18 November 2012

Random Thoughts on Preaching

I studied preaching at Fuller Seminary with Ian Pitt-Watson, who has since died and gone to be with Jesus. Pitt-Watson was this small-in-stature Scottish man, along in years when I entered his class.
      Pitt-Watson vehemently believed that those of us who preach need to do so in 22 minutes. Not a minute longer. He argued that the truly great preacher must discipline himself to be brief, powerful, clear, and then be seated! He said to us that if you cannot say in 22 minutes what you say in 30 or 35 minutes then you should not be a preacher. Ouch!
       I find that most preachers are offended by Pitt-Watson's thinking on this matter. Or they scoff at it.
       One preacher I know takes more than 40 hours of study to prepare his weekly message. He preaches 40 to 50 minutes per message. To cut it to only 22 minutes would feel like a tremendous waste of the previous 40 hours. Maybe that is something to think about! (something else to ponder is why his congregation is in AWE of him for the 40 hours of study - that's for another blog).
       Very gifted communicators can get away with long sermons most of the time. They are entertaining and engaging and most people stay with them. Some of these sermons are life-changing for people. And, many times the relationship between the preacher and his (usually only males) message is dysfunctional in ways - gaining self-worth from preaching, seeking affirmation for the message, agonizing so much over a message that it becomes his obsession.
       22 minutes is a long time for a monologue. When was the last time you were in a conversation when one person spoke for 22 minutes and the other said nothing? My guess is that the conversation was over long before 22 minutes. The problem, of course, is that a sermon is not a conversation. It is a monologue, which means it loses one of the key dimensions of good communication. The back-and-forth of dialog.
       This is all the more reason why preachers should "be brief and be seated." It is so moving to me in some liturgical churches where the sermon is more of a "reflection" or "homily" and is integrated into the whole of the service. The sermon is a part, not the point of the service.
       It is quite a humbling thing for a preacher to make this shift from his work being THE point of the worship service to be A part of the service. 

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