“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;
reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching..”
(2 Timothy 4:2)
This week I posted a question on two different Facebook discussion groups to which I belong, asking about the average length of their (or their pastor’s) sermons. The resulting conversations were interesting, and I thought I would share with you some of my observations.
- Never ask a Pastor’s Discussion Group a question unless you are prepared for a lot of answers. There is an old adage, “never give a pastor a microphone unless you’ve got 20 minutes to spare.” That lesson came home this week. I posted my question about the length of sermons on a Monday morning, and by early that afternoon, I had over 200 responses. My phone, my tablet, and my computer all kept chirping away to let me know I had received a new message. It sounded like a flock of birds had moved into my office.
- Some People really need to Relax. The question I asked was innocent enough, “How long are your sermons?” Most pastors, and many laypeople, responded just saying approximately how long the sermons lasted. Others, however, took the opportunity to hijack the discussion forum into a diatribe about how long (or short) a sermon should be. “If you can’t preach for more than 30 minutes, then perhaps preaching isn’t your gift.” Yes, that was actually said. “If you can’t say it in less than 15 minutes, then it doesn’t need to be said.” That was said, too. Heated arguments erupted over “catering” to the congregation’s attention span or caving to worldly pressures; snarky comments were posted comparing people’s willingness to sit through a 2 hour movie or game and their rejection of worship lasting more than 1 hour. It was disturbing to note the lack of humility and graciousness demonstrated in the conversations. IT’S A FACEBOOK DISCUSSION FOLKS – RELAX!
Now on to the actual question:
- The responses on sermon lengths were vastly different based on the group responding. The first group I asked is a discussion group of rather conservative PCUSA pastors. Sermon times reported there ranged from 15 to 30 minutes, with the average being about 20 to 25 minutes, depending on how much is scheduled for the worship service that day (baptism, communion, etc.).
The other group I asked is not specifically Presbyterian, but is a group of Reformed (Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.) believers from all over the US, pastors and layman alike. The overwhelming response from this group reported 40 to 50 minute sermons. Their worship services lasted over an hour, with the sermon being the central part of the service.
Just to share where I come in – my sermons, on the average, are about 18 to 22 minutes long, including the Scripture reading and prayers. I don’t intentionally time them, but each week I have to take the recording of the sermon, and edit it down for our 15 minute radio broadcast.
- One of my favorite comments was this one:
“When I was a kid, our pastor’s response to people who were chronic complainers, including opinions about sermon length, was this: “Sermonettes make Christianettes.” I guess those folks needed to hear hour long sermons. Anyways, he never caved. I actually listened to him from about 5th grade on. His sermons were shorter than any class I had in school and about the same length as Gilligan’s Island. I was convicted at an early age that if I complained about sermon length, I would sound stupid.”
The overall lesson is this: Preaching should explain and apply the meaning of the Bible. The sermon ought to deliver the truth of God, not give the preacher’s opinion on current events, or pass along the latest self-help ideas. Every sermon should explain the Bible and then apply it to people’s lives.
My preaching may not conclude with an overtly practical application. You will not often hear “because of this, we need to do this.” Rather, my hope is that through the sermon I may show and celebrate in the glory of God revealed to us through His Word, that we might grow in the likeness of Christ together. This may not be immediately practical, but I pray that it is eternally helpful. Whether my preaching takes 15 minutes, or whether it lasts an hour, the Word of God must be read, taught, and applied to our hearts for our salvation and for God’s glory.