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A Case for Shorter Sermons

As a preacher I have to remind myself that brevity can be as effective as it is beautiful.

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The most celebrated speech in American history was less than three minutes. Lincoln's address at Gettysburg was only 269 words, but it captured the history, pain, and aspirations of the nation with soaring eloquence and inspiring imagery.

Many forget that Lincoln's speech was not the keynote at the ceremony that day. The featured speaker was Edward Everett, a celebrity orator. His address at Gettysburg was 13,607 words, over two hours long—not unheard of for a gifted speaker in the nineteenth century. After the event Everett wrote to the President saying, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

As a preacher I have to remind myself that brevity can be as effective as it is beautiful. I don't believe every sermon should be as brief as the Gettysburg Address, but most of mine would benefit from a nip and a tuck. Lincoln's famous speech makes me wonder if I might accomplish more by speaking ...

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Displaying 1–5 of 9 comments

charles ostlie

May 14, 2014  3:19pm

The other option is doing a better job of being precise in those 30 minutes. I am always amazed how we can sit for many hours or days in a seminar or a personal conversation or watch hours of television. For many, that is the only half hour during the week that they get to hear teaching from the Bible. Perhaps we should shorten some of the worship songs (especially those that repeat and repeat) and announcements, etc. I doubt that most of Jesus' teaching was only 15 minutes.

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Dan DeGroat

May 14, 2014  8:28am

Short sermons do not = short prep time. Try it and you'll see. It's not about shorter sermons; it's about saying more with fewer words. THAT takes preparation.

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Joseph Justice

May 13, 2014  11:32am

Absolutely right. For any effective sermon should be precise and concise such that the congregants are more of doers than listeners however,sometimes you can not resist the will of God through the Holy spirit as for that day.

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chris williams

May 13, 2014  12:04am

Great article. I believe brevity not only helps the audience leave with something to remember, but it more genuinely treats the sermon according to its shaping power in the life of the congregation. If the mission of the church is to make disciples who love God and love others, a sermon plays little formational influence to this end. Formation most happens in the discipleship relationships of the church. Pastors need to put less onus on preaching (30hours of prep?, yikes!) and more on discipling relationships. We need to cut down on sermon prep and start living what we preach with our people and with our neighbors.

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Gary Cypress

May 12, 2014  5:25pm

I have often wondered if I should shorten my sermons. After reading this article I now have a clear understanding that there will be times when I will need to shorten my sermoms, as I allow the Holy Spirit moves within me and not second guess what I think it should be through my own presumptions on how God's word is to be presented to His people.

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