How Long The Sermon? Appendix.August 16, 2011
Brian Croft gives us three great guidelines:
1) Based on where your people are, not where you think they should be.
2) Based on how good and seasoned a preacher you are.
3) To leave your people longing for more, not less.
I would add a few more:
4) Give yourself sufficient time to explain your ‘particular’ text. The length of a sermon is partly, though not entirely, dictated by the density of the text itself. Some passages require little explanation: even if application is extensive, these sermons may be slightly shorter. But others passages are more oscure. A sermon on Revelation 20 will understandably involve more explanation than an exposition of Psalm 1. It is likely, and perhaps necessary, that some sermons will be slightly longer.
5) Don’t take more time than you need to explain a text sufficiently. One reason why some preachers preach too long is because their discussion of a text is not ‘sufficient’ but ‘exhaustive.’ They want to say everything about everything. Every fine point of Hebrew grammar is pointed out; every rabbit trail of historical background is followed. But that is a commentary, not a sermon.
6) Don’t completely ‘can’ your sermons. There are ocassions when I know God’s ‘special help’ in preaching in His Word. I wish these rare ocassions were more frequent! When I know God’s unusual assistance, I have a tendency to go slightly longer. When that doesn’t happen, I may shut up shop more quickly. We must always evaluate what God is doing in the moment of preaching. To put it another way, I don’t think we can entirely ‘can’ our sermons beforehand. This doesn’t mean that preachers will not have a ‘typical sermon length’ at a given point in their ministry. At the moment, I’m about a ’40 minute preacher’. But that doesn’t mean I can never preach 30 or 50 minutes. It depends.