On Preaching and Clock-Watching

There was a time when churches placed clocks and bells in the steeples of their buildings, and they would “ring the alarm” for the community when it was time for corporate worship or prayer. Now churches place clocks on the back wall to make sure the pastor does not preach too long. After all, there are many other edifying things people need to do Sundays, aren’t there? They do not need to be in worship so long that it interrupts the other important plans for they day that they have made, do they?

During the days of the Puritans, the preacher would be given an hour-glass to be placed on the pulpit. And the congregation would give him a couple of turns of the hour-glass to complete his sermon. That was then. This is now. Now, the preacher, as they say, only has about thirty minutes to raise the dead. The contemporary church has learned to be more timely. This is a good thing. But many have also inadvertently developed congregations who have a drive-thru mindset about corporate worship and a microwave oven attitude toward the ministry of the word. This is definitely not a good thing.

I have wrestled with this matter in my own preaching over the years. Admittedly, I can be longwinded at times. Most of the time, it seems. But, believe it or not, I am always sensitive about the time factor in my preaching. And I have become somewhat anxious about it again as I begin a new assignment. Basically, my struggles with this issue reveals that I still have a lot of growing to do as a preacher. Ultimately, there is no morality attached to the length of a sermon. A good sermon can be long or short. And a bad sermon can be long or short.

Here is the (biggest) burden that weighs me down as it relates to this subject. The world gets my people all week long. TV. Music. Movies. Book. Magazines. The Internet. You name it. And we as pastors get our people once a week, in most instances. It just feels odd that the goal of the meetings where you have a prime opportunity to teach and preach the word of God to your people would be brevity. Just like healthy Christians, healthy churches need to spend time in the word of God.

There is another reason why this has been on my mind today. I read this morning an article by John F. MacArthur in Pulpit Magazine’s blog. It is adapted from the book, Rediscovering Expository Preaching. The entire book is worth your read, brother preachers. But click here for a good introduction to the book and the subject of sermon length, as Dr. MacArthur addresses it from the perspective of a serious and faithful Bible expositor.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Anonymous

    All I can say is wow! I am so thankful to have you as our leader. The time you put into studying the word of God and to serve it up is evident. I know the Lord will work it out that the people will come and begin to apply the word of God to their lives. The time thing will be a passing phase for the people. May God continue to bless and keep you as you take on your new assignment.

  • Anonymous

    Amen, Pastor Charles,
    I often wonder will there be clock watchers in heaven?
    I am one who plan to spend eternity with the Creator. I know that will be more than 30 minutes in man’s time. Where did the time restraint come from? Could this be another reason the enemy can come into our lives and turn things upside down? We are so busy clock watching? However, the adversary has all the time he needs to do his thing-destroy. God is already working it out for your good!

  • Anonymous

    Greetings Pastor Charles:

    I too agree. There was a time I would go to church, hear the word, and acknowledged that I have attended church and leave. However, as I continued to attend I realize how much I was growing. The reason for my growth was listening, not just hearing to what the word of God had to say.

    One Sunday, you preached at Shiloh and I was captivated by the message, but your sermon that day ended too quickly for me, only because I wanted more.
    After service that same day, I had to attend a District meeting. One of the first things our Deacon mentioned to us at the meeting was that he was going to request that the clock on the back wall be removed. What he was getting at is basically what you mentioned in your blog.

    If, I can sit in front of a television set and watch an entire movie that may or may not have substance, then I can surely listen to what God has to tell me through our Pastor. Time is of essence, we must use it wisely.

    Continue to stay focus and do as God as ordained you to do…

    Keep on Preaching/Teaching his word. God Bless You.

  • Anonymous

    I personally hate it when a message is cut short because a pastor feels he has “run out of time”. This is especially true when you are right in the “meat” of the message. While I don’t want to sit in church all day; I certainly want to feel that I have received the full message when I leave. It gives me something to carry with me until I return for my next fill-up.

  • easylou.blogspot.com

    I agree. I feel the same way, I tell the people at our church I wish the clock would fall and break, but then again I remember they will just put up a new one. I was told by my preaching brother a long time ago these words, “Rev., you can’t get all the feathers off a chicken and you can’t tell it all at one time.” I try to keep that in mind when I am studying and preparing to preach. I also remember that I must put the hay where the goats can get it.

  • Ty

    I am in a funk. Can I just be real for a minute? I haven’t had a day like this in a while. My emotions are all over the place and I am unsure as to why. I come to your blog for some encouragement and what do I see today? “On Preaching and Clock Watching” I skimmed through it and thought that it was an interesting blog but it didn’t have that umph I was looking for. I logged off and started doing some random chores and decided to pick up my bible. (Not as a last resort). I started reading and going through some notes until I felt better. Then I found myself back online this time reading the blog carefully. My blessing was found in two words at the bottom of the article “click here”. I found myself on a website I had never visited before. I have been reading all evening. I manage to find in one of the articles what was bothering me. God is awesome!

  • Anonymous

    Well Pastor C -
    I agree, there have been some sermons I’ve sat through that have been way too long and without substance and others that stopped short of a message, which left me feeling like I was served an appetizer without the main course. Then there were others with so much substance and flow, a 7 course meal, I didn’t want to leave and often times in a short sermon. All in all I agree, time should not determine the length of a service, substance should and I enjoy going through a book at a time. It’s like reading a great novel and you can’t wait to pick up that book again for the continuation of where you left off.

    Another message well said. What I enjoy about expository preaching/teaching is the fact that I am able to read the scripture for myself along with the pastor, receive his interpretation through his studies and then come to my own understanding based on the combination of my studies and the pastor’s interpretation, which most times, becomes clearer.

    I’m keeping you and your family in my prayers.