October 19, 2017

What’s Wrong With The Sermon?: It’s Too Long

sleeperchurch.jpgA new Internet Monk series examining the basics of good preaching by listening to common criticisms.

I’ve been preaching for…well…longer than a lot of you have been on earth. Thirty-four years ago next month I preached my first sermon, and I’ve been at it ever since. I currently preach sixteen times a month, and I love it. I figured out a long time ago that preaching was probably the one thing I do competently enough that God keeps me around.

I also listen to a lot of preaching. Part of that is a consequence of my vocation as chaplain at a Christian school with daily chapel and lots of visiting groups. Some of it is simply my own interest in preaching. I listen to everyone from Osteen to Piper to Keller to Driscoll regularly. I try to pay attention to good communicators in the pulpit from various traditions.

I have favorites. Paul Simpson Duke. Ravi Zacharias. Tim Keller. John Sartelle. Barbara Brown Taylor. Will Willimon. Not all my favorites do things the way I do them, and I am not an imitator of preachers. My influences are sometimes conscious in my preparation, and other times I am simply inspired by their devotion to the calling.

In this series of posts I will be examining the sermon as it is currently done in evangelicalism. My method will be a bit backwards. I am going to examine the most frequent criticisms of sermons- something I hear all the time from my peers and student listeners- and see if there is truth in the criticisms.

I will call this series “What’s Wrong With The Sermon?” I invite, as always, your feedback.

1. The sermon was too long.

Well…you have to admit that you haven’t heard someone say the sermon was too short lately 🙂

I discovered a long time ago that my audience at the OBI chapel is well aware of the tendency of preachers to go on and on and on. I appreciate the fact that, in 14+ years of preaching at our school, I have, with their help, honed my sermons down from the 40+ minutes that comes naturally to me to 20-25 minutes. I think it has made me a much better preacher.

But what about the criticism itself? How long should a sermon be?

Like most things related to preaching, scripture really doesn’t help us much. Paul preached at least one person to death, and it is hard to imagine that, if the Sermon on the Mount really was a sermon, Jesus could have done it in less than an hour. Other Biblical sermons seem very short. “Yet forty days, and Ninevah shall be destroyed.” Or “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Studies in communication remind us that the average person has an attention span well less than 20 minutes. My audience of students probably has half that, and considering a bunch of them have an ADD/ADHD diagnosis, I feel the pressure to say something before the ten minute bell. Plus, I’m the last thing before lunch. Sort of like giving a presentation to the bull just before the gate opens.

My Reformed friends tend to believe that the Puritans had the right idea, with sermons in the 1-2 hour range proving one has taken the inerrant Word of God seriously. Spurgeon’s sermons, unedited, are usually in the range of an hour. John Macarthur seems to handle his messages in just under an hour, and Mark Dever is the same.

Reformed preachers tend to be exegetical in the pulpit, with much attention paid to every word, phrase and grammatical turn. The Reformers are cited as the Fathers of this sort of preaching, and those who stand in their shadow are adamant that if you can’t tough it out for an hour, you may not really believe in the truthfulness and centrality of the Word.

Preachers who are more involved with the “spiritual birth” of the sermon in the pulpit than in the study, such as Baptist revivalists or Pentecostals, usually preach for 45 minutes to an hour plus. This is pragmatic, however, as it may take a while for the Spirit to really get moving. Invitationalists of every sort need a generous amount of time to persuade listeners to make some kind of public response. Questioning the length of these sermons is tantamount to saying God doesn’t know what he is doing.

Mainline Protestants vary more widely in the length of sermons. The more a church gives serious attention to liturgy and the Eucharist, the less time will typically be given to the sermon. There is clearly a sacramental aspect to the sermon in evangelicalism, and that sacramental sense is larger and more diffused in the “higher” forms of liturgy.

There is little exegesis in the pulpit of most mainline preachers, though many of these preachers are expert students of the Word. The emphasis is more on the practical application of the text, and generally much less is attempted in the way of building systematic theology from the text. The applications may sometimes, as a result, seem unhinged from the context and unnaturally “hinged” to the bumper of the latest political or social cause.

