Preaching Articles

I don’t like sermons. I blame Sesame Street and video games for my short attention span. I blame hockey for teaching me to love speed and action. I blame my parents who gave me the genetic trait that resists stationary, sequential learning—like math.

If a sermon were a practical, 10-minute exposition of Scripture, I’d be happy. In fact, the homily, which is "sermon-lite" for Catholics and Episcopalians, was the part of the liturgy I used to enjoy the most. The reverend at this Episcopal church in Vermont we visited a few Sundays wandered up and down the aisle like a lost puppy, sharing a few things he must have jammed onto a sticky note the night before. If he only had better content, it would have been perfect.

The first time I attended a Baptist church where the people really belted out the hymns, I stood in wonder at the beauty of their joy and energy. When the pastor hit the 45-minute mark of his sermon, I slumped in boredom. That has not changed for me—though today I bring “toys” to church, such as my journal.

I honestly think I went to seminary, in part, because I realized if the sermon had to be 45 minutes, I should be the guy walking around a bit and doing something. Who wants to listen to 45 minutes of information and anecdotes? Not me.

For all of my talk about disliking sermons, I can also point to a few sermons that were particularly life-changing. I don’t doubt the power of biblical teaching among God’s people. And I don’t begrudge it to those who feel the need for it in certain contexts.

I think the problem with sermons is the way they’ve become so standardized and laden with expectations we attach to them. People expect a sermon to teach biblical truth. Many pastors preach that way. However, I think that’s too narrow a goal for a sermon. We can accomplish these ends much more efficiently and completely by picking up a commentary. Sermons that only teach, whether for 15 or 45 minutes, are missing a golden opportunity.

Sermons are a chance for pastors to bring their people to the same page, to rally them around the things God is speaking to their community through Scripture. Communicating a message like that could take 10 minutes or 60 minutes.

I see pastors straining themselves, taking hours to write sermons. I’ve heard lots of sermons in many, many churches, and let’s face it: We’ve probably heard more average to below average sermons than we’ve heard good to excellent ones. We place a ton of pressure on our pastors to knock it out of the park each Sunday, and that's a burden no one man or woman should bear.

I’m not so much opposed to the sermon as I’m opposed to its narrow role in the church and the way it strains many pastors. I know some pastors who specialize in sermons, and for them, it makes sense to emphasize the role of a sermon. However, even in that case, does the pastor draw a crowd more for the sermon than for the community? Is that even healthy?

As for the pastors who don’t specialize in writing sermons, what will we do with them? Are they able to lead according to their gifts without preaching? Will we accept them in our communities?

If a congregation is relying on a pastor to draw a crowd with her sermon or to open the Bible for them with his Bible-knowledge-rich message, are we possibly relying too much on one person for 45 minutes each week? It’s my role as a member of the congregation to invite people to our community. It’s my role as a follower of Jesus to study the Scriptures. More than anything else, I need a pastor to point me in the right direction, to help me see the big picture of the Kingdom and our church’s role.

Pastors are often placed under way too much pressure each Sunday. The sermon is treated as the climax of the entire service, and if the sermon isn’t amazing, everyone goes home wondering why the pastor can’t be more like Charles Stanley or Rick Warren or T. D. Jakes.

This is where our liturgical friends have something to teach free-wheeling evangelicals like myself who make up our worship services on Friday afternoon, rather than following a tradition passed down for nearly 2,000 years that places communion at the end of each and every worship gathering.

I want my pastors to know they can preach for 10 or 60 minutes. I want my pastors to know they don’t have to attract a crowd or take on the burden of teaching me everything I need to know about the Bible. They just need to hear what God wants them to say, say it, and then point the church to the body and blood of Jesus as we celebrate communion together.

Our pastors can’t always heal us with their words. That’s not a fault or a problem. That’s just a reality. The source of our healing talked about bread and wine, the symbols of a life broken and bled in order to conquer sin and death.

Sermons can be long or short. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is where we’re looking for our life. Sunday morning does not have to always rise and fall on the power of the sermon. No person should have that kind of burden. No Christian should rely on so flimsy a form. Nothing we can say can ever trump the power of these words, “This is my body, broken for you.” “This is my blood … poured out for you.”

That's a sermon we need to hear every Sunday.



Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of The Good News of Revelation and Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith From Those Who Doubted Jesus. He shares sarcastic/imperfect thoughts on following Jesus at http://edcyzewski.com/  Learn more about Revelation in The Good News of Revelation by Ed Cyzewski and Larry Helyer.

