On Preaching and Clock-Watching

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  • There was a time when churches placed clocks and bells in the steeples of their buildings, and they would “ring the alarm” for the community when it was time for corporate worship or prayer. Now churches place clocks on the back wall to make sure the pastor does not preach too long. After all, there are many other edifying things people need to do Sundays, aren’t there? They do not need to be in worship so long that it interrupts the other important plans for they day that they have made, do they?

    During the days of the Puritans, the preacher would be given an hour-glass to be placed on the pulpit. And the congregation would give him a couple of turns of the hour-glass to complete his sermon. That was then. This is now. Now, the preacher, as they say, only has about thirty minutes to raise the dead. The contemporary church has learned to be more timely. This is a good thing. But many have also inadvertently developed congregations who have a drive-thru mindset about corporate worship and a microwave oven attitude toward the ministry of the word. This is definitely not a good thing.

    I have wrestled with this matter in my own preaching over the years. Admittedly, I can be longwinded at times. Most of the time, it seems. But, believe it or not, I am always sensitive about the time factor in my preaching. And I have become somewhat anxious about it again as I begin a new assignment. Basically, my struggles with this issue reveals that I still have a lot of growing to do as a preacher. Ultimately, there is no morality attached to the length of a sermon. A good sermon can be long or short. And a bad sermon can be long or short.

    Here is the (biggest) burden that weighs me down as it relates to this subject. The world gets my people all week long. TV. Music. Movies. Book. Magazines. The Internet. You name it. And we as pastors get our people once a week, in most instances. It just feels odd that the goal of the meetings where you have a prime opportunity to teach and preach the word of God to your people would be brevity. Just like healthy Christians, healthy churches need to spend time in the word of God.

    There is another reason why this has been on my mind today. I read this morning an article by John F. MacArthur in Pulpit Magazine’s blog. It is adapted from the book, Rediscovering Expository Preaching. The entire book is worth your read, brother preachers. But click here for a good introduction to the book and the subject of sermon length, as Dr. MacArthur addresses it from the perspective of a serious and faithful Bible expositor.


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.