So one might find an evangelical Methodist preacher in a rural area preaching for 40 minutes, while a high church Methodist in an urban area would preach for 20. Lectionary preachers tend to be shorter, and expository, “series” preachers tend to be longer.

Does education affect sermon length? I am tempted to say that the uneducated mountain preachers around me preach very long sermons, but many educated preachers do as well. I would say that education has the potential to make a preacher more aware of what good communication should be, while a lack of education may leave a preacher with the unquestioned assumptions of his own context and tradition.

Has technology affected the length of sermons? I think so. The powerpoint/dvd using preachers that I am hearing are much more casual and conversational in presentation, and that makes for longer sermons. I contend that these tools have, on the whole, made preaching worse, even if they have made the presentations more “interesting” to audiences shaped by television. Add to this the tendency of contemporary preachers to use rambling personal anecdotes, object lessons and humorous “breaks” to prepare for serious applications, and you have the 45-minute sermon that really doesn’t say a lot once its done.

Obviously, the length of sermons is highly variable. There is no simple answer to the question, “How long should a sermon be?” Still, I do have some convictions.

A. A sermon ought to move rapidly enough that one doesn’t need an hour to get around to saying something worthwhile. Gain a sense of the movement of a sermon in a short period of time. Be able to “feel” it. Become confident that you can “feel” five minutes passing. In the country, we call preachers with no sense of time “dawdlers.” A sermon that goes somewhere at a decent clip is almost always more interesting than a pointless ramble.

B. Exegesis is for the study, not for the pulpit. Do your work before you get there and make the results usable in the most efficient form. Don’t reteach New Testament Intro or Greek just because you are using a verse from First Corinthians. Many sermons exhaust the congregation before the preacher ever gets near the application or message. Start a class if you have the need to say more about background.

C. When time in the study makes a sermon longer, a preacher is still learning. When time in the study begins to make a sermon shorter, the preacher is gaining the skill of communicating. Editing is the mark of maturity. A preacher who knows his own tendencies can restrain them by careful preparation, right down to the length of the sermon.

D. There is a big difference between a well-placed illustration and an open-ended anecdotal story. Of course, some good sermons contain useful personal stories, but I believe a good preacher limits these to instances where the personal story- told in a compact way- is the best illustration. Preaching is not the soap opera of the preacher’s own life. It is the Good News of the Gospel. Excessive amounts of time should not be devoted to “cute” or humorous personal anecdotes, even if people enjoy hearing about the preacher’s personal life. Discipline yourself to talk about Jesus and the Gospel more than anything else.

E. Organizing a sermon tightly will make it more timely and more time conscious. Introduction, three to five major points, conclusion. This is and always will be a good method. At the most, this type of sermon should take 30 minutes. More than that and too much is being done. I have frequently planned one sermon, and turned it into three sermons of 20 minutes each. That’s far more merciful than the original message would have been if delivered. (I once heard a preacher do a sermon on John 9 that would have easily been redone as half a year of preaching.)

F. Twenty minutes is a long time to most people. If it insults our ego that people really don’t want to hear us talk for an hour, we should be more honest. Sometimes we are repeating ourselves, stalling and not getting to the point. No one is rude to tell us to get down to business and not waste their time….or our own, for that matter. We are the heralds of the King!

E. There are issues of ego in many lengthy sermons, but there are also issues of theology. Protestants have typically been critical of the briefer “homilies” in Catholic and mainline churches. But these traditions have worship services that “preach” in many diverse ways that are often not appreciated. Length is length. It isn’t scholarship or proof of intense devotion to inerrancy. And bulletin to many young preachers: your hero may be interesting for an hour- chances are you aren’t. Trim it.

F. Lectionary preachers are very often good models of shorter, better aimed sermons. Listen to some good lectionary preachers and see how they approach a text with the application up front, in mind, and ready for use from almost the beginning of the sermon. Lectionary texts often allow the preacher to be much more economical, and to reach the goal of putting a single scriptural insight into the minds of the hearer. Many evangelical sermons simply try to do to much.

