Several years ago, TED Talks, the platform developed to encourage conversations about culture, technology, and countless other interesting topics, held an event in Nashville. One of the great things about living in the Nashville area is incredible speakers are always coming to town for some event, and if you’re on top of things, you can bring some top-notch thinkers to your staff and church leadership.
When I found out TED was in town, I contacted one of the lead trainers for the event to come to talk to our campus pastors. I wanted her to talk about what TED conferences had learned about how people listen to speakers.
What followed that afternoon was an interesting conversation. When she found out some of our pastors preached for thirty minutes (and wanted to preach longer), she shook her head in disbelief. Then, she launched into her own sermon. She talked about the limits of the adult attention span, about how much (or how little) adults can think about at any one time. She talked about how people would disengage when they felt overloaded or could no longer process all of the information that was being thrown at them.
As you can imagine, her remarks sparked an intense conversation. Finally, desperately trying to make her point, she held up one finger and said, “One thing. Your audience is going to remember one thing. The only chance you have in controlling that one thing is to only give your audience one thing.”
But that wasn’t the interesting part of the afternoon. Every pastor in the room felt a certain amount of vindication when her eyes went wide with surprise as she found out that we, the pastors, have to write a new “speech” every week.
“No way,” she said. “No one can do that. There’s not enough time”.
We agreed, and then, it was our time to be stunned. How long do you work on a TED Talk?
Three months, she said…at a minimum.
Three months? Pastors have one week and in reality, we don’t have that. Being the pastor of a church means a lot more than just preaching. There are funerals to do and hospitals to visit. There are meetings to attend and staff to lead. By the time the week has come and gone, most pastors end up trying to write their sermons in the margins of their time.
It shouldn’t be like this.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Do you remember the crisis that happened in the early church when the apostles didn’t have time to take care of all of the widows and orphans? The early church selected the first deacons to take care of the pastoral care needs of the church. The apostles wanted to spend their time on prayer and studying Scripture.
While I know every church member would say that they want great preaching, only a few churches actually allow their pastors the time needed to prepare a good sermon. How long does it take to prepare a good sermon? The rule of thumb is a pastor will need one hour of study for every minute of preaching. That means the average pastor will need between 20 and 25 hours to prepare a sermon.
Does your church protect your pastor’s time so that there is enough time allotted for preparing a sermon?
Why does it take so long? Can’t you just put a few thoughts together and wing it from there? Yes, you can, and a lot of preachers do, but you can’t come up with a good sermon like that. A good sermon takes time to soak.
Sure, there are several hours going through the commentaries and researching the Greek and Hebrew verbs, but there’s a lot of time praying through the sermon and how the congregation will hear the sermon.
Good preachers know the Scriptures. Great preachers know the Scriptures and their congregations.
Great preachers walk through the sanctuary in their minds when preparing a sermon. They know the stories on every pew. They know who lost their jobs, who is having trouble with their children, and who is struggling in their marriages. They know who just got engaged and who got a big promotion.
And they know how the passage, when read, will hit every one of them. A good pastor will know who will wince when the Scripture is heard. They know who will want to argue and they know who will agree, sort of … as long as the text or sermon doesn’t get too personal.
This is the privilege of preaching that most of us forget. As pastors, we study the passage in the presence of Christ for the sake of our people. Don’t misunderstand me. Certainly, every follower of Christ has a calling to be deeply engaged in the study of the Word, but they can’t go as deep as their pastor. Most of the time, they don’t have the training or the tools, and they certainly don’t have the time – our people have jobs!
Congregations count on their pastors to bring the congregation and the Word together in the heart of the pastor, and then, in the sermon itself. To do anything else is ministerial malpractice.
No one comes to a worship service out of obligation. Not anymore. These days, if someone is in church, it’s because they chose to be there. They got up and fought against a world that makes it way too easy to stay home. Whatever their motivation, they’re in the room.
They deserve to and need to know that their pastor, who is preaching, loves them enough to struggle with the Word and all of their pain, questions, and doubts to arrive at the moment when the pastor will have something to say.
And not just “something,” but the right thing, the right word, said in the right way by the one person who knows the congregation better than anyone – their pastor.
You can’t download that sermon from an internet service. That sermon can only be constructed in study and prayer, in sweat and tears. This kind of sermon can only be written and preached in love.
And our congregations deserve nothing less.