Sermon Advice to Self: “Stand up, Speak up, or Shut up”
As I travel across the country preaching at churches about disaster relief, I get to tell the same jokes over and over because I preach more than once at a congregation, and there are several years that separate the last time I spoke there. One joke I tell gets a laugh almost anywhere in the country. I tell them that I was a County Commissioner for eight years before I turned to honest work. That fact used to be announced before I spoke, but for the first several years I would give the person tasked with introducing me a one-page biography with entirely too much information. I would admonish them not to read everything, but to pick out a few things they like. Almost always they would read everything on the page. I always felt sorry for Lori, out in the audience because she is always great about listening to my sermon…..over and over again. She is good about giving me tips about how to make my delivery better. The most frequent tip, by far, has been to shorten my biography. Rather than do that, the last several years, I have left my bio sheet inside the jacket of my Bible and if they insist on introduction information, I will write down a couple of things on a piece of paper so it will be short. There is a more practical reason, even than Lori’s suggestion. That is, I have something to say, and I only have a limited time to say it. So, I would much rather have a short introduction, if any. It isn’t about me; it is, it is all about what God says through me. The reason I need to keep my sermon short is because no matter where I am, the audience is appreciative when they get out in time to beat all of the other Churches to the restaurants. Or, even better, if there is a Church Pot Luck after services, they are usually smelling food in the other room and you can only hold an audience’s attention for so long while whiffs of home cooking waft through the auditorium. In those cases, the line from Hamlett holds true: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
There is another quote from Charles Spurgeon that I love, “If you ask me how you may shorten your sermons, I should say, study them better…We are generally longest when we have the least to say.” For me, that advice is pretty easy since I generally have only one sermon on disaster relief and I have preached it at hundreds of congregations across the country. That’s not to say there aren’t variations to that sermon. Most of the time I am asked to teach the adult class or combined classes in the auditorium and to preach during the worship. So, I talk more about details of disaster relief in class and my sermon is about disaster relief in the New Testament Church. Sometimes I am also asked to preach Sunday evening too, so I adjust my sermon to cover class and both worships. The week before last, I preached in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma. There, I taught class, then preached the sermon. There was a potluck after Church and afterward, there was an area-wide singing I was asked to speak at. From there we drove from southwestern Oklahoma to attend the Harding Lectureship in northeast Arkansas. It was a long, long day.
I can preach my sermon any length from two minutes to 45 minutes. It depends on how long the Church wants me to speak. There are some congregations that don’t feel like they have been to Church if they don’t get a long sermon. In those cases, I will fill whatever time they want me to speak. Usually it’s large Churches that ask me to speak for two to five minutes. You’d be surprised at how much information I can cram into a two-minute sermon.