G. Preaching is communication. Length often is an attempt to make up for effectiveness in other areas. The myth is that if I just say enough, I will get through. You don’t preach through walls. People hear, by the Spirit’s work, the walls fall or the listener walks around it. The truth is that if we haven’t said something worthwhile pretty soon, no one cares, and going on and on won’t help that.

Don’t get to the point that Tony Campolo said happened to him in one Black church. He was going on and on, and a large matron of the church stood, waved a handkerchief and began shouting “Help him, Jesus! Help him, Jesus!”

H. Be sure that a sermon isn’t just economical and on-target; be sure it is also relevant. Sermons answering every objection of Arminians are great….for someone…somewhere. The preacher is to serve the Word to the congregation, not force the congregation to swallow the preacher’s version of “the word.”

Bottom line. Say it in 20-25 minutes, and consider using a more pointed, compact and organized approach.

Comments

  1. I grew up with 45 minute sermons, sometimes longer. At my current church, the more liturgical service does usually have a shorter sermon, 15-20 minutes, while the less-formal service is usually 25-30 minutes. I’ve heard sermons as short as 12 minutes and as long as 53 minutes. (I record the audio, which is the only reason I know the length. I don’t otherwise keep track.)

    I *have* heard complaints about sermons that are too short, but only from that 12-minute sermon.

    Anyway, I’m rambing, but I liked this article. I’ll add only one story that I’ve heard, and I’m sure you’ve heard, too: A retired pastor was asked to come preach at a church, and he asked when he could be available. He responded by asking how much time he had to preach. That seemed unusual, so they asked him why. He said, “If I’ve got 20 minutes, it’s gonna take me a month to study and get ready. If I’ve got an hour, I can do it next week. If you’ll let me go on for two hours, I can start right away!”

  2. Phil Walker says:

    I think my (Reformed-cum-Baptistic) background generally expects sermons lasting at most about half an hour, although three quarters isn’t unheard-of. An hour plus sounds excessive; I can start to lose interest anything up to ten minutes in…

    I also agree absolutely that structure is vital. I’ve sat through too many sermons which don’t have any structure, and I can never remember a word that was said. Bullet points (alliterated triplets always go down well!) really help the congregation to recall what was said, and as a bonus, help the preacher organise his material with concision and clarity.

  3. Albert G. says:

    Here’s a fellow you might add to your list of regulars, John Wood.
    He’s at http://www.cspc.net/index.cfm?&tsmi=74 (sorry, can’t get it to appear as a link)

    As far as the length, I could listen to some folks for well over an hour, and others I’m dyin’ after 10 minutes. My upbringing has conditioned me to about 35 minutes on Sunday. For better or worse if it is much shorter than that I feel like something is missing, much longer and I start to get a little Pavlovian.

  4. I can’t tell you how very surprised I am to read that you keep your sermons between a relatively short 20 and 25 minutes. I never would have thought that in a million years. Nevertheless, I think you are onto something here. A shorter, more focused sermon will probably leave more of an impact on the listener. I believe Sunday school is a much better venue for a more in depth study of the word.

  5. Be further surprised. Nothing I write here resembles my preaching. Ever.

    Our chapel begins at 11:00 and ends at 11:30. In there we sing, pray and have announcements. Thats about 20 minutes for me to preach.

    In church- either at my church in town or on weekends at school- I go 30.

  6. I grew up listening to sermons that ranged from 30 min to an hour, and when I moved to Mars Hill Driscoll regularly preached for an hour or more.

    Now that I go to a liturgical church, I often feel that the sermons are too short. 20 minutes is OK, but any shorter and I feel like I didn’t get my money’s worth.

    Have you ever thought of recording a sermon and putting it online? I’d like to hear what an iMonk sermon sounds like, but I don’t see myself getting out to KY anytime soon.

  7. You wouldn’t like it. Trust me.

    I preach appropriate for my context and the people who read IM typically don’t relate to that context.

    I used to record my church stuff, but I really don’t see the point. A lot of the staff here is frustrated because I don’t record my sermons, but again, I don’t see the point.

