Long preaching isn’t always good preaching

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Early on in my faith, I was enamored with preachers who would give these 45, 50, 60-plus minute sermons. I would compare what I’d hear in their podcasts to what I was hearing on Sunday mornings, and I always wondered, “Why doesn’t my pastor do what these guys are doing?”

Which, of course, is stupid. But then again, I was kind of an idiot.

(Moving on…)

Over time, I grew less enamored with some of those preachers (or at least their preaching). As I listened, I increasingly realized that the guys that seemed to be able to get up and had little more than a post-it for notes weren’t actually saying much of anything. They were using a great many words to say very little.

When training pastors on the importance of keeping people’s attention, Charles Spurgeon encouraged his hearers to keep their sermons shorter. “Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit,” he said.

We are generally longest when we 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. (Lectures to my Students, 156)

This is valuable advice (and also helps us understand why TED Talks are so powerful). Sometimes preaching[1. and blogging, and books, and…] “long” isn’t necessary—it’s just long. It’s a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”(1 Corinthians 13:1), revealing a great love of our own pontificating, but little for our hearers. And I really have no interest in that, either as a preacher or the hearer. I’d rather speak five simple words that communicate clearly than 1000 that may be eloquent or funny, but lack substance. What about you?

3 thoughts on “Long preaching isn’t always good preaching”

  1. Good post, although I think it should be noted that it’s not just a matter of “shorter is better”, but rather “better is better”. I’ve heard some preachers say more in 20 minutes than many in 40. But the reverse can also be said!

    I’ve heard some preachers so keen to get their sermon down to <20 minutes that they've ended up actually saying nothing at all 🙁

    For too long I preached too long with nothing to say. Then I moved to preaching too much, not in terms of length, but in terms of *content* – trying to cram every little thought into a single sermon. These days I'm probably a little better, although I have a long way to go.

    1. Absolutely—the healthiest approach is to speak no longer than your text demands of you. It’s taken me a while to learn this as well, so I’m glad it’s not just me.

  2. Great word of advice…and concise as well. I am assessing my own preaching now and hoping not to be a pontificator but a true preacher of the Gospel.

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