This Sunday is our first communion service in our new, experimental, pattern. The logisitics dictate that the sermon has to be no more than ten minutes, rather than the usual twenty. It has been a good challenge, but has also made me reflect a bit on what happens in preaching.
Way back when, in my first year as a ministerial student, I was invited to preach at a black Pentecostal church as an 'away fixture' for what was termed 'United in the City' a regular pulpit exchange programme of churches on the borders of Manchetser city (when the Manchester City stadium was in Maine Road) and Trafford (where Manchester United's Old Trafford ground is still). I was warned in advance that the sermon had to last at least forty minutes, as otherwise the resident pastor would offer a second exposition of the passage extempore - quantity it seemed triumphed over quality. I seemed to get away with it - with quite a few 'amen, preach it sister' responses along the way!
At the time it seemed a real challenge to find something to speak about for so long. Now, as an epxerienced preacher, I know roughly how many words will take me to my usual twenty minutes, and how many edits I need to sharpen up my argument. I know not to include too many different ideas (the curse of novice preachers) and am comfortable in my style which is usually sans jokes, sans anecdotes, and fully scripted, contra all the 'how to' books. I have also become a more critical (as in critique, not cristicise) hearer of other preachers and conference speakers. I have learned that the longer a sermon/talk lasts the greater the proprotion of asides, anecdotes and bad jokes; and, sadly, the longer the perosn speaks, the less significant material there is upon which to reflect. This makes me quite self critical when I write sermons - are the sentences unecessarily long and adjective laden? Is there actually some 'nugget' in there worth sharing or am I just waffling? Is this just a glorified mind-dump, albeit one I trust to be God-inspired? Any sermon worth preaching needs at least one edit, and, because of the way my mind works, ideas are honed in the editting.
And so ten minutes. Barebones preaching. No anecdotes - I even removed the comments about the fact that it is a mini sermon. I think it is probably around 12 minutes, based on word count, so still everso slightly long and I might have to paraphrase a few sentences as I go. But it has been good disicpline to sit down and say, OK, in one sentence, what do I want to say (maybe everyone else does that always, but I don't) and then add some justification for that.
So, if you like long sermons, jokey sermons, anecdotal sermons, best stay away this week. If, on the other hand you like a slightly long homily, maybe you'd enjoy what's on offer!