When I was in college and we were assigned a research paper, inevitably one student would ask, “How long does the paper need to be?” The professor would answer, “Long enough to make your point.” The length of the paper was not as important as the clarity of the communication.
How long should a sermon be? Long enough to make God’s point. The goal of preaching is faith in the life of the listener.
I am an advocate for expositional preaching. I believe the biblical text should drive the sermon. The main idea of the text must be the main idea of the sermon. Expository preaching is not boring. Boring preaching is boring.
Sermon length has been debated for centuries and the debate is likely not going to end anytime soon. Preachers are apt to advocate for a longer sermon time. Length of the sermon should be scaled by the exposition of the the text.
My seminary training focused on the following model:
- Illustration to introduce sermon subject
- Identify the human need the text addresses
- State main idea of text
- Sermon divisions (points)
- Explanation of text
- Argumentation of point
- Illustration of point
- Application of point
- Closing illistration
What I found was that most biblical texts generated a 40-45 minute sermon, and that’s after a lot of substance got left on the cutting room floor. I realized that most of my sermons were really three sermons in one. Each sermon was disguised as a sermon division.
Over the last three to four years, I have adjusted my sermon construction and delivery. I find Andy Stanley’s model more helpful. (For an in depth review of Stanley’s model, read Communicating for Change). After hearing several of Stanley’s messages, it was evident he is textual in his sermon delivery. He is expositional; more so than most self-proclaimed expositional preachers.
I find his emphasis on preaching a one point sermon helpful for becoming a better preacher. What is the one thing that God is communicating in the text. The preacher is not ready to preach until he can clearly state the one thing; main idea of the text.
Another part of Stanley’s model I find helpful and refreshing is his introduction and conclusion components. These are the critical components that give the listener a reason to keep listening and then to respond in faith.
Stanley’s model requires the preacher to be more precise. The more precise he can be, the more precise the listener is likely to hear. This is where the hard work happens. It is harder to prepare a shorter sermon than a longer one. Yet, this is the need of the day … more clarity in communicating biblical truth.
Preaching the Bible is necessary. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). How long should the sermon be? Long enough to communicate God’s point and call for faith. I would suggest the preacher who works for shorter sermons will become more impactful.