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In seminary we committed ourselves to studying one hour for each minute in the pulpit. It seemed only right.
When we got to our first church, however, we learned that unwittingly we had also signed on to handle office flow, plan worship, visit hospitals, lead weddings and funerals, and keep committees on track-not to mention "saying a few words" to assorted classes, clubs, and social occasions. Oh, I nearly forgot, we're also supposed to find time for our families.
Our hour of study for each minute of sermon? Unfortunately, most of our congregations want sermons longer than three minutes.
Here, then, for the overextended preacher, are some all-purpose sermon stretchers. Use these, and any sermon, no matter how short, will begin to expand to the fully desired length.
1. Stretch one idea into a three-point message. Studies have shown that after hearing a three-point sermon, most people remember only one point. So why waste two perfectly good ideas on the forgetful? If you have time to think of only one point, make the most of it, like this:
I. The Lord
III. To Save Sinners
This automatically frees you from two-thirds of your preparation time. And by expounding on the word or two of each point (see Strategy 5), you'll easily have a sermon of acceptable length.
2. Read your chosen text from the King James Version. This inevitably necessitates explaining such curious archaisms as "bowels of mercies," which adds significant time to the sermon. Reading from the King James also gives the opportunity, if you need to fill more time, to digress on the history of Bible translation, the Textus Receptus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
(An alternate approach: Read from the Amplified Version. That way, reading even four verses becomes a mini-dissertation.)
3. Sprinkle Old Testament references throughout your message, asking people to turn to them. While you are waiting for people to find the verses, valuable seconds are ticking away. Maximize this strategy with back-to-back references in the minor prophets. ("This morning I'd like to compare the prophecies of Obadiah with those of Zephaniah; so let's first turn to Obadiah, where we find . . .")
4. Build a sermon around a recent television show you've seen. This way, most of your preparation is done by the scriptwriters of Cosby. It takes at least five minutes to retell the episode. Add your biblical parallels and contemporary application, and the message is virtually complete. Some members of your congregation may resist this approach, but you can disarm them with an appropriate introductory comment on contextualization and relating to the contemporary world, which takes up more time still!
5. Create "instant" etymologies and word analyses. When you don't have time to study the Greek text directly, you can fall back on a lexicon. But when you don't have time to study a lexicon? Turn to Noah Webster and improvise: "The Greek word for 'rob' used here means 'to steal; to take captive secretly; to seize another's possessions, against his or her will, for personal gain.'" No one will question your method. They'll only wonder, Where does he get the time to do such thorough research?
6. Establish each point by negation as well as assertion. Any preacher can make the simple declaration, "The Lord came." Short and to the point. That's the problem. It's short. The master stretcher makes sure to amplify: "The Lord came, friends. Notice that he did not refrain from coming. He did not hold back. No, the Lord came."
7. Listen to the radio news on the way to church. A major world crisis or local controversy will call for some comment before you begin your message. A humorous human-interest story becomes an illustration. An ad becomes a commentary on the deteriorating condition of our society. You get the idea.
8. Instruct your song leader to sing all of the verses of the chosen hymns. This doesn't lengthen your sermon, but it shortens the time available for it.
During certain crisis weeks, you may not have time even to implement these strategies. But all is not lost. Though the service begins at 11:00, remember that you don't actually start to preach until 11:25. That gives you a full sixty seconds of preparation time for every minute you'll be in the pulpit.
- Kevin A. Miller
Leadership Spring 1991 p. 73
Copyright © 1991 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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