How Long Should A Sermon Be?

Discussion in 'Preaching' started by C. M. Sheffield, May 29, 2010.

  1. No more than 20 min.

    0 vote(s)
  2. No more than 30 min.

  3. No more than 45 min.

  4. No more than 1 hr.

  5. 1 hr.+ is just fine!

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  1. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    How long should a sermon be? I've heard all manner of answers before. I'm curious as to what principles guide your answer. I have known many say that time shouldn't be a consideration at all but I there are certainly limits to even that.

    I preach for about 45 minutes each Sunday morning. Some have charitably complained that its too long. I wonder if the puritans had any general rule on this matter. If not, yours will suffice just fine.
  2. N. Eshelman

    N. Eshelman Puritan Board Senior

    The Puritans did not live in an ADD generation. They could handle the long sermons better than our people.

    I preach between 45 minutes to 1 hour, but I think that it's too long.
  3. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    So... if you think it is too long, then why do you continue to do so?

    ---------- Post added at 08:34 PM ---------- Previous post was at 08:33 PM ----------

    I think 30 minutes is a good standard. Though if you listen to any of my sermons you'll discover that I rarely go that short.
  4. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member

    I think 35 minutes is about right. It is very hard to do serious exegesis with less time, and I think 45+ minutes is typically too long.

    I am typically 40 minutes, and I strive to be a bit shorter.
  5. sonlight

    sonlight Puritan Board Freshman

    Although I am the last person in the world that would be qualified to answer a question, I can offer personal experience from being in a pew as a guide. As nleshelman pointed out, it seems everyone these days has ADD. Apparently I suffer from it and have since I was a child, but they didn't have ADD back then. In those days they just gave you Ritalin and said you were hyperactive. Fortunately for me, I was never diagnosed as hyperactive either.
    In my experience, 45 minutes to an hour is pretty normal. If I went to church and the pastor spoke for 20 minutes, I would feel rather ripped off. I showed up expecting to hear something good. I get a sermontte and poof, it's gone. I think, personally, what you should do (and once again I am far from qualified so feel free to tell me to shut up and sit in the corner whenever you like :) ) is to offer your church a challenge. In all honesty, they are to chart their prayer times and come back to church the next Sunday and report on their progress. The initial goal here is one hour a day, every day, in ONE session. Having been given this challenge myself, it sure sounds easy, but just try it. The next week you are going to be hearing from a few people, so fasten your seat belt. :lol:
    If people are used to waking up and spending an hour a day with God, they will be in rapt attention to your 45 minute sermon. And even if they are not, nobody is going to complain. If you set the bar high, people are going to reach for it, I think. A few good sermons on prayer might be a good thing too.
    I hope that I answered your question satisfactorily and perhaps gave you a few good ideas. Then again, right now you might be opening a window to let out all the hot air. :lol:
  6. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

    30-45 minutes is about right. It also depends on how engaging a speaker you are to be frank.
  7. jawyman

    jawyman Puritan Board Junior

    When I exhort the Word, I normally preach between 35-45 minutes. Anything longer than that and I can see them start to fidget.
  8. jayce475

    jayce475 Puritan Board Freshman

    I can focus for about 30 minutes for preachers who are not very engaging, but the engaging ones can speak for over an hour and I'll still be understanding what he's saying.
  9. Curt

    Curt Puritan Board Graduate

    As long as it takes.
  10. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    In churches with strong liturgy, the Word is being preached throughout the service. We do a responsive Scripture reading. Our pastor usually takes a moment to draw something from that reading. We sing a song. The pastor contextualizes the content of that song with the rest of the service. We witness a baptism. The pastor reflects on the meaning of the sacrament for all of us. So, by the time we get to the sermon, our minds and hearts have been explicitly focused on the Word several times. We have the Lord's Supper every week, so that is another opportunity. Our pastor usually preaches 30-40 minutes.

