Preaching: the Rodney Dangerfield of worship

Is the term “Long-Winded Sermon” a redundant expression?

I remember telling a brother, in jest, that according to Acts 20:7, I had biblical precedent for preaching until midnight. He laughed, then said, “That’s fine. You can preach until midnight, as long as you can also raise people from the dead” (in a reference to the sleep-deprived Eutychus). I had an answer for him. I reminded him that Paul did not stop at midnight, he was merely interrupted at midnight. He continued to talk to the brethren at Troas until the next morning!

One wonders how modern church members would react to an all-nighter! We suffer apoplexy if a preacher goes over 30 minutes!

So I have a question for you. Have you ever studied the Bible all night, even once in your life? What effect, do you suppose, it would have on your spiritual condition? I remember a high school basketball team that played continuous basketball for 24 hours in order to raise money for a new gym.

So in all seriousness, why has preaching come under such disrespect? Too many times, audiences sense that something, they aren’t quite sure what, is missing. My suspicion is that what is usually missing is biblical content. Sometimes, as human beings, we don’t like to be told what to do. We resent the fact that we are required (by All Mighty God) to change.

Some time ago a large congregation divided. The thing that caught my attention was a list of demands that one faction made: Amongst their demands was “shorter” sermons.

I wonder if this is the voice of the congregation’s most deeply spiritual members. I wonder if this is the view of the members who “hunger and thirst after righteousness”? I wonder if, as a Christian grows wiser and more mature he begins to demand shorter sermons? The great reform of Josiah’s day began when Hilkiah the high priest found the book of the law while cleaning out the temple (2 Chronicles 34:15). When the book was read to the king, he tore his robes in distress and commenced the great revival associated with his name (2 Chronicles 34:18,19).

All spiritual revivals begin with the preaching of God’s word! The ancient Israelite prophets were preachers, often beginning their messages with the memorable words, “Thus saith the Lord!” Jesus went up and down the land of Israel preaching. Peter stood before the Pentecost crowd and preached. Paul stood before Synagogue crowds and pagan alike and preached.

Amaziah cried out to Amos to leave and preach to other people (Amos 7:12,13). Paul spoke of the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:18-24). Reading behind the lines, it is easy to tell that our day is not the first to see preaching get a bad rap. “Jews demand signs” – the dramatic, the memorable, trying to outdo yourself in theatrics. “Greeks wisdom” – of course, Greece was the home of great philosophers and thinkers – Aristotle, Plato, Democritus. There would always be a perception that men’s wisdom was somehow more profound than God’s.

I will grant you that sometimes preachers waste their listener’s time, but mark this: A preacher never wastes the time of his listeners when he has studied and proclaimed God’s word!

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

One thought on “Preaching: the Rodney Dangerfield of worship

  1. Excellent thoughts in this article, but it probably won’t change our habits much. People have been told that they cannot give attention for lengthy times, while college students take 3 hour classes and take notes while doing so. When visiting preachers make jokes about the length of sermons it just helps to reinforce the idea that the only good sermon is a short one.

    The hungering for “soul food” is a rare commodity.

    We recently were asked by a lady to have the Lord’s Supper earlier in the service so she could get out earlier to see her NFL team play. 🙂

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