    You’d just be shocked at the Ky accent. (Bill Mac was 🙂

  8. I’ve got to tell you… Thank you for this post (and this series). I’ll be heading to seminary this fall (likely either Southern or Southwestern), and my goal is military chaplaincy. I happen to be a fan of good sermons. I appreciate all the help and advice I can get :-).

  9. I’ve been in a variety of churches, since I’ve moved around quite a bit. I’m used to sermons being 30-40 minutes long. I had a preacher in N. Idaho who used to go for over an hour on a regular basis, but I never noticed the passing time. However, my current pastor should quite after 20 minutes.

    My view, right now, is based on whether they can keep my attention. Granted, in Idaho, I was single. Now, I’m married w/ two children, and those are definite distractions.

    My current pastor hands out sermon notes, including major and minor points, with Scripture references. Maybe thats what bores me so much: knowing whats coming. I’ve read through a few of his sermon outlines and been really impressed, but I can’t stand to sit and listen to him for very long.

    Too make a long reply a little longer, let me sum up: I prefer longer sermons, but not every pastor/preacher can pull it off.

    I believe it was C.H. Spurgeon who told his deacons that if they found anyone sleeping in the pews, they needed to wake the preacher up right away.

  10. How do you guys feel we should respond to those who have this objection, or its (much) rarer counterpart? I just have a problem with those who would tell me my sermon’s too long when I don’t feel it is (I go 45 min usually). I don’t know, maybe it’s just the ego in me talking. In the same vein, I wonder how we can make this suggestion for the person who would go close to 2 hours.

    For glory,

    steve

  11. Michael,

    Thanks for this series. You are right on the money. I teach at a Christian college, and many of your points apply directly to teachers as well. We have chapel services twice a week and very recently a preacher went for 45 minutes – without using one scripture the whole time! (I don’t know if that qualifies for a sermon.) I’m looking forward to the rest of your thoughts on preaching.

    Thanks for the consistently very good and helpful articles. I visit the site pretty much every day to see what’s up.

    On another note: I would love for you to sometimes write a piece giving your evaluation of John Maxwell. He has had just as much influence on Christian leaders as Hybels and Warren, yet we don’t hear about him quite as much. His leadership material has greatly impacted the modern minister and church leader. Maxwell has lots of wonderful material that has helped me tremendously–yet I think many of us would benefit from looking at his teaching and material from a theological and biblical perspective.

    Kent S.

  12. Michael,

    Really enjoyed what you had to say about sermon lengths and the issues around the subject. I didn’t start preaching until I was 50. After I graduated, I went [still their] to serve at a very small [9], rural church [full time at that]. It was on its last legs, and those 9 would have taken a cold body as their pastor. After a few weeks of hour long sermons, one of the guys took me aside and informed me that the worship service time frame was 11:00 to 12:00 [sharp]. Being old, and not intimadated like a young [age] pastor might be, I just kept on preaching on [1hr.]. In truth, I didn’t know how to shorten my sermons. I had a fine preaching Professor who insisted on 20 to 25 minute sermons, but it just didn’t take with me.

    Over time I was able to bring the time frame down to about 40 minutes. One day at a congregational meeting [had grown to about 40] an elder stood up and made a motion that that the service be moved to 10:30 and end at 12:00. “He ain’t goin[a] shorten his sermons, and we ain’t goin[a] fire him, so lets just lenghen the time and start earlier.” The vote was unanimous: 10:30 – 12:00.

    I do not know if I will ever strive to consciencely shorten my sermon time [40 mins. + or -]; however, I have printed your article out, because, whether I preach 40 minutes or 20, you make many good points that I will take under advisement as I seek to improve my preaching.

    WAIT — WAIT — WAIT! I just re-read that part that says: “Sermons answering every objection of Arminians are great….” Ohhhhhhhhhh, the pain!!! I just tore up the my printed out copy of your article. It is gone — it is out of here. That article surely wasn’t ‘ONCE SAVED ALWAYS SAVED!’ Hehehe!!!