    BTW, I read in Ryken's PhD dissertation that Thomas Boston averaged about 30 minutes per sermon. That was before ADD.
  11. LawrenceU

    LawrenceU Puritan Board Doctor

    That is exactly what I was going to type. It might only take ten minutes. It might take two hours. We should never do the Scriptures injustice because of cultural preference.
  12. Rev. Todd Ruddell

    Rev. Todd Ruddell Puritan Board Junior

    Hugh Latimer, court preacher to King Henry VIII and Edward, often preached 3-4 hour sermons. I encourage my congregation not to think they're being shortchanged because I don't preach as long as that.
  13. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    okay, as long as what takes? What might take ten minutes? the gospel presentation? I'm sure anybody could condense that down or stretch that out to a wide range of times.
  14. Matthew V

    Matthew V Puritan Board Freshman

    There is no ideal length for a sermon. The scriptures don't suggest one, so I don't presume one.
    How long a person preaches will depend on the passage (and the complexity of the ideas therein), and the ability of the audience to follow along.
    I preach between 20-25 minutes. I want the congregation to leave with a clear idea of the main thrust of the passage I preached. I don't want to give them a long-winded spoken commentary on everything the text might be saying. I think that if you do the hard work on exegesis and application beforehand, you should be able to walk the congregation through the passage in an engaging way that gives them just enough information to push them intellectually and spiritually, without turning it into a lecture.
    Again, the Bible simply doesn't give us a length. In my context, a punchy 25 minute, exegetically-driven sermon leaves them challenged and encouraged, and yet not confused by information overload.
  15. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Mine have generally been around the forty-five minute mark. Anything more or less seems to be leading to fog in the pews. ;)

  16. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Depends on the church where I am preaching. I adjust. Usually 40 minutes.
  17. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I have heard short exhortations that did much more for me than hour long sermons. For me, I guess it depends on the topic and the significance of the the material. I have heard utterly terrible preparatory stuff leading to main points of the text. I have also heard texts preached and fell asleep only to be revived by 5 minutes of the later end of a sermon which charged me to be what I should be in light of a few biblical passages. So, just to make this clear, I have listened to many hours preached which a few minutes took care of. Most of it was filler because of a felt need. And that is not just my opinion. I know many who feel this way. Sometimes I just wish I could hear the Bible being read and explained plainly. Sometimes the reading of Scripture would suffice in some of our Churches. After all, they (the scriptures) were letters that were suppose to be understood in everyday commonality.

    I hope I am not sounding too harsh. I love understanding other underlying themes behind the texts also. They help us understand them in a fuller sense and Ministers of the Word are suppose to reveal those things to us.

    Maybe this is harsh in some instances...... But....Most of it was filler because of a felt need.

    Daniel and I just spent about 5 weeks listening to Dr. Blackwood. We were riveted for 3 hours every Friday night. It all applied. Go figure.

    I have read so many sermons by the puritans which were not like this though. The whole is the whole and all important.
  18. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    Long enough to make the point that the Lord has laid on your heart from that text. Not so long that your audience stops listening.

    25-35 min in our time & culture seems to be sufficient for the former without exceeding latter.
  19. TomVols

    TomVols Puritan Board Freshman

    I hear you and agree. But there's truth to the old saying that the brain can't engage what the body can't endure.

    I was pastor of one church that had strong pulpit men. 40-45 minutes was an expectation at minimum. My next church had never had a diet of expository preaching and were used to 15-20 minutes of fluff. So I started at 20 and gradually increased as they gradually grew an appteite for more.

    So we shouldn't bow to the culture. But we have to preach to the people we have, not the people we idealize them to be and by God's grace will lead them to be.

    ---------- Post added at 10:08 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:07 AM ----------

    I'd love to read this. What was his dissertation about?
  20. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Good one! The length of the sermon should be based more upon the ability of the preacher than the ability of the audience. I am not the kind of preacher that can hold an audience's attention more than 40 minutes. However, I could listen to Alistair Begg read the Los Angeles phone book and not get bored.
  21. LAmom

    LAmom Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree that it definitely depends on who is talking. Mark Driscoll can engage the crowd he attracts for hour-long sermons. Some men can preach for an hour and really it could have been said in 20 minutes. I am blessed to have a pastor that I could listen to all day, though with kids I do watch the clock a little more, too.
  22. ChariotsofFire

    ChariotsofFire Puritan Board Sophomore

    If we love the Word, and we love God, we will love hearing that Word preached. If we complain about sermons being too long, I think we have to look at our hearts. God imparts his grace to us through the preaching of his word. His Holy Word! Examine your heart if you want shorter sermons. Why want less of such a wonderful thing?