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Elizabeth Jones

commented on Jul 7, 2014

I've preached quite a number of ten-minute sermons! I was a supply preacher at a large, continuing care senior facility in my suburb of Chicago, for several years. I would preach and lead services in health care and on the cognitively-impaired units. Just because these dear senior saints in their 80's and 90's were in health care did not mean their mental faculties were gone. However, the health care services were always between 25 and 30 minutes in length. (Seniors sometimes have difficulty sitting in one place for longer than that. Trained as a chaplain, I take special care for things/reasons like that!) So, I always prepared my 10-minute sermons just like my 20-minute ones--except without some indepth teaching, elaboration and extended illustrations. I love my 10-minute sermons! Some of the best sermons I ever preached. Short, succinct, straight to the point. And I always had a biblical basis, usually straight from the lectionary. Just to let you all know, it can be done. *grin* @chaplaineliza

Chris Hearn

commented on Jul 7, 2014

I would rather hear a solid 10 minute sermon than one that rambles on for 45 minutes. Some of us may at first react negatively to a 10 minute sermon. But think of the power of one point being made while you still have people's attention span. How many people are you going to lose at some point in a 45 minute sermon? Probably everyone somewhere along the way. Granted, one may not want to preach a 10 minute sermon every week, but could a get an "amen" to a 20 or 25 minute sermon each week? Make every illustration, every Scripture, every word of the sermon earn its place.

Jeff Hagan

commented on Jul 7, 2014

I agree with the gist of the post. I agree with the spirit behind the post. I have found that my best sermons, the ones that have received the best feedback, and that I felt God seemed to be working through me the most, went for about 20 minutes. You can really focus on what needs to be said in 20 minutes, people remain attentive for 20 minutes, and you don't find yourself looking for other information just to fill in time. Whenever I have guest preached or spoke and they go by a strict time schedule and tell me I need to fill up an hour or 50 minutes, creating a long enough service then becomes a burden. And there seems to be more pressure to "perform" in these cases. The world runs our lives by clocks enough, I wish the church would just relax a bit on this issue and stop being so rigid. That's my two cents.

Jesse Smith

commented on Jul 7, 2014

Let me begin by saying, I sermonized, or keep my messages on an average of about 20 or 25 minutes, depending sometimes on the flow of God's Spirit, and the people I preach too! For I feel that the directives of the Lord should be first utmost and the consideration of the congregants second. I don't believe either that the effectiveness of my sermonizing along but my faithfulness of pastoral ministry!

Paul Hooker

commented on Jul 7, 2014

Overall I get the message, and agree. Trying to work on my own messages, to shorten. Didn't catch when this was written. But if fairly recent, "wondering why the pastor can't be more like... Rob Bell..." Are you serious? Just a thought.

Haarl Bret Maukonen

commented on Jul 7, 2014

I think that the patterns of television are shaping attention spans and expectations of message input. In spite of that, I will preach for 25 to 30 minutes if the topic or text are best served in that amount of time. What I have done (and sometimes a congregant or two will grumble) is to do two 10-minute (thereabouts) presentations as one sermon. These would be broken by an appropriate themed music. Both parts develop the same topic. As an example: Part 1 - Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness / music / Part 2 - even so must the Son of man be lifted up. Engaging messages (whatever the length) must always do justice to the text and be received to be counted as effective.

Jerry Sadler

commented on Jul 7, 2014

The purpose of a sermon or a homily should be to change attitudes and behavior, and if this can't be done in 10 minutes, it won't be done, because you will have lost the congregation; they will morph into the football game or the picnic, scheduled later for the day.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jul 7, 2014

I've said this before on this site when this subject is brought up, why is it that we have no problem watching a 2-3 hour movie, 1 hour TV show, 2-3 hour sports event, but become board when the LIVING WORD OF GOD IS PREACHED for more than 30 minutes? What a sad commentary on our Christian American way of life. Is it any wonder why our Christianity is 3000 miles wide and 3 inches deep? Is it any wonder why our country is in the shape it is in? Let's get the people out of church as quickly as possible so they can go do more "important" "exciting" things with their time. Sad! God seems to think preaching is important. 2 Tim. 4:2-4 "PREACH THE WORD; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not ENDURE sound doctrine; but after their own lust shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables." Sermonets for Christianets!

Chris Hearn

commented on Jul 8, 2014

Dennis- Your above point is an interesting one, but the 2 Timothy passage you quoted has nothing to do with the length of what is being preached. It has to do with content, which are totally different things. I wonder if it is fair to compare a sermon to media or a sporting event. Notice that in those examples, something is going on and changing all the time. When someone preaches a sermon that is the only thing being done and it is usually 90-100 oral. In our culture today, we can't stay engaged for much more than 30 minutes to a one-sided conversation.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jul 8, 2014

Chris, my point was that preaching is important to God, that's why we are commanded to preach. The author starts his article with the statement "I don't like sermons." Thus my comment, "God seems to think preaching is important." Come on, do you really think all we can give or endure is a 10 minute sermon? I stand by what I said, it's sad we can't "endure" more than 30 minutes listening the living Word of God preached. Do you think God understands that we can watch a sporting event for 2-3 hours but can't keep our attention for 30 minutes or longer when His Word is preached? I believe it breaks His heart!

