“I don’t preach long – it only seems that way”

Anytime the length of my sermons comes up I always respond with a smile and say, “I don’t preach long – it only seems that way.”

Actually, I preached my first sermon while I was still a teen – I think it was 5 minutes long and in it I said everything I knew. Now, I’ve been in the ministry over 35 years and I can honestly say I never pay any attention what-so-ever to the time.

However, since nearly all my sermons are archived online, it is easy to check out the length of them and the time is amazingly consistent at between 23 and 33 minutes. I have a personal rule that when I get up to preach, I preach and when I finish I quit. I don’t do add on announcements before the message and I don’t rehash the message at the end.

Also, my style is almost completely expository. I’m not a story teller and I’m not a joke teller. There’s plenty of light-hearted stuff along the way and I try to illustrate points the best I am able, but I don’t have long drawn out stories to tell.

A few decades (no kidding!) ago when I spent a few months preaching in Australia, my friend John White (now gone to heaven) told me I didn’t preach like the famous American preachers who came to Australia – that I preached like Australian preachers who were less story prone and more “come now, let us reason together” in my approach. I think it was a compliment!

In fact, I think that is the major difference between most pastors today and the more famous preachers of my youth. The evangelists who came to our church were terrific story tellers who could make you laugh and cry at the same time. They preached 45 minutes to an hour, with about half of the time spent telling stories. There’s a big difference between that and an hour of more intense expository preaching.

Because of that, I think any question about sermon length has to be qualified as to the purpose and content of the sermon. Had some of those wonderful story tellers preached only 20 minutes people would have been very frustrated. In fact, to be fair, you almost have to subtract the “story time” in the sermons of great preachers like him and time the sermon only by the remainder of the content. If you do that (and I’m exaggerating) some of the “great” preachers of the past only preached 5 minute sermons (the other 55 minutes were great stories).