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Fewer words — the better the prayer

Country Roads

February 6, 2012
Arvid Huisman ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

Our church has a new senior pastor. I met him three years ago through a mutual friend and was excited when our congregation called him to our church.

The interim pastor who served our congregation for 20 months prior was the champion of the 15-minute sermon which met my needs quite well. Our new pastor told us early on that he preaches a 25-minute sermon and that concerned me a bit.

I don't sit well. I can't sit and keep my mouth shut too long. Lengthy sermons, speeches and similar presentations are, at the least, uncomfortable. I have heard a few lengthy sermons and other presentations that were so good I didn't notice the time; but only a few.

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Now in the second month of his new position, our pastor's sermons are excellent. By the time he offers the benediction I'm ready to go, but he's an outstanding preacher and I can remain focused for the duration. It helps that he has streamlined the non-sermon portion of the worship service.

For years I thought my inability to sit still and stay quiet was a sign of immaturity and perhaps it is.

When I was a teenager, our church services often went 75 minutes; even 90 minutes some times. I was miserable. When I complained about the lengthy church services to my father, he said, "You can sit at a basketball game for two hours - 90 minutes at church won't hurt you."

"But at the basketball game," I argued, "I can talk and yell and move around."

When I was the director of the Iowa Newspaper Foundation I was responsible for setting up professional improvement workshops for newspaper employees. Early on I discovered that adults learn much differently than adolescent students. Younger folks still active in the educational process can handle longer class sessions, but adults who have been away from the classroom a while need more breaks.

I adopted a workshop format of 50-minute sessions followed by a 10-minute bathroom and cell phone break. I saw that participants remained more focused in this environment. Our workshops received excellent reviews.

At some workshops I attend today I wonder what moron scheduled sessions to run for 90-minutes to two hours without a break. Few presenters are good enough to hold students' attention for that long.

The pastor of a church we attended some years ago, a wonderful man, preached long and hard. After a half hour of hymns, announcements, special music and prayers, he started preaching and normally went on for 40 or more minutes. Then he spent five to ten minutes reviewing what he had just preached.

A fellow church member who shared my inability to sit still comfortably asked, "Have you ever noticed that after about 30 minutes of preaching there is a 'zipping' noise in the sanctuary?"

Come to think of it, I had noticed. The dear "senior saints" of the congregation who carried their Bibles to church in zippered covers began zipping up their Bibles when the preacher had been going at it for about a half hour. These folks apparently figured that 30 minutes was enough. Most likely, much of what the preacher said for the next 15 to 30 minutes fell on deaf ears.

Friends who have attended seminary tell me they were taught that if you can't get your point across in 20 minutes you won't do it in 30.

Public speakers who talk too long usually do so because they have not prepared sufficiently. President Woodrow Wilson understood this. "If I am to speak ten minutes," he said, "I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now."

Some longwinded speakers simply enjoy hearing themselves talk.

Two theologians from differing points of view on many issues, agreed on the matter of brevity. French Roman Catholic Archbishop Franois Fnelon wrote, "The more you say, the less people remember" Reformer Martin Luther agreed: "The fewer the words, the better the prayer."




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