Chris Hearn

commented on Jul 13, 2014

Agreed, preaching is important to God, but the length of a sermon is not what the 2 Timothy passage is about. I get your larger point- everyone should be able to sit through a 30 minute sermon- agreed. But still- a sporting event, with things changing all the time (plus you have the ability to move around yourself, talk to a friend during the sporting event). Maybe the one-way format of the sermon should be changed to be more engaging with the congregation?

Bill Williams

commented on Jul 8, 2014

Dennis, it's been a while, my friend! I get what you're saying, but I believe you are comparing apples to oranges. Neither a 2-3 hour movie, a 1 hour TV show, or a 2-3 hour sports event consist of one person doing all the action, while everyone else is simply watching, as is the case with the contemporary sermon. If there was a movie where all it was was one person on the screen talking for two to three hours, I seriously doubt many people would sit through it. As for the length of sermons, consider many of the sermons recorded in Scripture. Many of them can be read in less than twenty minutes. It is the content of the sermon, not so much the length, that matters the most. Short sermons do not inherently produce shallow Christians any more than long sermons inherently produce deep Christians. Now, I'm not saying that long sermons are a bad thing. I'm just saying short sermons are not necessarily a bad thing, either.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jul 8, 2014

Hi Bill, how are you doing? Yes, it's been a while. I kind of gave my answer to Chris about the examples I used comparatively for length of time. But I can think of one movie where there was just one person acting for most of the movie (over an hour anyway), "Castaway" with Tom Hanks. People seemed to like that movie. As far as reading a sermon in twenty minutes, I write my sermons out in a full manuscript that I can read in twenty minutes, but when I preach it, it usually is around 45 minutes in length. So just because you can read a sermon in a short amount of time doesn't necessarily mean that's the amount of time it takes to preach it. And yes, I agree that long sermons do not inherently produce deep Christians, I see that in my church. But I believe the issue is more with them than it is with what is being preached or the length. I look at Christianity in America today and it breaks my heart. People do not hunger for the Word. There is a dearth for the Word, a famine in our land as far as the Bible is concerned . Yes, everyone is to study and read it for themselves, but listening to the Word of God preached for more than 30 minutes sure can help people understand the Bible better. And there is a difference between reading and studying yourself and hearing it preached, thus the command to preach the Word. Great to engage with you once again!

Queen Mtafya

commented on Jul 8, 2014

I used to prepare sermons.I no longer do but prepare myself to be used by God.He inspires me with the correct bible passage and what to say.This is usually followed by miracles and healings.I give glory to God almighty.I believe greater things are going to be revealed to me when i draw closer to him by subjecting myself to the word and to his Lordship

Jerry Colter

commented on Jul 9, 2014

I have heard hundreds if not thousands of sermons in over 40 years walking with The Lord. I have noticed that there is a gifting and an anointing that is from The Lord and when it is present on the preacher, time makes no difference. Jesus once kept an audience 3 days and then fed them so they would not faint on the way home. You can tell when a preacher has not prepared and is not depending upon The Lord. I love the preachers who have been through the fire and know what they are talking about. (Jesus) J. Colter

Samuela Naiserelagi

commented on Jul 18, 2014

People have different perspectives on how sermons and preached. Some sermons are long and some are short. To me the length does not matter. What matters most is the anointing of the LORD on his WORD. The word of GOD cannot be understood through human understanding without the spiritual guidance of the Holy Spirit. Anyone can talk about the length of a sermon. If he/she thinks otherwise, that could be the length of his understanding of the GOD her serves. Praise be to GOD in the Highest.

Al Simmons

commented on Jun 11, 2015

Even though there is a lot of vitality in some of the points you make in your article, I find it have the same negative characteristics as a long boring dry sermon you discussed. Please allow God's people to enjoy the messenger whom they have chosen to listen to and follow. Your drop-in judgmental opinions make your observations questionable? I will stop before I join you in the witchcraft, my opinion and observation is correct and everybody need to agree.

Thomas K Imolele

commented on Jun 11, 2015

Here in Africa, 10 minutes message is not likely to have the necessay impact. people are hungry for God's word and confort. I understand why it is the opposite in the mind or churches of those who advocates for 10 mins. However, haven said that, i have been to meetings where the speakers preached for one hour and the congregation urges him to go on and never stop. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. The word of God is life and if your message is not having the necessary impact, you are the first to know and you must stop. However, there is someone in there who need that extra word to receive his/her blessing from God.

