The Ship's Biannual Discussion on Sermons

This discussion was created from comments split from: Having a Break from Church.
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  • Being a little more serious (and I know this isn't Purgatory), it seems very sad to me that sermons have such a "bad press" - indeed, even the word "sermonising" has negative connotations. I - along with, I'm sure, many others - work hard at my sermons, think they're important as a teaching tool, and try to present them well. Obviously sometimes I hit the mark better than others. But I'd be most upset if people mentally switched off before I'd started, thinking either "I don't need to listen, he's not going to say anything worthwhile" or "It's bound to be dull, time for a nap".
  • Meh, take those people as a challenge. (Yes, I'm being my usual evil self--I'd consider doing it with some shocking word/behavior/confession/statement...)

    And then, of course, look as innocent as a cat that's been in the cream and thinks you can't see the white on its face.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    I have listened to more bad than good sermons in my lifetime. I can probably count on one hand with fingers left over the number of excellent sermons I have heard.
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited July 29
    I like a good sermon, BT; I became a Christian at a con-evo (St Helens, Bishopsgate) so feel short changed if I don't get at least 45 minute expository preaching ;)
  • ArethosemyfeetArethosemyfeet Shipmate
    edited July 29
    I like a good sermon, BT; I became a Christian at a con-evo (St Helens, Bishopsgate) so feel short changed if I don't get at least 45 minute expository preaching ;)

    I misread this as "suppository" :anguished:
  • That's a matter of opinion!
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    I like a good sermon, BT; I became a Christian at a con-evo (St Helens, Bishopsgate) so feel short changed if I don't get at least 45 minute expository preaching ;)

    15 to 20 minutes of fresh stuff is fine.
  • I took a year and then some break from church when the Sunday drive down a winding mountain road got to be too much for me with age, followed soon by the virus and closures of services. I tried our local fundamentalist churches and found them painful to me in the preaching and theology. The Roman Catholic priest informed me that I could not receive communion, not being Roman Catholic, so I gave attending there up. The one mainline protestant church in town was having infighting over a pastor, which I wanted no part of. I simply said the daily office alone until the virus soon gave me online worship. That I found different yet joyful in many ways. It was fun to check in with churches all over the country that I had attended in years past. Now we have moved and I am happy to again worship with a church community of the faithful even if it is outside on the patio. Looking back I think the break was a good experience that helped me in seeing the church, God's people, in a much wider way than before and to sort out what was important to me about gathered worship.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    Re: overlong sermons: "If you haven't struck oil after 15 minutes, cease boring". :naughty:
  • Regarding sermons - often (I think) it's the bad ones which stick in the memory, because they wind me up (and I remember what it was about them I disagreed with.) Sometimes that might inspire further study - I think that's a good outcome. The ones I agree with, I perhaps don't remember so easily - because I think 'yeah, that's helpful' and it kind of blends in with the bulk of my faith, perhaps changing it a little, perhaps not. I have a shockingly poor memory for everything, nowadays - but the experience of hearing a sermon is something I really miss, if I am away from it. This is by way of wanting to encourage those who have to prepare them!
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    edited July 30
    A number of years ago two churches in my community had a similar experience with the sexual impropriety of their clergy. One was from the American Baptist Convention. Their minister abandoned his family and literally ran off with the organist. The other, which happened to be my church, the minister's wife was bi-polar and while she was having one of her manic experiences, he stepped out with one of her friends. The ABC church all but imploded. It tried to keep going for a while but when key members left, it took the life out of the church and they folded. The church I was attending had three retired ministers (me included) which were able to step in until the Bishop assigned an interim pastor. We stayed in the interim position for nearly three years before we were ready to extend a call.

    Another Evangelical Free church had their pastor abscond with the church monies. It too nearly died. They had to sell their building to pay off the debts and are now meeting in a much smaller building.

    Clergy people can do a lot of damage to their congregations, many don't seem to survive. Others struggle for a while until the boat is able to reach even keel again.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited July 30
    @Gramps49

    Just curious, but how was the Evangelical Free pastor able to run off with all the church's money and still remain a free man?

