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Our Capsulated Society

By Ed Smithson

religion, articles, christianity

I just returned from a one-day preaching assignment. The church wanted to address the subject of church discipline, but they wanted to do it in just one day. I spoke at the Bible study hour, the worship hour, and the evening service. There is no way you can cover the subject thoroughly in three hours. But that is all the time we had.

I have been wondering for a long time now what good could come out of this age in which we live where people are so involved in other things in life you cannot get them involved in church. Gospel meetings are a thing of the past with many churches. Others are having fewer of them, while still other churches have trimmed such meetings from seven and five to three days.

The same Sunday I was involved speaking on church discipline, another church I am associated with had another man for a day to speak on one subject. So this idea is not brand new, and others will follow suit.

I ask what good can come out of our capsulated thinking. It isn't just our spiritual life alone that's involved. We have ten and twenty-second commercials now. We have "sound bites" on TV. We have one-day seminars where we used to have three or five. We travel by jet instead of by car. We want things convenient so they won't take as much time.

Perhaps the most significant thing that comes out of this age where the church is concerned is that we get people to listen. In most places you can't get a majority of the members to attend three or five nights of a gospel meeting, but you can get them to church for one day. You can't get them involved in a sustained effort, but you can get them there for a day.

This program was well-attended but not 100 percent. You will never get that. But the majority of those that were there Sunday morning were back Sunday night. Perhaps this is the good that comes out of our wanting to cram things into a little space. It makes the speaker leave off unnecessary things and say only what he thinks is important. It's rather of like the man who was asked to speak, and he asked how long they wanted him to speak.. They wanted to know why it mattered. He said if they wanted him to speak for an hour, he could start immediately, but if they wanted him to speak for five minutes, it would take him a week to prepare.

Some think 25-minute sermons are not enough time. It depends on who is doing the preaching and how much preparation he has had. I have seen those who speak 25 minutes say a great deal more than others who take 55 minutes, which I consider a long time in this age. I really dislike the attitude of some of my preaching brethren in this respect. But in the adage of the old timer: "The mind will not absorb what the seat will not endure."

There are special circumstances - for instance, lectures and Bible classes-where this principle will not apply. But in most cases the attention span of listeners is much shorter than the sermons we preach.

While some of us might not like the meetings pared down to three days or one day, it's what we have to work with, so let's make the best of it and give them something worthwhile.

(Editor's note: A 55-minute sermon heard on a padded pew in an air-conditioned building is too long, but a 3-hour football game witnessed while sitting on hard benches in rain, snow, sleet, and hail is not long enough. Perhaps we need to rewrite the familiar song to read "Tell me the story of Jesus, but make it snappy," or "I love to hear the story, in 30 minutes and no longer. " Brother Smithson is right, preachers need to get to the point and not waste the time of the listener. Most sermons can be presented in half an hour, but if the material demands it, the listener should be willing to lend an ear for as long as it takes. The trick is making the message meaty and not just long-but taking as much time as the lesson demands. - H. A. (Buster) Dobbs)

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Published December 1992