Thom Rainer had a blog post I found fascinating this week, “How Long Does a Pastor Preach.” You can read his observations and the data on his blog.
“How long should I preach?” is an age-old question for preachers. I’ve always taken the approach of, “As long as necessary, and no longer than beneficial.” Some weeks that’s shorter. Some weeks that’s longer. Today is Thursday, the day many preachers are deciding what stays and what goes in their sermons. To my fellow preachers, let me say–if it needs to be said, say it.
Maybe once every few months, I’ll get a joke about sermon length. However, the longest recorded sermon I’ve ever preached is 52 minutes, and that included the communion meditation and prayer. That sermon was also about an extremely emotionally charged topic that demanded significant explanation. In many churches, especially America’s largest and fastest growing, that length is standard.
At NVC, I’m typically in the thirties. The reason is–I feel there are other meaningful aspects to our assemblies we want to have time for. We share the Lord’s table, and we have vibrant times of fellowship, worship and prayer. It isn’t because I listen to people who complain if I go longer–though they are few and far between.
Prepare to hear something sharp: Those preachers usually (key word: usually, not always) hear from regarding sermon length are those who have little interest in spirituality. They are not searchers or non-Christians. They are usually veteran “Christians” who still have some growing up to do spiritually. To them, preaching is a rote exercise–not an exposition of God’s Word. It’s something that takes up time, not something with potential to give life because of the Word’s power.
To be fair, we should not blame people if they criticize a preacher who is taking their own craft flippantly. However, my experience has been those who complain about a sermon the length of the sitcom they watched the night before have some growing up to do. Don’t listen to them and adjust your length. If you need to adjust your length downward, do it for more noble reasons. If you can say it well in less time–do it. But…
Please don’t shorten your sermons for searchers sake. They are searching. That’s why they are there. Don’t shorten your sermons to appease your church’s lowest common denominator, spiritually speaking. Aim the food toward the hungry. Aim your preaching for those who come searching, broken, or hungry to grow in Christ. Don’t drone on pointlessly, but don’t adjust your view of God’s Word or preaching to suit the immature. The spiritually dry are not those you want casting the vision or setting the limits on the task of preaching. If our sermons make thirty minutes feel like two weeks, maybe we need to work on our preaching–but shortening the length isn’t the real issue, then.
Honor God. Preach the Word. Do it with creativity and passion. Understand the sermon isn’t the only thing going on. Be respectful of people’s time, but even more respectful of God’s Word and the task of preaching.
Have a great Thursday