    Did he change his identity and go underground to elude the police? Or did he skip off to some extradition free country? Or was the money legally in his name to begin with? Or...?
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    Another Evangelical Free church had their pastor abscond with the church monies. It too nearly died. They had to sell their building to pay off the debts and are now meeting in a much smaller building.

    A good rule - probably an obligatory one - is that no clergy is allowed anywhere near money. Never, ever. Not even as a counter-signatory (or co-authoriser) with a warden.
  • Yes indeed. Though it still won't save you from accusations by those who practice the Big Lie.
  • RuthRuth Shipmate
    edited July 31
    Caissa wrote: »
    I have listened to more bad than good sermons in my lifetime. I can probably count on one hand with fingers left over the number of excellent sermons I have heard.

    Me too. I think having a sermon at every Sunday service is a bad idea. Very few people have something worth delivering to a captive audience every single week. I've known exactly one ordained person who I could listen to every week without wanting to scream.
  • Ruth wrote: »
    Caissa wrote: »
    I have listened to more bad than good sermons in my lifetime. I can probably count on one hand with fingers left over the number of excellent sermons I have heard.

    Me too. I think having a sermon at every Sunday service is a bad idea. Very few people have something worth delivering to a captive audience every single week. I've known exactly one ordained person who I could listen to every week without wanting to scream.

    Alas, it is required (in the C of E) by the Rules. I think this goes back to the days of the Reformation, when Cranmer and Co. were keen to see that the Faithful received good, solid teaching.

    IIRC, a sermon is only required, though, at Holy Communion - it was intended that that should be the principal service on Sundays and Holydays. Morning and Evening Prayer became the main services in many places, though, and sermons were tacked onto them in due course.

    Having attended church fairly regularly for the best part of 60 years, I can recall just a few memorable sermons. It's possible, of course, that there were others which influenced me (for good or ill, who knows?), but which I can't remember.

    I'm actually quite enjoying my present break from church, and I'm NOT missing the sermon...
    :innocent:
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Caissa wrote: »
    I have listened to more bad than good sermons in my lifetime. I can probably count on one hand with fingers left over the number of excellent sermons I have heard.
    Ruth wrote: »
    Me too. I think having a sermon at every Sunday service is a bad idea. Very few people have something worth delivering to a captive audience every single week. I've known exactly one ordained person who I could listen to every week without wanting to scream.
    My experience has been very much the opposite. In my experience, bad sermons have been the exception, and good sermons the rule. Perhaps I’ve been lucky to be in churches with ministers who are very good preachers.

    I have heard many excellent sermons, but I don’t spect sermons to be memorable. As has been said on the Ship before, I think by @Cathscats, I expect them to be like a good meal—filling, and hopefully good, in the moment, and contributing to overall health and growth, even when forgotten later.

  • AravisAravis Shipmate
    In that case I think our church is unusually lucky! Most of our sermons are at least “good in parts” and some are excellent. Having lost one of our two buildings we are now rather well staffed with Readers, and so there’s a certain amount of competition to get to preach.
  • The open-evo Church Of My Yoof had 3 vicars during my years there.

    Rev A was a bit dry, but preached short and to the point.

    Rev B was hopeless at taking any services other than the 8am said BCP Communion, but was an excellent preacher and pastor.

    Rev C waffled.

    I've mentioned before, I think, the 47-minute waffle at an evening service? I knew it was 47 minutes, because I looked at my watch when Rev C started waffling, and woke up 47 minutes later when Mrs BF jogged my elbow...

    All three Revs were Good Chaps in their own way(s), of course!

    One of Our Place's neighbouring churches has a small college of Readers. Most of them are now PTO (over 70, but with Permission to Officiate), and as far as I know they all still play their part in preaching and pastoral work. This is especially useful just now, as their vicar is unfortunately on sick leave.
  • Ethne AlbaEthne Alba Shipmate
    Sermons might very well be obligatory, but there is no requirement concerning their length.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    It's said of Dean Swift that he announced the text ' He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD', said 'You have heard the terms - now down with the dust''. And left the pulpit.
  • Ex_OrganistEx_Organist Shipmate
    edited July 31

    Alas, it is required (in the C of E) by the Rules. I think this goes back to the days of the Reformation, when Cranmer and Co. were keen to see that the Faithful received good, solid teaching.

