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Preach it, brother, but keep it short

TERRELL, Texas — Assemble an all-star lineup of some of the most powerful, passionate preachers in Churches of Christ.

Put these ministers on the same lectureship program, and give each 20 minutes to speak.

You probably can guess what happens next.

That’s right: Incredibly uplifting and challenging sermons. And, yes, stopwatches working overtime and the original schedule falling quickly by the wayside.

Maybe in some congregations, the preacher can wrap up his message in one-third of an hour. But at the recent 74th annual lectureship at Southwestern Christian College — the historically black Christian college east of Dallas — I got the impression that the buzzer sounded (figuratively, of course) just as each speaker was getting warmed up. 

“This does not work in Ethiopia,” a smiling Behailu Abebe said of the time limit as he reported on mission work in his home nation.

There, he said, he’d talk for three hours straight. Here, he managed to complete his remarks in about 30 minutes — only 10 minutes over.
What a joy it was to be in the audience as speaker after speaker offered a fresh perspective on the theme “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.”
Among my favorites were LaVance Wes Anderson, minister for the Downtown Church of Christ in Kansas City, Mo., and Charlie McClendon, minister for the Northside Church of Christ in Jacksonville, Fla.

Anderson spoke on ministering to the down and out in the inner city and the need to “talk up” to such troubled souls. That can require a preacher to leave his office, take off his suit jacket and brush elbows with someone who may reek of alcohol or smell like urine, he suggested.

Or it may mean allowing a person dressed in less than Sunday best to use the church restroom.

“We’ve had people steal our toilet paper,” Anderson said. “That’s OK. It’s 89 cents a roll.”

McClendon highlighted his congregation’s community outreach programs, including a youth basketball league designed to keep trigger-happy young men off the streets.

“It’s not about basketball,” he said. “But we knew if we put a ball out there, we were going to get the boys to come.

“Guess what?” he added. “These boys wind up wanting to become members of the church, and we end up baptizing their parents.”

Arnelious Crenshaw, minister for the Northeast Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, brought copies of last month’s Christian Chronicle story on that congregation’s housing ministry and distributed the papers to lectureship attendees. Brother Crenshaw, we owe you for that free publicity!

Larry Guidry, minister for the Crowley Church of Christ in Louisiana, also included the Chronicle in his presentation on sports ministry, highlighting last year’s feature on former Arkansas Razorbacks star tight end D.J. Williams, now with the Green Bay Packers. Brother Guidry, we owe you, too!

After hearing such remarkable men of God share lessons from his Word, the audience was in for a real letdown … me.

“You sounded a bit nervous, but you did OK,” said my 14-year-old son, Keaton, who made the 500-mile roundtrip with me and helped pass out Chronicle calendars and coffee mugs sent along by Editor Lynn McMillon.

Actually, I was a whole lot nervous.

But I was humbled and honored that James O. Maxwell, Southwestern’s vice president of institutional advancement, invited me to speak.

Maxwell is the father of James A. Maxwell, minister for the Holgate Church of Christ in Seattle, with whom I spent time this past summer while working on a Churches That Work story. (We also may have enjoyed a Rangers-Mariners game, if you recall my baseball column from a few months ago.)

My topic was “Multicultural Church Membership and Fellowship.” Now, that might sound like a peculiar assignment for a middle-aged white guy who attends a suburban church where most people look just like me, only skinnier and with more hair.

But in my Chronicle travels, I have written about a number of inspiring, multicultural congregations in the United States and Canada, including the Culver Palms Church of Christ in Los Angeles, the Northwest Church of Christ in Chicago and the South Burnaby Church of Christ in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

I was privileged to share some of their secrets. (My thanks to Northwest minister Patrick Odum and South Burnaby minister Kirk Ruch, both of whom provided valuable feedback and biblical insight for my presentation.)

And I made it to the finish line in less than 15 minutes. Did I mention that I’m not a real preacher?

Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected]

  • Feedback
    Brother Coleman,
    The Greek in Acts 20:7&9 says Paul
    DIALOGUED with those at Troas.
    Monologue does not show the BODY
    of Jesus, as dialogue does. Paul wanted ALL of the Corinthians to speak for God, 1 Cor. 14:24-5,31.
    Wayne McDaniel
    Northwest church of Christ
    Phoenix, AZ
    December, 6 2011

    I wonder how long was the Sermon on the Mount? Nuff said!
    Amziah Christman
    Oklahoma City, Ok
    December, 5 2011

    Brother Herren asks us why we should have a sermon at all “in the assembly of the church who has congregated for the purpose of sharing in the Lord’s supper?” Perhaps his question would be better directed to the Apostle Paul, who met with Christians who were meeting to share in the Lord’s Supper and took that opportunity to engage in lengthy teaching (Acts 20:7).
    Clark Coleman
    Rugby Avenue Church of Christ
    Charlottesville, VA
    December, 4 2011

    Appreciate the article. Thank goodness for timers! Given that the average adult attention span is 15-20 minutes, it wouldn’t hurt for speakers to organize their remarks to provide the maximum benefit. There’s nothing wront with short and sweet. The last thing you want to do is put your audience in a coma. God forbid that one of us fall out of a window (Acts 20:7-9)
    Loventrice Farrow
    Naperville, IL
    December, 3 2011

    I’ve wondered many times just how many people were on the verge of making the most important decision of their life but didn’t because the minister looked at his watch or the clock on the back wall and had to cut his sermon short to avoid going overtime in the pulpit??? Shame on us!
    George Sutton
    Laurel Avenue Church of Christ
    Hamilton, Ohio
    December, 3 2011

    Those speeches were at the direction of a college Lectureship Committee — not at the assembly of a congregation. Why have a sermon at all in the assembly of the church who has congregated for the purpose of sharing in the Lord’s supper?
    Aaron Herren
    Church of Christ at Rural Hill
    Antioch, TN
    December, 3 2011

    Just to be clear, the reason for the 20-minute time limit was to accommodate a lengthy list of excellent preachers. If they all preached two hours, they’d still be there a week later.
    Bobby Ross Jr.
    The Christian Chronicle
    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    December, 2 2011

    I wonder how our kids get through a one hour class at school , come to think of it six or seven in ehour classes each day. An how can fans tolerate two hours at a football game. I suspect the cause justifyingthe call for 20 minute sermons expounding on God’s word is far more serious. On the other hand maybe it is like the Jamaican brotehr said when the preacher sat down after 30 minutes. He pointed at his watch and said “This is America’s god.” (He also said Jamaicans were accustomed to hearing two hour sermons. Or is it a problem of thirst, rather the lack of it (Mt 5:6; Rev 22:17)
    James Mettenbrink
    Brookings, SD
    December, 2 2011

    Here in El Valle, we definitely have a multicultural church composed of people from the indigenous Kuna tribe, Panamanians, Canadians, and citizen of the U.S. We sing, pray, and read scriptures in 3 languages. 10 minutes is the average time for our lessons, especially since 10 minutes can easily turn into a 30 minute lesson after being translated into Kuna,Spanish and English! But… what a blessing of diversity of cultures and unity through Christ
    Lisa Carter
    Iglesia de Cristo de El Valle de Anton
    El Valle, Cocle
    December, 2 2011

    It was refreshing to read this story re preaching Jesus briefly.
    Jesus was always brief.
    Luke wrote that Paul DIALOGUED with the brethren in Troas, Acts 20:7&9. Even with the disorder among the Corinthians, he wanted ALL of them to speak for God, 1 Cor. 14:24-5, 31. The priesthood of all believers suggests ALL have some word to offer before God and others.
    Perhaps a better format would be 10-12 minutes,invite dialogue, then the balance followed by dialogue.
    The goal is the growth of ALL the body. Eph. 4:15-16,carefully read will reveal that each of us grows by speaking our faith.
    Wayne McDaniel
    Northwest church of Christ
    Phx, AZ
    December, 2 2011

    Sometime record the time it takes to read the Sermon On The Mount. Less than ten minutes. That’s supposed to be humor, Folks, but on the other hand . . .
    Bob McAfee
    Prestoncrest Church of Christ
    Dallas, Texas
    December, 2 2011

    Hi Bobby…not sure what a “real preacher” is but I suspect you are one whether you realize it our not. May God give us more men and women who will proclaim the word wherever they are.
    Dwight Whitsett
    University and Trent, TX
    Abilene, Texas
    December, 2 2011

    As for the wisdom of the 20 minute sermon, I only have this to say;
    “amen” Brother, “amen”.
    Bob Lutker
    Belton Church of Christ
    Belton, Texas
    December, 2 2011

    Great job, great article. There are times when I think you have one of the greatest jobs in the world. I state this on a purely hypothetical level, having no knowledge of your actual duties, and no knowledge of the flak you have to take. No knowledge at all.
    And I’d like to keep it that way.
    Brute Wolf
    Park Plaza
    Tulsa, OK
    December, 2 2011

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