    MAKE IT a great tomorrow.

    fish on
    jerry

  13. Any chance you listen to much Rob Bell at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids. He is the only guy that I have ever listened to that I really thought God was looking into my soul through.

  14. This is a timely (ha!) series for me as I prepare my ordination sermon. Thanks for some very practical words. A couple of things to mention:

    “Questioning the length of these sermons is tantamount to saying God doesn’t know what he is doing.” Hummm… Michael, I sat in too many pews being emotionally manipulated by stories and physical antics as a kid to want to give God credit for too much of that stuff.

    Also, you mention Barbara Brown Taylor and Will Willimon as favorites of yours. Interesting because of their narrative style–compact in length but not as intro, three points, and conclusion.

    Having just discovered iMonk, I look forward to this series.

    Blessings, John

  15. Brian Pendell says:

    I gotta agree, and I would go further …. one simple rule:

    Can you say in ten minutes what you just said in 20? Then *why* take 20 minutes to say what you could say in 10?

    I, personally, would rather have *two* well thought out ten minute points — or one well thought out 20 minute point — Then one rambling, lengthy 20 minute or 45 minute point that demonstrates a
    lack of clarity of thought or sermon preparation.

    On another point … has anyone noticed that it’s mostly Paul’s letters that made it into the Bible and practically none of his sermons? I say this because if he spoke the way he writes — occasionally veering off the subject to a multi-chapter tangent — it must truly have been the HS that touched people through his preaching, because it certainly wasn’t any skill of his :).

    Am I correct in guessing that Paul was an absolutely terrible preacher?

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  16. I think you are right on target about sermon length.

    I heard Bob Russell talk about this at a Preaching Seminar a couple of years ago. He gave us a formula for determing how long we should preach. He said, “Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10. Now subtract 2 from that number.” (He busted our chops when he asked, “How many rated themselves a 5 or higher?” Nearly every hand went up. He said, “So almost every guy in this room is above average, huh?” ouch!). “So since we have a tendency to overrate ourselves, subtract two. Then take that number and multiply by five minutes.”

    So even the best of the best (the perfect 10’s) would only preach for 40 minutes (10 – 2 x 5). So most of us would be in the range that you suggested.

    Bottom line: How long should you preach? It depends on how good you are.

  17. I think you are right on target about sermon length.

    I heard Bob Russell talk about this at a Preaching Seminar a couple of years ago. He gave us a formula for determing how long we should preach. He said, “Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10. Now subtract 2 from that number.” (He busted our chops when he asked, “How many rated themselves a 5 or higher?” Nearly every hand went up. He said, “So almost every guy in this room is above average, huh?” ouch!). “Since we have a tendency to overrate ourselves, subtract two, then take that number and multiply by five minutes.”

    So even the best of the best (the perfect 10’s) would only preach for 40 minutes (10 – 2 x 5). So most of us would fall within the range that you suggested.

    Bottom line: How long should you preach? It depends on how good you are.

    Mike Kjergaard

  18. I was raised as a Pentecostal, and stayed in it most of my life. I don’t recall ever hearing a sermon that was less than 45 minutes. Most were and hour or longer, unless the pastor had to be somewhere.
    About a year and a half ago, I moved to an American Baptist church in our town. I was amazed, the first Sunday I was there, as the young pastor preached a seven point sermon in 22 minutes. Every point made, was clear and too the point and perfectly understandable.
    At first, I thought it was a fluke, and I went back again, just to see. The next Sunday, he preached a 3 point sermon. 20 minutes, perfectly understandable, not rushed in any way. I’ve never left that church. I’m now a member, and I’ve learned more about the Gospel, how to witness, how to be of use to the Kingdom of God, etc., than I did my whold life in the other denomination.
    I’m with you. If you can’t say it all in 20 minutes or so, split it up!