    For the Orthodox, the requirement for a weekly sermon goes back to the Council in Trullo (or Quinisext Council), 692

  • Ethne Alba wrote: »
    Sermons might very well be obligatory, but there is no requirement concerning their length.

    Indeed, but some clergy (and others) don't realise that...
    :wink:
  • Ethne AlbaEthne Alba Shipmate
    edited August 1
    Up to half an hour and I will keep any number of children quiet.

    After half an hour?
    The preacher gets no help from me.



    In an ideal world, twenty mins absolute max.


    Currently though I can listen or not as the mood takes me. And the listening happens curled up in an armchair with a mug of tea.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Half an hour? A good sermon should take no more than 10 minutes.
  • Gee D wrote: »
    Half an hour? A good sermon should take no more than 10 minutes.

    Even after 10 minutes, I will have switched off...TWO minutes should be sufficient for most purposes, although I admit that many will feel that to be far too short.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Two minutes is probably a bit short. If a preacher takes much over 10 minutes, the sermon loses rather than gains content.
  • OK - five minutes, then.
    :wink:

    It should be possible to say something useful in that time, without waffling.

    I ought to point out that most of the sermons I hear nowadays (or did, pre-Plague) are in the context of the Eucharist, and are usually a reflection on the Gospel, and perhaps the other reading(s).
  • Ethne AlbaEthne Alba Shipmate
    @Gee D , completely agree!
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Format for a sermon: a minute or so explaining any strange terminology in the day's readings and what connections they may have; 7 or 8 minutes on the reading chosen for the sermon (usually the Gospel) finishing with the lesson we should take away for our daily lives; a wrap-up for the final minute.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited August 1
    Or, as I was taught:

    1. Tell them what you're going to say - 1 minute.
    2. Say it - 3 minutes.
    3. Tell them what you've said - 1 minute.

    :wink:
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited August 1
    Gee D wrote: »
    Half an hour? A good sermon should take no more than 10 minutes.
    Well, it looks like it’s time for the semi-annual Ship discussion on sermon length.

    Ideas on how long a sermon should last are very linked to things like the role of the sermon in a particular ecclesiastical and liturgical tradition, cultural expectations and congregational expectations, not to mention personal preferences and expectations.

    There simply is no universally applicable standard governing the maximum length for a good sermon. It’s one thing to say “In my church/tradition, a sermon should generally be no longer than x minutes.” But I’m afraid blanket, unqualified statements like “a good sermon should take no more than x minutes” really do risk coming across like “I/my church does it the right way and anyone who does it differently does it wrong.”

    BTW, the best sermon I ever heard from an Episcopal priest—and I’ve heard many sermons from Episcopal priests—was, as best I recall, around 25 minutes long, maybe longer. I was surprised because I’m not used to sermons that long from Episcopal priests; I even said to my wife before the service, “Oh, we’ll be out early. This’ll be a short sermon.”

    But I could have listened to her much, much longer. Perhaps she was taking advantage of the opportunity to preach to a bunch of Presbyterians, who she knew would think 10 minutes was just getting started. :lol:

  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited August 1
    I don't know how they go on for so long; I could explain my entire theology in about five minutes.
  • Ah, but you probably wouldn't repeat yourself 7 times...
    :wink:
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    A plaque in Ely cathedral commemorates a certain Bishop Heton, 1600-1609, who was praised for his good preaching and lavish hospitality, by which he grew stout. It is written that James 1 said of him “ Fat men are wont to make lean sermons; his are not lean, but larded with much good learning.”
  • Two questions/comments:

    1. Why - especially ISTM in Anglican churches - is the sermon so often based on the Gospel reading? I know it's "The Gospel", but is not the whole of Scripture worth studying?

