Thoughts on Preaching: Say Less, Preach More
As a former actor and artist, I have found preaching to be an artistic craft. The sermon is an art form, actually, and delivering a sermon is a performance art.
That isn’t to say preaching is simply a show or a performance. Instead, it is an ancient form of communication that is deep, rich, and beautiful. It is the interweaving of words, thoughts, ideas, truths, stories, and silence that is powerful and passionate.
Preaching is also mysterious. Somehow, as one stands up to speak about the God of Love, the Divine One, the God of Love transforms hearts and souls of those listening. As we preachers craft our sermons, it is a chance to create, play, partner with the Divine. It is beautiful.
Lately, I’ve observed that some sermons are really long. Like an hour. As I listen to these sermons, I find myself wondering if sometimes the longer the sermon the less is said. Can anyone relate to this? Half way through the 50 minute sermon, you start wondering if with all this talking if anything good is being said.
And so I’ve come to wonder if the more one preaches, the less is one’s sermon. The longer one preaches, the less one says. The longer one preaches and the more one says definitely means the more the listener forgets. Most congregants can’t remember your three to five points or that clever acronym you created. Most say that congregants remember about 20% of a sermon. So, roughly a few minutes of what you say or one point.
Because of this, I think every sermon should only have one point. And say that one point more than 20% of your sermon so your people remember. Some traditions are better at this than others. I think of the Catholic and Episcopal services I have attended where the sermons can be quite profound and leave me wanting more. Recently, one of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard was 5 minutes and 8 seconds long. It was delivered by Fr. Richard Rhor and I can’t get it out of my head. You can listen to it here.
I think it’s best that we preach who Jesus is and what God has done through Jesus. If we don’t do this, we don’t have a sermon. If we don’t announce Good News for all people, if we don’t announce the Gospel, than we don’t have a sermon and we’re not preaching. We are just teaching some good advice or a moral idea.
So, my advice for us preachers, is let’s say less and perhaps our sermons will preach more.