I continue my daily reading of the sermons of Augustine. At this stage I am a little over halfway through the eleven volumes in the New City Press edition. Yesterday I read this fascinating section in a sermon on the Ascension of Jesus:
“I’m well aware, you see, that especially during these days the church is filled with the sort of people who would sooner leave than come; and they think we are being very burdensome, if we sometimes go on talking a little longer. As for their dinners, though, to which they are in such a hurry to get back, they don’t mind, or get in the least tired, if they drag on till the evening, nor do they finally at least take leave with some sense of shame. Still we must not cheat those who have come here hungry.”(Augustine sermon 264)
We have all heard someone pouring a drink while saying, “Tell me when.”
We all have some sense of when we have had enough. What about with sermons?
I have written before concerning how John Stott suggested that every sermon ought to sound as though it lasted for 20 minutes. Some of us have heard sermons that lasted for 50 minutes and which were so good that they sounded like 20 minutes. Unfortunately, we have also heard sermons that lasted for only ten minutes that sounded as if they lasted for 20!
There is no virtue in the length of a sermon. Preachers should not assume that a sermon is better or more faithful because it is long, nor that it is lightweight because it is brief.
Sometimes preachers can say more in a shorter sermon than other preachers could do in twice the time. How is this possible?
A lot of time can be wasted by an unfocused and meandering introduction. Hearers want to know what the preachers is aiming to say. Just tell them.
Hearers will thank the preacher for staying focused on the message from the opening moments to the last words of the sermon.
Conclusions can sometimes be frustrating because they are like those flights where the plane circles the airport a few times before coming in to land. Learning how to land a sermon economically and effectively greatly aids people’s concentration.
One of the ways to avoid this is to prepare one clear closing sentence or paragraph which will end the sermon.
Making every word count
Some preachers seem to operate under the rule: “Never use one word when thirty would do!”
Preachers need to ruthlessly trim away all the redundant phrases, unnecessary repetitions and irritating diversions that can drain the life from a sermon.
This should not be too difficult, should it? We are preaching about finding Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the beautiful one, the Author of life, the buried treasure, the Light if the World, and the Son of Man who comes to seek and to save the lost.
With this material, why should anyone be thinking about their dinner when we are preaching?