    2. If the sermon is the main, nay sole, source of Christian teaching for most of the congregation, how can a brief "thought for the day" even begin to tackle some of the more complex issues that we must think about today?
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    In the free church of my Youf, a typical sermon was 50 minutes, though I do recall some lasting over an hour.
    I appreciate the skill of those preachers who can find a thread to draw all three readings together, but I would rather have a good sermon on one reading than a poor one on all three.

    I agree with BTF that a brief thought for the day is not enough, but I am not advocating a return to 50 minutes.
  • Two questions/comments:

    1. Why - especially ISTM in Anglican churches - is the sermon so often based on the Gospel reading? I know it's "The Gospel", but is not the whole of Scripture worth studying?

    2. If the sermon is the main, nay sole, source of Christian teaching for most of the congregation, how can a brief "thought for the day" even begin to tackle some of the more complex issues that we must think about today?


    1. Yes, it is worth studying (well, a good part of it). I wonder if the emphasis on the Gospel Reading of the Day is a throwback to the BCP, which provides only an Epistle and Gospel for the Lord's Supper? In my own defence, I usually try, when preaching, to at least mention the other two readings (which means that I go on for 10 minutes, rather than the 5 I advocated earlier!)

    2. A fair point - I don't know the answer, except that (a) one could provide longer sermons, or (b) encourage home groups/Bible studies (we have just one at Our Place, run by a retired Church Army Captain).
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    stetson wrote: »
    @Gramps49

    Just curious, but how was the Evangelical Free pastor able to run off with all the church's money and still remain a free man?

    Did he change his identity and go underground to elude the police? Or did he skip off to some extradition free country? Or was the money legally in his name to begin with? Or...?

    I am not that versed in how the minister evaded arrest, but it is my understanding American courts just do not want to get involved in the internal affairs of a religious body. The minister did have check-writing authority over the funds.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited August 1
    I usually try, when preaching, to at least mention the other two readings (which means that I go on for 10 minutes, rather than the 5 I advocated earlier!)
    This works when all the readings "fit" together - at other times it can end uplike fitting pints of milk, juice and beer into one ill-fitting pint pot!
    (a) One could provide longer sermons, or (b) encourage home groups/Bible studies (we have just one at Our Place, run by a retired Church Army Captain).
    Sadly the latter IME are attended by a maximum of 10% of the congregation.

  • I usually try, when preaching, to at least mention the other two readings (which means that I go on for 10 minutes, rather than the 5 I advocated earlier!)
    This works when all the readings "fit" together - at other times it can end uplike fitting pints of milk, juice and beer into one ill-fitting pint pot!
    (a) One could provide longer sermons, or (b) encourage home groups/Bible studies (we have just one at Our Place, run by a retired Church Army Captain).
    Sadly the latter IME are attended by a maximum of 10% of the congregation.

    Regarding the readings, I should have explained that we use the C of E's set of lectionary readings which mostly do fit together, albeit somewhat loosely at whiles...

    Regarding home groups, yes, attendance is low. AFAIK, our group gets just 3 or 4 (in addition to the CA chap and his wife). We did have some Advent 2020 and Lent 2021 study groups using Zoom, which attracted a few more!
  • SpikeSpike Admin Emeritus
    edited August 1
    Gee D wrote: »
    Format for a sermon: a minute or so explaining any strange terminology in the day's readings and what connections they may have; 7 or 8 minutes on the reading chosen for the sermon (usually the Gospel) finishing with the lesson we should take away for our daily lives; a wrap-up for the final minute.

    The problem with that format is that most of the congregation will have fallen asleep during the first minute or so.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Spike wrote: »
    Gee D wrote: »
    Format for a sermon: a minute or so explaining any strange terminology in the day's readings and what connections they may have; 7 or 8 minutes on the reading chosen for the sermon (usually the Gospel) finishing with the lesson we should take away for our daily lives; a wrap-up for the final minute.

    The problem with that format is that most of the congregation will have fallen asleep during the first minute or so.
    Not among my tribe. Among my tribe, the problem with that format would be that it would be seen as scratching the service. Among us, a sermon is about more than “the lesson we should take away for our daily lives.”