  19. I’m 23 and I’ve been going to church my whole life. I figure that I’ve heard at least a thousand sermons in my life, including church, camps, chapel, etc. I remember maybe five or six and most of those I actually remember a funny story from the sermon, not really the point of it.
    This may just be my own personality, but I’m pretty skeptical that a sermon is 1)the most effective way to teach the Bible and 2) that it should be the focal point of a church service. Pastors for a long time have been expected to preach and therefore a good pastor has been defined by his ability to preach. So the sermon became the main part of the service, since the pastor was the main part of the church (or at least the part the congregation paid for). It isn’t really the model we’re given in the first century, so why do we do it this way. I’d rather read a book or be a part of a Bible study. I personally really don’t like going to services because usually the sermon is labored through and no real point is made, or several points are made but they tend to be forced, out of context and simplistic. I don’t think the sermon model is ever long enough to be thorough and clear. A lot of times I find myself critical of how well the sermon was preached and if it lived up to my preconceived guidelines and the actual message gets lost.
    So IM I love reading your blogs, I come here often. Since you are writing a series about sermons, I’d love it if you could address why sermons are important at all? Maybe its just because we’ve always known it that way. Maybe its because church buildings are so conveniently designed to be perfect for a preacher/congregation model. Maybe its because we like to hear ourselves talk and be up in front of people. I don’t know.

  20. Mattbanker has a real point about the purpose of services. Some of us truly do grow in our faith through preaching, but I am with him in questioning whether that is the real point of worship.

    I am a recent convert to the Roman Catholic Church, coming from a Southern Baptist background. Now, the sermons are very short, compared to where I came from. Still, from both backgrounds, there are things that appeal to me in preaching and length is not one of them. I have grown most with short sermons that tied together the scripture readings for the day with practical apologetics. What is the doctrinal point being made, how does the Old Testament passage provide a foundation, and what is the practical application in our daily life?

    One of the best recent ones, I was visiting a church other than my home parish. The priest brought the entire point of the readings to “walking the walk” and how important that was. He said that he had recently been hanging out with the youth group, doing things with them and was impressed by how focused they are on doing exactly that. They have a good time with each-other, but also focus on their Catholic heritage with praying the Rosary togehter, participating in Eucharistic adoration, and learning the creeds and prayers that have been the touchstones of our faith for centuries. I think this sermon affected me more than most I have heard.

    Lest this look too much like a Catholic Rah-rah post, my other all-time favorite is from the first Baptist pastor I was under. He preached about half an hour on the passage about the master giving his three servants ten, five, and one talents. What I took home from that sermon was one sentence. It went something like this: “When I reach heaven, I sincerely hope that I have made enough of what I was given here on earth to be told ‘well done, thou good and faithful servant.'” The whole sermon could have been as short as a Catholic homily (or shorter) and still get through exactly that message in beautiful clarity.

    The real importance of a pastor is in his ability to lead and shepherd the congregation entrusted to him, not just his preaching. But, when a church interviews a new pastor, they will often try out his ability to preach without having any particular way of determining how well he does the rest of his job. Is he actually any good at going and visiting the dying woman in the hospital? Can he relate to the unwed teenage father enough to give real advice? How well can he explain doctrine to a troubled and questioning member of the church who is trying to reconcile his faith and the Bible with real life? If someone comes to him and claims to have been victimized by another member of the congregation, how does he handle it? If a marriage is breaking apart, does he have any idea how to counsel the husband and wife? All of these are part of the life of a pastor and are probably more important in the real world than how well he puts together a sermon. However, the methodology I have seen in one church (SoBap) for choosing a new pastor was to read applications, interview on the phone, then fly a few of the applicants up to the church so they could give sermons and answer a few questions from the congregation at a potluck, then base the decision on that.

    At least that’s how this pew-warmer sees things.

