Your Sermons Are Too Long
Some sermons are simply too long. There are a very few preachers in this world who can preach for more than 40 minutes without losing every listener in the room. If you read my blog, my hunch is, you’re not one of those preachers.
Sadly, in certain tribes, like the one I’m a part of, lengthy sermons are often looked at with admiration. I’ve heard pastors brag about preaching for over an hour expecting a high-five, or some sort of spiritual chest bump, but all I keep thinking is, “I get bored talking to you after 30 minutes, I can’t imagine listening to you preach for an hour!”
I’ve heard the arguments. “I’m just trying to say what the text says and that takes time.” I get that. But saying what the text says does not mean we have to say everything the text says in one sermon. If you are any good at preaching, you will get another rep. Furthermore, faithfulness to the text is not the preacher's only consideration. We also have to be faithful to our listeners, and if they are honest, they have a hard time hanging with us for forty minutes, much less an hour.
I’ve gone for over an hour before and the only people more tired than I was after the fact were the people I’d punished by preaching so long. After 200+ sermons over the last four years, 37-40 minutes is my sweet spot. Less than that and I feel rushed, more than that and I did not prepare well enough.
Charles Spurgeon knew a thing or two about preaching. I mean come on, his nickname was “The Prince of Preachers”, so my guess is this guy could throw. In his Lectures To My Students, Spurgeon included a chapter entitled "Attention!" Here’s what he says about sermon length and losing listeners.
In order to maintain attention, AVOID BEING TOO LONG. An old preacher used to say to a young man who preached an hour, ‘My dear friend, I do not care what else you preach about, but I wish you would always preach about forty minutes.’ We ought seldom to go much beyond that - forty minutes, or say, three-quarters of an hour. If a fellow cannot say all he has to say in that time, when will he say it? But somebody said he liked ‘to do justice to his subject’. Well, but ought he not to do justice to his people, or, at least, have a little mercy upon them, and not keep them too long? The subject will not complain of you, but the people will…Brevity is a virtue within the reach of all of us; do not let us lose the opportunity of gaining the credit which it brings.
"If you ask me how you may shorten your sermons, I should say, STUDY THEM BETTER. Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit. We are generally longest when have least to say. A man with a great deal of well-prepared matter will probably not exceed forty minutes; when he has less to say he will go on for fifty minutes, and when he has absolutely nothing he will need an hour to say it in. Attend to these minor things and they will help to retain attention.”
We need to be faithful to the text. We need to say what the text says. We should not preach devotionals. We should not preach a sermonette each Sunday. We should preach careful, compelling, concise, and capacious sermons every week. If we work hard and prepare well, we can preach shorter sermons.