Speech and sermon preparation is mentally exhausting. There is not a time that I am not mentally spent throughout the preparation process. After an hour or two, I have to just get up and/or away from the task at hand and take a break.
Sometimes the question is asked, “What do pastors do?” If you are like many and most preachers, a lot of time goes into sermon preparation. After years of reading and listening to pastors, I would estimate between 10-15 hours goes into a typical message. The time does shorten – slightly – as the years progress because our minds have learned to run down certain avenues of thought. That has its bad and its good! There are “rhetorical ruts” pastors can create and then choose to stay in over a long period of time, or drive back into them with the passing of time — Been there???
When preparing a “speech” or a “message” the time spent learning is absolutely mentally DRAINING. Millions of neurons are firing along with and one after another. There is an actual expenditure of energy. The mental energy is burning the body’s calories. Add to that the expenditure of energy when actually delivering the message, as your mind again fires millions of more neurons!
Is that not true?
If that is true, then also realize that the members of the audience are expending real mental energy as they listen! — Yes, some more than others.
Millions upon millions of neurons are also firing along with, and one after another as your audience is focused on . . . .
- hearing what you have to say
- following the flow of thought (and/or the lack of it)
- evaluating the comments theologically
- evaluating the exhortations experientially
- deciding if they “buy in” what you are saying the passage teachers
- thinking about where the message is going as related to their lives
- mentally and emotionally responding to what is being said
- picking up the bodily clues & gestures
- catching the vocal tones used
- decoding the nuances of the different words selected
- trying to even hear what is being said at times
- deciding if they “buy in” your applications
- listening for clues that it is almost finished
- talking back in their own minds (i.e., knew he wasn’t ending this early)
They too have spent a good amount of energy — and unlike you — . . . .
non-stop – (and maybe before this particular service)
with little pause or breaks in between
with no restroom pauses – (except for some “children”)
moving towards lunch – (no snacks breaks)
for an unknown period of time
sometimes standing for 5-10 minutes of the time
sometimes reading/hearing (and then rehearing) the same portion of Scripture
with promises of “Let me conclude by saying . . .”
for a non-stop 30-50 minutes of preaching
and after a previous 20-30 minutes of engagement
keeping their eyes on their children’s behavior and attention
YES – they too have spent a lot of mental energy — listening!
If you do not understand that they are not you — As a speaker, you have invested a lot of thought and energy into the message, and you have been moved and focused on communicating what has excited your heart — then I would suggest that you will insensitively ignore the difference between a “Post Graduate Student” and a “High School Graduate.”
If you do not grasp that there is a real human element that comes with listening over a period of time — and some would argue that God’s people should be able to stay focused — “After all, they watch a football game longer than this!” — then I would suggest that you will inconsiderately ignore the “reality wall” called – time.
If you do not communicate a regard or a respect for the time, schedules, and demands of others — then I would suggest that you have indifferently respected them and the fact that they have pressing demands of life, which you may not feel as you live in the “church-pastoral” bubble.
If you do not see that there is a difference between the needs of your listeners — between those who are “in the emergency room & now admitted,” versus those who are there as routine “outpatients” — then I would suggest that you will lump them all together and believe that all have reason to listen and be interested.
As I stated previously . . . .
“In TED Talks, TED curator Chris Anderson says that 18 minutes is “short enough to hold people’s attention, including on the internet, and precise enough to be taken seriously. But it’s also long enough to say something that matters.” — Ted Talks’ 18 Minute Rule
“It’s like asking your listeners to hold more and more weight as you pile it on. Soon, they’ll drop it all.”
– Chris Anderson
The point is NOT — Keep your speech or message down to 18 minutes. The typical audience in a Bible-believing local church setting is experienced in listening to messages for a far longer period of time than most audiences.
Nevertheless, there is still only so much weight an audience can hold before they begin dropping some of the weight.
Nevertheless, in a setting which is not marked by such a typical biblically oriented audience, the 20-minute standard ought to be considered reasonable. Over the years, at various Christmas / Easter Musical Programs, I knew that I would have to cut down what I had planned on saying when the program moved past an hour. I believed – and still do – that you have a maximum of 20-25 minutes with an audience who has already sat through a 60-minute music-drama program.
While there is no doubt that it is hard to edit down a message, it is a mistake to think that your audience will be with you after a reasonable period of time. What is “reasonable?”
There is no doubt that a reasonable period of time is probably less than you think is reasonable.
Some Most speeches need a meat cleaver, not a scalpel.
“The Law of Subtraction,” says that a speaker should remove anything that . . . .
- is unnecessary to understanding the point(s)
- is unnecessary “re-hash” from the last message (most “hash” is just that)
- can be cut with little to no real effect on the argument of the passage
- involves going to another passage and producing an entirely second message
- covers more “biblical ground” than can be appropriate or fairly covered – Say it another time!
- constitutes a “rabbit trail” — interesting hunt, but unrelated
“Overstuffed equals underexplained.”
– Chris Anderson
(Perhaps overstated, but not if your message is really overstuffed!)
Though the process of cutting out material is painful, after the hours of thinking and preparation, the presentation will be much stronger because of it. A tight message will be marked by less meandering and greater ease in keeping your audience tracking.
Speakers may not believe this, but the audience really does not need all the information you are providing . . . . Especially when it comes to “repeat audiences” — those who come week after week.
If you are of the tribe who believes that an audience’s inability to last for more than an hour is an indicator of their spiritual shallowness, then go for it!
I would maintain . . . .
That if you cover less, the impact will be more significant!
I would argue that there IS a “Listener’s Reality Wall” that speaker’s need to acknowledge — whatever the cause in 2018, and whether you like it or not.
There is a “Reality Wall” you will either face or ignore to your own loss.
They have given God their time, respect that spiritual reality!
The listeners are not inmates. Respect them as fellow-laborers!
Over the years, I have noticed more and more that other thoughts can easily flood and fill the mind, while speaking, from past messages. While one is speaking, there will other biblical thoughts which tempt the speaker and are triggered by a word or concept in the present sermon. Sometimes it is
- a “disclaimer” — what I am not saying
- an illustration – that reminds me of a story
- an interesting point learned while preparing – I learned that this word means . . .
- the meaning of a word which has an English counterpart, but add little to nothing
. . . . which will come to mind and you will be more and more tempted to take an unnecessary sidetrack at the cost and loss of your audience’s attention!