This week’s Church Leader Insights has a focus on preaching.
Preaching is a core element of every church’s worship and upskilling this element of your ministry is vital for pastors.
These posts will help and encourage.
I find many pastors, especially younger ones, are regularly wrestling with this question. The pressure to answer can be self-imposed, or forced by those in your church who complain your sermons are too long. The problem is there does not seem to be one right answer.
The answer to this question largely depends on the kind of pastor you are, the quality of preacher you are, and the kind of congregation you serve. In light of this, here are 3 principles that might help you answer this question in your particular context.
A pastor should determine the length of a sermon…
1) Based on where your people are, not where you think they should be.
We should always challenge our folks to grow. Yet, I hear of many pastors preaching sermons at a length they know is overwhelming the majority of their congregation. The reason…to push their people to be able to listen to God’s Word for the amount of time the pastor thinks they should be able to listen.
Preachers do weird things. One weird thing we do is prepare our sermons alone. Every week you have to get up in front of a group of people and say words. Those words have to be engaging, powerful, motivating, encouraging, accurate, practical, and spiritual all at the same time.
Every. Single. Week.
And you prepare alone. All by yourself. I think this started with Moses. He went up on a mountain and heard from God. He came down and told the people, “This is what God said.” We’ve never really changed the model. Preachers have been preparing sermons alone ever since.
I used to prepare my sermons alone. I would read commentaries, watch sermons, and research articles, but it was mostly just me, by myself.
If you’re like most preachers, you prepare alone. The problem is, you are not Moses. You are not an Old Testament prophet. There is nothing requiring you to use this method.
I’m not saying God can’t speak to you in your study. You should hear from God as you prepare. If you’ve been preaching for any length of time, you know how exhilarating it is to spend time in prayer and study and hear from God. There is nothing like it. But this should not lead you to think that you must prepare every sermon alone.
Why do you prepare your sermons alone?
I can’t get inside your head, but I do know what I have thought from time to time. And you and I probably have some things in common. Here are four reasons why you might prepare your sermons by yourself:
1. Your pastor used to go hide in a room for 20 hours. Maybe your pastor was committed to spending several hours a week hidden “in his study” to hear from God. This was the assumed method in seminary. You don’t see any need to change things up.
2. You see it as a more spiritual experience. You are “God’s man,” and it needs to come from you or it won’t have the right amount of pastor sauce. After all, if you were to prepare with others, then wouldn’t that cheapen the process?
3. You want to take all the credit. If you hole yourself up for days in a room with books and come up with the most profound truths anyone has ever heard, then you can bask in the glow of your insights. Everyone will be in awe, and you will be the star. If you develop content collectively, others may find out that every insight didn’t originate with you.
4. You think your ideas are the best. Why talk to anyone else? It’s not like they’re going to contribute something you don’t already know. Why ask what the interns think of your content?
You need to spend less time pouring over your sermon.
Yes, get the text down. Put it in your blood, your soul. Memorize it. Read it over and again. Get a few commentaries. Be critical of them.
But when it comes down to it, the actual sermon prep shouldn’t take more than 4-6 hours. Maybe a couple more for writing, outlining, and running it once through.
The rest of your time is spent preparing to preach. That’s more like 25 hours a week, including:
Reading books. Read theology (which I consider, broadly, anything to do with the study of God). This keeps your preaching fresh, wise, and strong. It gives you illustrations.
Read fiction. This teaches you how to read the 90% of the Bible which is narrative. It teaches expression, imagination. It gives illustrations.
Read biographies. These inspire you. They teach you human nature. They give illustrations.
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I love to watch dynamic communicators and discover new ways to sharpen my own communication skills. In fact, the Preaching Donkey ideal is that all of us, no matter how skilled we are (or think we are), can always improve. This week we’re going to look into the communication secrets of one of the most dynamic communicators alive today.
Craig Groeschel, the pastor of Life.Church, has always inspired me to be a better communicator. I’ve watched him preach for over 15 years and have seen his church grow from when I first heard of them in 2001 when they had a mere two campuses and only like five or six thousand people (I know, I know, infancy stage) to 26 locations in 8 states and over 100,000 people attending weekly.
Their growth is the result of a combination of God’s blessings, dynamic leadership, a crystal clear vision, laser focus, and out-of-the-box marketing strategies. But, it would be difficult to imagine their numeric growth without the compelling communication of Craig Groeschel. He has championed the vision, delivered the majority of messages, and has been the face and voice of the church since inception.