    -Patrick

  21. Patrick & mattbanker, and iMonk,

    At 51, and in the church literaly since birth (a PK) I shudder to think of how many sermons I’ve heard. I’ve given a few also. I have come to believe there is a time & place for lengthy exegesis … I personally don’t think it is Sunday morning. Mattbanker raises an excellent point – one I gave no thought to as a 23 year old – when he asks if we make more of the sermon than it was meant to be. In general, I think we have done just that (I am protestant too, but riding the edge of E. Orthodoxy & RCC these days). Jesus, quoting the OT, said, “My house shall be a house of PRAYER.” Not sermons, or drama, or CCM, etc. I think that modern Protestants have generally lost the concept of corporate worship and too often have become a bunch of personal worshippers who happen to be in the same building. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the liturgy I have experienced in the EO & RCC churches I have visited in the past year contain more participitory worship than any contemporary service of which I’ve ever been a part. Don’t get me wrong … I still love much of the CCM worship music of the last 2 decades (unlike iMonk, I have NOT quit playing my guitar!) and I use it often in my personal worship times. However, I am beginning to think that churches that have abandoned the liturgy of old have embraced a model that is resulting in an individualistic form of worship. LOL – just when I get to the place in my life where I think all should be settled and in place, I find myself struggling with all these issues & searching for truth again! Indeed, following Jesus is always an adventure!

    Tim

  22. A unique challenge to preaching skills is the homily at daily mass. My parish serves the downtown community, where daily mass is usually fifty to a hundred people sacrificing their lunch break to come worship, and they have a maximum of 45 minutes available. So the homily has to be very short, sometimes only about five minutes, and as bluntly direct as possible; no time for anecdotes, jokes, lengthy introductions, multiple points. The homilist must ask himself, what was the message of the gospel and epistle just read? What single point can the worshippers take with them back to the job? What has meaning for the businessman, the homeless guy, and the housewife with their brief, stolen minutes given to God in the middle of their day?

  23. “It is hard to imagine that, if the Sermon on the Mount really was a sermon, Jesus could have done it in less than an hour.”

    I’m not a preacher, but I’ve done the Sermon on the Mount as an exercise with my small group. It takes around 30 minutes depending on how fast you go. Maybe less, probably a little more. But you can certainly do it in under an hour. My senior pastor performed a dramatic recitation of the entire book of Mark once. It took less than two hours. But Mark is the shortest Gospel.

    The bible is surprisingly compact actually. I have an audio bible. Start to finish, you’re looking at 60-70 hours of oration.

  24. I am assuming that the SOM as we have it is boiled down and compacted from Jesus’ actual words. I don’t believe it is a transcript.

    I have several presentations on Mark by actors and all finish in less than 2 hours.

  25. tn_retired says:

    I did a search on long sermons to see what the average sermon length was and that is how I found your website.

    Two years ago my wife and I retired to TN and we soon found a small pentecostal church to attend because we were both raised in pentecostal churches. At the church where we started attending the pastor’s sermons seemed to average around 35 to 40 minutes and we both felt we could live with that because we enjoyed the other people we had met there.
    As someone else here stated some preachers can preach for one hour and it only seems about 20-25 minutes have gone by, while some preachers preach 25 minutes and it seems that they have gone one hour or over. This particular pastor has been in the ministry for 25 years so he should know by now how to keep his sermons short and to the point, by short I mean 30-35 minutes.

    After attending this church for about one year, the pastors sermons seemed to be getting longer and longer so I started timing them over a one month period. We attend three services per week so one month gives a good average. The pastors sermons averaged out to about 50 minutes per sermon
    and sometimes went to one hour and on a few occasions broke the one hour 15 minute mark with the longest one being one hour 18 minutes.

    That was when I decided to try to write a letter to the pastor telling him what I have observed in the last few months. I told him that I felt his long sermons are hurting our church’s growth because when we get visitors they never return more than twice and I told him that I felt this was due to his long sermons. I even told him that after he preaches for 35 minutes my mind starts to wander and I don’t hear anything else he has to say, so I can understand the visitors not coming back for more. I also told him that when he gets past 35 minutes that I start re-reading the church bulletin over and over or start reading the song book or my bible and eventually I start nodding off to sleep, so the remainder of his sermon is lost on me. I told him that if he continued to preach such long sermons, that my wife and I would be forced to look for another place to worship. I tried to put this all in a non-confrontational wasy. He is aware that he has been getting longer and longer and I have heard him say from the pulpit that he does not know when to stop or close the sermon. I suggested to him in the letter that when he reaches 30 to 35 minutes he needs to close within five minutes.

