Christians must learn the Bible. Jesus commands us to make disciples, teaching them to obey all that he has commanded. It is the assumption that the Sunday sermon is the primary vehicle for this teaching that we need to reexamine. Doing so, however, is not always welcomed by pastors, as I discovered years ago during my ordination process.
"True or False: A biblically faithful sermon can be preached in less than 20 minutes." This question on my ordination exam caught me off guard. On a test designed to examine my theology was sermon length really important? I quickly marked "True" and moved on.
A few months later I sat for my oral exam before a panel of luminary pastors. "On your written exam," the first questioner said, "you indicated that a biblically faithful sermon can be preached in less than 20 minutes."
"Yes, sir," I responded.
"Young man," he leaned over the conference table, "our culture is biblically illiterate. Even within the church most people cannot recite the books of the Bible or the Ten Commandments. Our greatest responsibility is to teach them God's Word. I spend at least 30 hours every week preparing my sermon, and when I enter the pulpit I preach for no less than 45 minutes because our people need to know the Scriptures!"
I'm giving you just a sample of the pastor's remarks to me. He delivered them with the same foresight and flair he used in the pulpit—voice inflection, hand gestures, literal Bible pounding. He monologued like a James Bond villain affording me precious time to concoct my response. Finally, after a dozen points and after the pastor felt his passion for the issue had been sufficiently communicated to everyone in attendance, he landed the question.
"So, young man, how on earth can you justify only preaching a 20 minute sermon?"
"Well," I said, "when I thoughtfully and carefully read the Sermon on the Mount it takes me about 20 minutes."
He gazed at me across the table. The Grand Inquisitor's torrent of words had been deflected with the precision of a single sentence. "Good answer," he said. "Next question."
Yes, brevity can be effective and beautiful.
(In case you're wondering, this article is 965 words. I'm still learning.)
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