    It's sad that we can watch a 2 hour movie and that doesn't phase us, but listening to his Word preached has to be limited to a time span far less than that.

    May God grant us hearts that love Him and the Word preached.
  23. Montanablue

    Montanablue Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't care so much about length, as long as the points are made as clearly and concisely as possible. I often feel (not with my own pastor, but with others i've heard) that a preacher feels like the sermon ought to be longer, so they fill it up with verbage. If you can say something in fewer words, do so. Your congregation will probably understand it better that way anyway.
  24. Curt

    Curt Puritan Board Graduate

    Andrew, Look at post #17. It gives the idea of what I was trying to communicate. Sometimes it rtakes longer to deal with a passage than it might take with other passages. We should not allow the culture concept of getting home for the roast, or the ballgame to interfere with how we deal with a passage of God's Word.

    ---------- Post added at 12:18 AM ---------- Previous post was at 12:16 AM ----------


    Amen. I understand and I agree.
  25. TomVols

    TomVols Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree...with one caveat. I cannot abide sermons that do not expound the Word. Some preachers preach true things while others preach the truth. There is preaching that is about the Bible, and then there's preaching the Bible. I can listen to the latter all day long. If I have to listen to the former, I'm ready for an airplane to crash into my forehead after 5 minutes.
  26. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    I believe it was John Wesley who said "the attention can only span as long as the behind can endure." While I'm not in the habit of quoting Wesley, there is some practical, pastoral wisdom in that statement.

    While many of us will watch a two or even three hour movie, I have never watched a movie for that length of time without getting up to go to the bathroom or to get a drink water. Many feel (at least in my church) that to get up during a sermon for such a thing is disruptive and disrespectful. And I agree!

    So it behooves me as a pastor to be loving and considerate to my flock by not preaching for an hour or more. I have elderly members who physically cannot endure sitting for that length of time.

    Additionally, I must not be led into believing that quantity equals quality. It doesn't. Longer is not necessarily better. Many times the point of a text will be lost on our people for our being unnecessarily verbose!

    So while I think we should indeed guard against sinful apathy with regard to preaching, we must also remember the limitations of our people and the value of communicating more truth through fewer words for their sake.
  27. Wannabee

    Wannabee Obi Wan Kenobi

    Long enough to get the point across clearly in a manner that will challenge people in godliness, but not so long as to lose sight of that goal. :)

    I average about 45 min probably. My problem is that I lack the skill of brevity and conciseness. My idea of word smithing is simply adding more words. I also have a hard time not wanting to leave out things I get excited about, though they don't help the message. It's a continuous pursuit for me. It seems that knowing what to take out requires more skill than knowing what to leave in.

    It's also interesting how we all differ in our preaching styles. Mark Dever can preach a whole book, quite well, in one sermon. MacArthur can't seem to get more than a couple of verses. Most of us are somewhere in between, though I find it incredibly difficult to preach more than a few verses. Even when I recently preached on Christ's genealogy from Luke I spent two sermons on it. :D

    ---------- Post added at 12:27 PM ---------- Previous post was at 12:22 PM ----------

    d'oh, Kevin said the same thing in different words. Hehe, missed it the first time through. :)
  28. Tripel

    Tripel Puritan Board Senior

    You speak as if a sermon could never be too long. Oh, it can. Wanting a shorter sermon in many cases is not a matter of the heart--it's a matter of practicality. Two points to consider:

    1) There is a reason that educational courses are generally the length that they are. Perhaps your mind works differently, but most of us decline in our focus between 45 minutes and 1 hour of uninterrupted teaching.

    2) The first point is even more true for children. Perhaps my children are abnormal, but they can only sit still and quietly for so long. I'd be rather frustrated if my pastor preached for over an hour each week. Frankly, it's an issue that would cause me to consider switching churches.
  29. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Agreed. The editing process is most difficult for me, but most edifying for my congregation.
  30. JonathanHunt

    JonathanHunt Puritan Board Senior

    My aim tends to be 30, but I usually hit 35-40. Occasionally I may be at 25 - but I don't feel bad about that - if I have said what I had to say with due care and attention to the Word, then that is what really matters.
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