Dr. M. Ray McKay, homiletics professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary back in the 1950’s offered this wise advice to those in his class who were training to become pastors: “Try always to preach because you have something to say, not because it is 11:00 o’clock on Sunday morning.” Very good advice indeed!
Every preacher has heard the time-worn suggestion to “Stand up, speak up, and shut up!” Preachers generally know when to stand up, and when to speak up. The hard part for some preachers is to know when to shut up.
One pastor came into the pulpit on Sunday morning with a bandage on his chin. Before reading his text, he explained his injury: “I had my mind on my sermon this morning when I was shaving and I cut my chin.”
When the service was over a member remarked, “You should have kept your mind on your chin and cut your sermon.”
Soon after I arrived to serve as pastor of a church several years ago one of my finest deacons said, “Preacher, you can preach as long as you want to on Sunday mornings, but we go home at twelve o’clock.”
I replied. “I learned early in life that any preacher who has not struck oil by twelve o’clock should stop boring.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. In fact, the word “gospel” means “good news.”
It doesn’t take all day to tell good news. However, no sermon, whether long or short, will have the power to change laypersons in the pew if it has not changed the preacher before he arrived in the pulpit.
Knowing when to stop is not just a problem some preachers have. Speakers in many fields, especially in politics, have difficulty finding a good stopping place. William Henry Harrison, for example, delivered a two-hour, 9,000-word inaugural address in 1841 into the teeth of a freezing northeast wind. He came down with a cold the following day, and a month later he died with pneumonia. George Washington’s inaugural address, on the other hand, included just 135 words.
One orator said to his audience, “I have discontinued long speeches on account of my throat … several people have threatened to cut it.” It was possibly the only way he would ever have learned how to stand up, speak up, and shut up.
Will Rogers was presiding on one occasion as toastmaster at a meeting being addressed by a tediously long speaker. At the conclusion of the address, Rogers told the crowd, “You have been listening to that famous Chinese orator, On Too Long.”
The next time you hear a speech or sermon that goes on and on and on, ask the speaker if he (or she) has a relative who is a Chinese orator.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Parkerson writes a weekly column called “The Paper Pulpit,” where this column was originally published, and is a retired pastor.)