20 Minute Sermons?

Raj Gupta

For some time it has been argued that sermons should be no more than 20 minutes. The argument revolves around the observation that, in the age of the short sound bite or media grab, attention spans have become shorter. In addition, even though education and literacy levels are higher than ever before, the reality is that the average person does not follow an extended logical argument that people once did.

It may just be true that I have become lazy and don’t want to work hard to preach with this kind of limitation, but in more recent times I have found myself adopting the saying ‘Sermonettes produce Christianettes’ more and more.

If the making of disciple making disciples is a genuine aim, and one is serious about the transforming character of the Word of God, and on the assumption that preaching aims to explain the Word of God in the context of people’s lives, shouldn’t one seek to increase the time devoted to preaching each week? Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating this outside of reason, and it should be said that developing the short sermon discipline as you are learning to preach is a good thing.

But longer term, I do wonder if one of Mark Driscoll’s points about preaching is correct. That is, he provided a challenge to think about the myriad of purposes in preaching. That is, a legitimate aim for every sermon is to preach the Gospel in a way that both helps the Christian person develop in their understanding of God in every way, as well as helping the non-Christian enter into a saving relationship with Jesus.

Compound these already multiple aims with the desire to apply the Word to people’s thinking, actions and motivations. Then add the sad reality that the average Christian is at church 2 in 3 Sundays. Next, factor in a desire to help Christians develop their own Bible reading framework (hence the need to show something of the working ‘in the kitchen’ and not just the ‘final meal’). Add to the mix the opportunity for non-Christian visitors, and the importance of fostering a culture that every week is a good week to invite someone to come to church as sermons are always accessible for a variety of people. Off course, aiming for all of this every week may be too much. But even if one were to ‘rotate’ these aims, 20 minutes would be inadequate.

Interestingly, as a generalisation, none of the ‘popular’ preachers of today or yesteryear managed to achieve it. To the contrary, taking the time to develop more complex argument, illustrate well, speak to different people at different times, application at a variety of levels, working hard at genuine engagement of listeners and the like is precisely the approach that God used for great impact.

As a well known local preacher once said to me ‘the longer you preach, the greater the impact.’ I guess a preface should be added – provided you can hold people.


Feature photo: deflam