I have listened to well over a 1000 sermons in my day, delivered by at least 100 clergy from all denominations. Many of these sermons have one thing in common. They are too long! This cliché is true. A sermon should be like a hem, long enough to cover the topic and short enough to keep it interesting.
When I was a little girl, if I wasn’t singing in the choir, I would sit with my grandfather in the last pew on the aisle, for a quick get away after the service. The service would start at 11 am, with the expectation that by noon you would be on your way. Sometimes, the sermon would go on for so long, that my grandfather would tap his watch to make sure it was working or hold it up to his ear. On the walk home he would say to me, “He certainly likes to hear the sound of his own voice.”
Aural memory is the shortest type of memory. Clergy, if you have too many points, or take to long to cover your topic, you have lost the congregation. People will tune out and think about supper plans, or other activities they would rather do on a Sunday morning that might be a little more fun! Intro, 3 points, and extro usually does the trick.
During one service, I actually fell asleep. The sun was streaming in the stain glass window and I was wrapped in a comfy down coat. The cadence of the preacher’s voice was like white noise. It was the shuffling of feet getting ready to sing the closing hymn that brought me around. I only hoped I wasn’t talking in my sleep or snoring.
One minister told me, and he is one of the best homilist that I know, the following true story. He was walking back from the parish hall after the ‘meet and greet’ that follows the service, to pick up his coat in the office. He peeked into the sanctuary and saw *Jack (not his real name) on his knees. Concerned, he approached after a bit when he realized that Jack wasn’t praying. “Is everything ok?” he asked. “Well Father, I am looking for my hearing aid. I always take it out during the sermon.” A humbling moment to be sure!
I frequently practice at a church in the neighborhood where I run into the parishioners that poke their head in to see what I am up to. After pleasantries, they always tell me their priest goes on for 40 minutes. They are old, tired, they have to go to the toilet and their bums hurt from sitting too long. They have asked him to keep it short, but alas, he says, I can preach as long as I want to. I have even heard two clergy wives complain about the length of their husbands sermons, with their partners in the room. So it isn’t just me, an organist for hire that has these observations.
One more thing. Don’t end your sermon with a salad. ‘Let us pray … Let us go forth….”
Clergy, keep them wanting more so they will comeback next week.
Do you have stories where you wanted to edit the sermon? Please share.