Published by permission of the author and taken from his book
In Praise of Plodders, published 1991 by Kregel Publications.
If you find yourself saying in your sermons, “Now, if I had the time…” then beware! A pastor I knew frequently punctuated his sermons with “If I had the time,” and one Sunday a deacon approached him about it.
“Pastor, you keep saying ‘If I had the time.’ Why don’t you have the time? You prepare the sermon and you plan the service, so you have nobody to blame but yourself.”
He paused a moment and then added: “I’ll bet if we started the service 15 minutes earlier, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
Well, the deacon may have been a bit blunt and brutal, but he got his point across; and it is a point that we need to take to heart. Never complain about the time; it only wastes more time and keeps you from using the time you have to best advantage. Furthermore, it calls attention to the time, and that is something a good preacher does not want to do!
If in the pulpit you find yourself pressed for time, then you are ready for a pastoral inventory. Be honest now! Are you wasting time?
Our people come to worship God, and we must never look upon what occurs prior to the sermon as “preliminaries,” matters that we can adjust at will. Preaching should be an act of worship just as much as the singing or the giving. Hearing the message is an act of worship on the part of the people.
An effective worship service must have balance, and wise is the pastor who knows how to keep the elements of worship from competing with each other. Each week, decide how much time each element needs, and stick to your limits. That includes the sermon!
Beware of the time-wasters: starting the service late, preaching the announcements, too much spontaneous chatter in between parts of the service, taking too long to introduce the sermon. Why read the bulletin to the people and rob them of the privilege of reading it for themselves?
Now, let’s think about that sermon. Are you trying to cover too much territory? Is the Scripture text too long or the sermon topic too broad? All Scripture is inspired and profitable, but we don’t have to cover it all in one message.
Have you distilled the message into that crystal clear sentence that announces the content and the intent of the sermon? Have you really spent time thinking the message through and sharpening its focus? Younger preachers in particular have a tendency to try to say too much. Use your wastebasket or file away the unused ideas for future use.
One day I complained to a friend about my busy schedule, and he quietly replied, “There is always time for the will of God.” He was right – and there is always time for the message of God, if we are listening to Him and preparing His Word with care. Find out what God wants you to say in the sermon and plan to say it in the time God gives you.
Preachers who do expository series are sometimes guilty of careless planning. They hope to cover Romans 5:1-5, but if they don’t, they can always “pick it up” next week. Shame on them! They either did not know what God’s message was for that day, or they did not prepare it carefully.
This is not to deny that God can break in and “expand” a sermon so that the pastor says more than he intended to say. But when that happens, everybody will know it and nobody will complain. It is the week-after-week “leftovers” that disturb the congregation. They wonder if their pastor knows where he is going.
Even while we are preaching the message, it is good to “weigh” the points and decide if we need to leave some things out. Better not to mention them all than to drag the items in and not be able to deal with them. Blessed is the preacher who has a sense of balance and timing and who knows how to perform even last-minute surgery on the sermon when necessary.
Time is the table on which we set the spiritual meal for our church family. Don’t attempt to put a 10-course meal on a game table – unless you are a good juggler or you don’t mind leaving a mess behind! If you are concerned about eternity, you will make wise use of time.
[Dale Flynn and his wife, Liz, are Word of Life Local Church Ministries missionaries in Eastern MD. Dale is a Local Church Ministries curriculum editor and is the editor of this Ministering to the Minister E-Transfer national electronic Pastor’s newsletter. The Flynns make their home in Elkton, MD. Questions or comments about this article may be addressed to Dale at: DFlynn@wol.org. ]