“I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.”
One-hour sermons are biblical…
Ok, I’ll give you some slack…30 minute sermons are not unbiblical. Our culture has somewhat deteriorated from ancient times. Messages, whether a sermon or some other kind of speech, used to last all day or at least all afternoon. Often times there was also discussion involved, not just a monologue. But today’s church services are becoming increasingly more focused on brevity, and less concerned with a hearty meal of God’s word. If preaching long and deep is not suitable to our culture, should we adjust to fit their desires, or should we work at drawing them back into state of readiness and hunger for a big double bacon cheeseburger from God’s word? That question remains debated, and each church handles it their own way.
Let me make a biblical defense for my initial premise: one-hour sermons are biblical. In Hebrews 13:22, the author calls his letter a word of exhortation. This phrase is used only one other time in Scripture by the rulers of the synagogue in Antioch (Acts 13:15). They said to Paul, “If you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” They asked Paul to preach, to deliver a sermon. We must consider that the first century synagogue is contextually different from our modern-day churches. However, they asked for a sermon. So, we have established that word of exhortation refers to a sermon.
Hebrews is also considered a sermon by scholars, and the words, “word of exhortation” validate this. Depending on your reading level, it takes approximately 50 minutes to read. Go ahead and do that now…I’ll wait. Now, instead of simply reading it in your head, say it out loud as if you are preaching, adding inflection, pauses, etc. Go ahead and do that now…I’ll wait again. When read like a sermon it takes closer to one hour to preach, and the author of Hebrews calls his word of exhortation, “brief,” at the end of verse 22. Hence, my claim that one-hour sermons are biblical…
Ok, ok, ok…this is a stretch. I don’t think God will judge preachers for not hitting the one-hour mark every Sunday. It is not the length of the sermon that is necessarily essential, it is the depth of the sermon that matters. Some churches need milk, some need meat, and it is up to the church leadership to determine their church’s need. But too many of our modern churches are simply tickling ears and giving hungry people little sips of milk. There is a balance, and preachers need to be aware of that, but there is also a need for the weight of God’s word to land heavy on people’s souls, to produce contemplation and response.
You could argue that when Paul was asked to deliver his word of exhortation, that his message was much shorter than Hebrews, and therefore, sermons can be very brief. True, but read Acts 13:16-41…I’ll wait. First, Paul’s message, though brief, was very weighty and doctrinally stout. Second, Paul was not preaching in a church, he was evangelizing the Jews, which is a completely different context than our regular Sunday morning gatherings. Thus, Hebrews is a better contextual fit for our Sunday morning services than Paul’s gospel presentation to non-believers.
“Oh no…Pastor Mark is gonna preach for an hour now,” said the disappointed Christian who is more concerned that the roast in their slow cooker might burn before they get home from church. “Maybe we could just duck out early. Ya know…for my family’s sake.”Don’t worry, it is not my agenda to preach for an hour. In fact, I want to be sensitive to you and your family.
BUT…depth is not something I will sacrifice. There are Sunday’s when the word will be light, but our churches need the meat, we need to mature, we need to grow, and digging deep into God’s word is the source of provision for that growth. So, if it takes an hour to fill you up, so be it. If it takes 30 minutes to fill you up, so be it. Know that though I am aware of your attention span, time is secondary to the primary purpose: God’s word being preached.
Let your prayer today be a request for depth in your knowledge, growth from the preaching, and help from the Spirit to your pastor’s sermon preparation and delivery.