  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    The RC liturgical readings ( and many other Christian communities use similar) cover all of the Gospels in a three year cycle. The Reading of the Gospel passage(containing the words of Jesus) is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word and the other readings are supposed to link in to the Gospel passage in some way .
    Just as the words and teaching of Jesus are of paramount importance in the Liturgy of the Sacrament so are the words and teaching of Jesus of supreme importance in the Liturgy of the Word. The homilist is meant to elucidate above all the text of the Gospel passage.

    Of course there are many other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures and the writings of the Apostles which can be of interest and provide instruction but for those who call themselves Christians and who can only attend on Sundays then the Gospel text is the priority.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Forthview wrote: »
    Of course there are many other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures and the writings of the Apostles which can be of interest and provide instruction but for those who call themselves Christians and who can only attend on Sundays then the Gospel text is the priority.
    Many, many who call themselves Christian would disagree that the Gospel reading always takes priority.

  • Ruth wrote: »
    Me too. I think having a sermon at every Sunday service is a bad idea. Very few people have something worth delivering to a captive audience every single week. I've known exactly one ordained person who I could listen to every week without wanting to scream.

    I think exactly the opposite. The Bible is not straightforward to interpret (evidence: large numbers of people that are making a complete hash of it). A short sermon that helps illuminate the day's scripture reading is usually helpful.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Ruth wrote: »
    Me too. I think having a sermon at every Sunday service is a bad idea. Very few people have something worth delivering to a captive audience every single week. I've known exactly one ordained person who I could listen to every week without wanting to scream.

    I think exactly the opposite. The Bible is not straightforward to interpret (evidence: large numbers of people that are making a complete hash of it). A short sermon that helps illuminate the day's scripture reading is usually helpful.

    That assumes the person at the front isn't the one making a hash of it...
  • I had about a 30 year break from institutional church from 1979 or 1980 to 2009 IIRC.
    My trajectory had been UK brethren upbringing, baptist, Oz housechurch, christian community, UK community, Oz out, housechurch, Uniting Church Australia. Also I have a label trajectory from childhood exclusive fundamentalism, evangelical, to inclusive interfaith progessive.

    My spirituality is congregation focused rather than worship service focused but churches are generally oriented toward individual spirituality and faith rather than the communal ones. Also I have to translate messages in my mind into a contemporary expression. If I participate in the service my approach is slightly unfamiliar to the congregation - at least enough to get remarks.

    I get frustrated with the bitsyness of the lectionary so much so that I have converted Djiksta's comment on programming " Goto statement considered harmful." to "Lectionary approach considered harmful" as it turns Bible books into a collection of little more than memes or prooftexts and ignores the intentions of the authors. Maybe that is a bit of an overstatement but it gets my feeling of frustration across, I hope.

    I also think the cogregation should be participants rather than passive recipients. I have little understanding of the lives and thoughts of the other members of the congregation. I know more of those things in the members of my tennis social group.

    I retain membership partly because I need a faith community allegiance for my voluntary chaplaincy, but also because I identify with Markan call to discipleship.

    My 30 year hiatus was supported by joining on-line fora such as Ship of Fools. I was a sort of Christian in secret.
  • Re the use of the word "yoof" to replace "youth".

    Is the use of it to describe a church when you were young is it meant to denigrate and ridicule that church, your youth within it or is this a UKism meaning something else? Like making fun of a lisping minister? I do derive a denigration but I could be wrong. Never heard nor seen this before. The internet doesn't answer the question either way adequately.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Spike wrote: »
    Gee D wrote: »
    Format for a sermon: a minute or so explaining any strange terminology in the day's readings and what connections they may have; 7 or 8 minutes on the reading chosen for the sermon (usually the Gospel) finishing with the lesson we should take away for our daily lives; a wrap-up for the final minute.

    The problem with that format is that most of the congregation will have fallen asleep during the first minute or so.

    If you keep to a 10 minute sermon, they'll probably not reach the snoring stage.
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