    That letter was written by me and delivered to him six weeks ago. He never did respond back to me in person, by phone, letter or by email, but I did notice that during the following five weeks he started keeping his sermon length around 35 minutes and I even complimented him on that and told him I was enjoying and getting more out of his sermons.

    My wife and I attend Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening services and a mid-week service on Wednesday, so that equals out to three sermons per week. For the last two weeks he has slowly started creeping back up toward the 50 minute mark. I have not said anything to him about it, but tonight when he reached 48 minutes, I got up and walked out of the service and drove home. I am sure that he saw me get up and leave because it is such a small church. When I got home I told my wife how long he preached tonight and she said she is fed up with it and would like to look for another church. My wife has been staying home for all services with the exception of Sunday mornings, because she does not like the lengthy sermons that he is slipping back into.

    My wife and I both now feel that this situation is not going to improve and we feel that our only solution is to start looking for another church to attend. Any thoughts or comments would be much appreciated.

    Retired in Tennessee

  26. Good Afternoon Michael Spencer,
    I just found your web site and have spent far too much
    time on it reading the responses to your article on
    long sermons.
    My problem with my pastor is not the length of his sermons but all the “fill” he uses to make them 45-60 minutes each service. He is to willing to share his family and personal life in almost every sermon and it
    has embarrassed his family many times.
    He also waits for us to respond to his antidotes and will even hold the mic toward the congregation to respond if we don’t give him feedback quickly. He tells
    the same stories, I mean same stories and jokes, so
    many times that I can almost tell them myself. I almost
    always know which one he is going to tell.
    He has good subjects in his sermons, but he will leave
    the thrust of his message by running down rabbit trails and forgets to come back.
    Another thing he does is when he starts to wind down he
    starts saying “in closing” or “I’m going to close after
    this next point” or “I’m going to close because I am not
    a long-winded preacher, or ‘I have just one more thing
    then I’m going to close.” That kind of stuff drives me to distraction. This goes on for about 15 minutes longer, then he calls the whole (100%) assembly to the
    front of the church and preaches another mini sermon as
    we stand before him waiting for him to get to closing the services. By this time it is well into 15-25 minutes
    AFTER he asks us to stand for the closing remarks. NOW,
    I have vented to you because he wont listen to me because I have attempted on two occasions to convey some
    of my opinions to him but nothing has materialized as yet. However, I will say, I have filled in three questionares from him offering my talents and service to
    the church and have yet to receive any reply to them,
    this was 5-7 years ago. So, Michael what can you say to
    this little dilemma?
    Serving Him in better days,
    Marjorie

  27. Glad to be able to listen, but as its a local pastor issue and I have no knowledge, all I can do is suggest you talk to the elders of your church about any issues you have.

    peace, MS

  28. Michael, Marjorie has my sympathy, it alomost sounds like we have the same preacher in some areas. Our pastor is great evangelist, has a background in evangelism and preaches in that vein to our congregation. He has never reckoned it out that an evangelist preaches differently from a pastor. His sermons lasts from 45 min to 1 1/2 hrs. He can be brilliat, and there is none better. Sometimes he looses us after about 30 min, and that makes him anxious and he preaches even longer. You can tell he is in a panic trying to recover our attention and never gets it back. He has preached some great sermons that we have hung on every word, and some that we could not tell you what they were about because we were so miserable we just wanted it to end. He won’t listen to council about it. I know he studies hard for his sermon, but sometimes gives so much info and background he looses us. Often he is 15 to 20 minutes laying the foundation. He tells the same personal stories over and over, and is repetitive if he wants to make a point. After I have heard it 3 times I get it. At altar call he has us stand then preaches for 15 min more, and calls us down to the altar and preaches again. We have ederly and crippled in our congregation and he never realizes lengthy standing impacts them. Our morning service, including music, lasts 2 hours or more, and most visitors do not come back. We have people saved, but only 1 out of 10 stay. They say they are not interested in spending 45 min in Sunday school, 15 min break, and 2 hrs or more in church. 10am SS and 11am church, which is over about 1:15pm. 3 or more hrs makes a long Sunday. I teach twice weekly and our family takes care of the church grounds.