Okay, this is a dangerous post because you never know how well people know you, therefore react to what you say. Well, here goes… (not that organized, just some thoughts)
I preach mostly around 55 minutes, sometimes as much as 62 minutes and sometimes in the upper 40 minute range. I’ve always been on the longer side of preaching, just not quite where I’m at right now. When I first came to UBC I’d hoped to “warm up” to preaching longer, knowing that it is a BIG adjustment for the people. I really didn’t do that and that bothers me because of WHAT I preach.
I’m a rabid expository preacher (expository preaching being that the meaning of the text IS the meaning of the message preached). I want people to hear, be challenged and changed. I don’t care about comfort, but I do care about shepherding. See, there’s nothing comfortable about hearing the Scriptures taught week after week. Its nature is to divide our intentions and conquer our hearts, turning us God-ward in a gospel-oriented, Christo-centric way. This means we’re faced week after week with our shortfalls and His sufficiency.
That’s a hard message to hear for 35 minutes, much less 55 minutes. So, what precipitated this post, you may wonder? People have joked with me all along the way about the length of sermons, and series for that matter. Most understand and have adjusted (even our poor extended session folks). Some are willing to see its effects because they love hearing the Word preached. Some don’t get it at all and won’t. I’ve written this because it’s the biggest joke, biggest gripe, and biggest encouragement I hear about my preaching (along with the “depth” issue). How can something cause such varied reactions among God’s people? Well, my contention is that people are different, but God’s Word (revealing God’s character) is consistent and unchanging.
Here’s what I know… I actually have a plan to work on my sermon preparation in such a way that will help the messages be more clear and concise. While it may not sound like much, I believe that 45 minutes is about right for where UBC is right now. That’s a decent target, and I don’t mean it as arbitrary as it sounds, but it’s a target. I can’t remember if it was Churchill or not, but a famous dignitary was asked to speak at an event and when he inquired about how long he had to give his address he informed them if they needed him for 2 hours, he could speak now, if they needed 30 minutes it would be a week. I know I’ve not gotten the reference just right, but you get the idea. It takes work with the language we have to get ideas / truth across.
Here’s the bigger issue. No matter if 10 minutes are “cut” or not, the fact that God’s Word is proclaimed does not change. Therefore, how it hits the human heart will continue regardless. I frankly don’t have time for extended personal stories and forced illustrations (although I do believe a well chosen illustration is quite effective – working on this too). It is the Word of God that is effective and powerful to change lives, not my personal story (2 Peter 1:16-21 helped me understand this).
I do not suppose at all that UBC is the only place for the Word being proclaimed. I pray for our area churches regularly and meet with their pastors. I’m convinced there are several Bible-saturated, Christ-centered churches in our area and we should want that. We should also want our churches to boldly declare the Word of Truth in such a way that our members (not speaking of visitors or unchurched at this point) gather BECAUSE of the Word preached primarily. My fear is that many people gather in the church for lesser reasons. Yes, I have no problem saying any reason in gathering with the body that is NOT to corporately hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed is LESSER. Read Nehemiah 8 & 9 or anything in the Pastoral Epistles (1,2 Timothy, Titus) if you question that. Too often, churches don’t help. We so often see churches appeal to these lesser appetites is if they are primary, then when we try to convince the people of the centrality of God’s Word, our “message” gets lost.
So, what I’m left with is a strong desire to make our worship gatherings increasingly effective and to shepherd / pastor the body as we continue to adjust our corporate life together to what the Scriptures prescribe. I DO want you to pray for me as I seek to improve my sermon preparation and delivery. I also want you to pray for one another in the reception of God’s Word. If God’s Word is not primary in our midst, we have no hope of being pleasing to the Lord at His coming. No, that doesn’t mean long sermons, but sometimes our response to long sermons exposes our truest ambition in the church.