14 or 50?

When I was well enough to be part of the Christian Conference scene, it was expected that speakers’ talks would last for a minimum of 45 or 50 minutes. When I was well enough to be a minister at Holy Trinity in Wester Hailes, a wonderfully patient congregation allowed me often to preach as long on a Sunday. I was brought up on long sermons and loved them…

….but if Jesus is our model in all things, well, it seems that often, though not always, His teaching talks were apparently quite brief. For some reason, we  almost always assume when we read of Him teaching in the bible that what we are reading must be a summary of what He actualy said at greater length. At times there are statements in the text to tell us that is indeed the case; but what if what we read is more often than not an actual report of all He said on a given  occasion from beginning to end? Well, there’s a thought that will make some of us feel incredibly annoyed and write a hymn “In praise of long sermons”…  but, it is a thought too that reminds us that Jesus understands our humanness, our human capacities, and is a wise teacher..knowing when to stop. He never seemed to need to use my habitual preaching lie: “And finally..”  This was usually followed by another one: “Finally finally…” which was followed by “Sorry, just one more thing right at the end as we close…”Of course there is biblical backing for long sermons: we are actually allowed to preach so long in a stifling room that people fall asleep and fall out a window and claim biblical backing;  admittedly it is more worrying and quite a dent to pride when people fall asleep during a 14 minute sermon.

May God help preachers this weekend…and may He help listeners too!

God bless


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One comment on “14 or 50?

  1. We recently changed to having sermons of 10 minutes – with one major point – then a time to stop and think about what we’ve heard offering people a space in the church to talk together, another space to sit in silence, another do paint or draw etc and another to hear the scriptures read slowly again Lectio divina style . . .received heavy criticism from evangelical friends but our numbers are growing steadily and people are bringing their friends to hear about Jesus . . .those who come are staying. Very relieved to hear that someone else thinks its not always necessary to have a long sermon (though I love them for myself) and am reminded of Pascal who said – I’d have written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time . . . sometimes it takes a lot more prayer and preparation when planning to be brief.


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