback.  You don't want to be bouncing back and forth with every gadfly out there, but you do want someone who will graciously say "that's really not what that passage is about" or whatever.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.