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Jun 12, 2015

I have heard that anything less than three hours in some places would be considered an insult or concern for the pastor's health.

Jerry Burns

commented on Jun 11, 2015

Wow! I can hardly believe what I am reading! I sincerely believe that many Pastors are selling their congregants short. You are underestimating them and allowing a minority to rule and hinder spiritual growth. Can anyone spell Laodicea? What if the teacher of your children in Public School sent home a note that read, "Henceforth, the day will consist of 10 minutes of teaching and the rest will be lunch, recess and child care." You would hit the ceiling and call for that so-called teacher's hide! Most of the Apostles, and many early disciples, were martyred for their teaching and preaching. I sure hope they can't hear our pitiful whining!

Nathan Nielson

commented on Jun 11, 2015

One of the most pertinent questions I've ever asked people (when they pass by me after the service and say: "Great Message, Pastor!") is, what did you get from the message today? It's so humbling, their responses... often they were spoken to by the Holy Spirit about an area I didn't even cover in the message. Maybe it's because in my three-person prayer team pre-service prayers, it's often said, "please empower our Pastor so people can see Christ through his message." We need to remind ourselves as preachers, it's God's message - we're privileged He's called us to deliver it - not just on Sunday mornings, but in the grocery, to our neighbors, to the most unlovable, EGR (Extra Grace Required) folks in our church, to everyone. What do people see, when they see you, preacher? If they see Christ - and revel in the Word of God lived out in your life during the week, then preach on... Is what you're teaching them relevant to the dramatic challenges they face on Thursday afternoon, or are you simply concerned with whether or not your prowess as a preacher is notable. I Cor. 1:21 "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe."

Joseph Penrose

commented on Jun 11, 2015

I'm taken back by all these comments as first you need to understand its not about you..... This is God's pedestal to deliver his words, not your words... Find it in the Bible where he reflects 10 minutes is great.... God has never reflected a time limit on delivering his Word..... It's so easy to fall to worldly views, isn't it? If a few Pastors say we should do it this way, then it's only a worldly view... It's not God's view.... Pray to God and ask what to preach on and how much time to devote to his Word.... You'll get an answer.... Ask yourself these questions.... Are you preaching from God's heart? Are you preaching with the passion he has given you? You can't do that in 10 minutes... I don't have an answer for a time line, but it's not 10 minutes..... So your telling me your giving 30 minutes of sermons a month and you're going to rely that on the building of your congregation..... If your not preaching with God's passion, no wonder they want to go home.... I rarely make a post here because it doesn't........... I'll leave the rest up to you..... Thank you kindly in advance.... Please pray for the 10 minute preachers to see and feel more about what they preach and how they preach it..... Amen........

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 12, 2015

Amen Joseph!

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Jun 12, 2015

Tough topic, Ed. In the 1st Century, they would usually read an entire epistle. How much commentary or homily they used along with that I don't know, but just reading an entire epistle would put most of our people to sleep today. The 1st Century folks had no AC, no comfortable pews, sound systems, etc and yet they turned the world upside down. Edwards had 17 points in his introduction and held the sermon in front of his face while speaking in a monotone and people felt like the floor was going to give out and drop them into Hell. After my oldest granddaughter heard my first 45 min sermon she said mine was too short as her pastor preaches for 90 minutes. Maybe instead of length, though I can't picture me doing a 10 minute one, maybe we should ask the Holy Spirit for the power and allow Him to dictate the time. I have preached varying length messages, but I quit trying to time them early in my ministry. I am finished when I am finished. I love preaching in Black churches because they do not give five minute warnings with their phone alarms letting me know it is almost noon because I don't even get the pulpit until noon. Some of my longer messages have had more positive responses than my shorter ones even in our microwave age. However, I believe the best responses have come when I remember to pray before the message, "God, I am all they have right now. Use me in spite of myself. You get the glory." When I have been chatting too much with people or otherwise distracted before I had a similar prayer time was not an issue. I flopped. More Spirit concern and less mechanics concern may be the key.

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Jun 12, 2015

Get Me To Luby's On Time static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/.../05 Get Me To Lubys On Time.pdf

Cliff Nunn

commented on Jun 12, 2015

Is time the important factor? More likely it is the content and delivery of the subject which will hold the congegation's attention. A one-sided ball game and the TV audience plumits - as too a sermon. With the Lord on-board a speaker can engage a congregation for as long as it takes - be it 10 minurtes or 2 hours - and hold their attention to the end. The message and presentation are be the prime factors not a period of time allocvated to the preacher in the service. A !0 minutes address stretched to 20 minutes can be a disaaster. Conversly a 2 hour address presented in 30 minutes may well have your congregation on the edge of their seats.

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