It is a perennial question pondered by the preacher — how long should my sermon be? Recently a friend took an informal poll on Twitter, asking, “How long do you normally preach?” The answers varied, as one might expect, and some discussion ensued as to what the “best length” for a sermon might be. Is there such a thing?
I’ll offer my opinion on that at the end of this post, but in general, I agree with the dictum that the best sermons can’t be too long and the worst sermons can’t be too short. But all things being equal, I do think there’s such a thing as a sermon that’s too long and a sermon that’s too short. Here I suggest five reasons for each error. Firstly:
Your sermons shouldn’t be too short, because . . .
1. Sunday is often the only Bible your people get each week.
It’s sad, but it’s true. It shouldn’t be the case, but it often is. The most Bible many (most?) of your people will get each week will be in the Sunday morning worship time. All the more reason not to short-shrift your sermon time. Your people need deep Bible.
2. The word of God is worthy of sustained attention, not drive-by sampling.
Too-short sermons treat the Scriptures like a shallow reservoir for tasting, not a deep well for eternal sustenance. Don’t treat the Bible in your services like a Bartlett’s Book of Quotations or a spiritual buffet for personal improvement, and don’t treat the sermon like a half-time speech or a motivational TED talk. The word of God is worthy of our attention, of all our efforts to dwell in it. Short-shrifting the sermon communicates to people that the Bible—and thus God’s glory—is not worth gazing at. Train your flock through your preaching to behold.
3. Hearing from God should have the most prominent place in the gathering.
Sometimes we short-shrift the sermon out of service time constraints, but then it is easy to get priorities out of whack. Consider this: it is more important for us to hear from God than it is for God to hear from us. Both are necessary, of course! But if your creative elements outweigh the preaching in a service, things are out of whack. Even our worship in singing, which is vitally important for congregational encouragement and a reflection of God’s worth, is not as important as hearing from God’s word. God deserves our words, but he can live without them. We, on the other hand, cannot live without a word from God. Teach your people to weigh hearing from God as more glorious than our self-expression.