How to preach 3 hour sermons (part 2)

How to preach 3 hour sermons (part 2) August 28, 2014

In my August 6 post I asked a simple question: Why men can sit happily for three hours at a football game but get bored 30 minutes into a sermon?

Some blame it on spiritual apathy. Others say it’s a matter of biology.

Before we get into specifics, let me blow up a myth: men don’t really sit through three-hour football games. They end up moving around a lot. They visit the concession stand for overpriced beer and nachos. They cheer when their team does something unexpected. Or if they’re watching at home they get up and make a sandwich during halftime and hit the head during TV timeouts.


Sermons are different. They don’t have a pause button. There’s no intermission or halftime. No nacho breaks. Men are stuck – and they know it.

What can preachers and teachers borrow from sports and movies to make their sermons more engaging to men? Here are four observations, based on my previous post:

Sports and movies are built on surprise; but sermons are utterly predictable

If I may be brutally honest: most sermons are completely predictable. Not in content — but in format.

The pastor stands up and speaks. He reads from the Bible. Then he speaks some more. As he concludes, he might ask us to commit our lives to God. Then we sing.

It’s not just the sermon that’s predictable. I worship in congregations all over the world, and in most church services nothing unexpected ever happens. They all follow the same basic script: singing, sermons, sacraments and socializing. More specifically: opening song, announcements, more singing, then a sermon, then another song or two, then an offering, then we socialize for about 3 minutes and go home. The elements are always the same – the only thing that changes from one congregation to the next is the order in which they’re scheduled.

So what to do? An effective preacher or teacher works hard to surprise his audience. You can too. It’s easy. Set something on fire. Splash water on the congregation. Take questions from the audience.

Too wild for your church? OK, try this. Next Sunday, come out from behind the pulpit.

If that goes well, then the next week walk down the center aisle while you’re preaching. Whoa! I know this is a big chance you’re taking!

Eventually you might even feel comfortable bringing an object into the pulpit. For example, if you’re preaching Matthew 11:28-30, bring your favorite easy chair.

The one constant in the Bible is that when God shows up, people are surprised. The unexpected happens. The Bible says that the crowds were astonished at Jesus’ teaching. When is the last time you left church feeling astonished by something that happened? When were you the least bit surprised by a change in the routine?

Sports and movies are built around conflict. But churches avoid conflict.

Have you noticed that everything is always great at church? We stand in front of the congregation and lie about our lives. How blessed we are. How perfect everything is.

Megachurches are great at projecting this image of invincibility. It’s that hyper-positive tone that I call “rah-rah for Jesus.” Everything’s A-OK, glory be to God!

Yet men are drawn to a story of conflict. This is why a raw, scary testimony is one of the keys to reaching men. Why bold truth-telling and honest confession pierces men’s defenses.

Preachers and teachers should be honest about conflict. And they should tell stories that revolve around conflict to illustrate their teaching. And by all means, don’t downplay the spiritual conflict we find ourselves in. Liberal mainline churches have driven their men away by de-emphasizing spiritual battles, right-and-wrong and us-versus-them.

Sports and movies are visually stimulating. But most sermons are audio only.

I’d guess that 90% of sermons offer no visual content at all. Nothing. The only thing to look at is the preacher. Nothing moves except the Bible, waving in the air, its gold leaf pages shimmering like a lure in search of a trout.

Thankfully, some preachers taken a baby step and begun using PowerPoint slides to accompany their sermons. But unfortunately most of these slides are all text. Death by bullet point.

However, a few wise communicators have begun incorporating images and video into their sermons. They build their talks around a strong visual metaphor.

You might say, “Dave, I’m a media illiterate preacher!” Fine. Try this: bring an object lesson into the pulpit every week. EVERY WEEK. Relate the object to your sermon. If you do this, within three years you’ll have a church full of men. I guarantee it. Men remember what they see.

Sports and movies create buy-in. Sermons often create buy-out.

What do I mean? A dull preacher just gets up and gives Bible facts. But a skilled preacher or teacher tells a compelling story. He draws you into the narrative. He skillfully uses parables and illustrations to make you forget you’re listening to a sermon.

In short, he makes you care.

Rick Warren will often break up his sermon into a series of 5 to 7 minute mini-talks, with a song, drama or video in between. Each talk builds on the one before, propelling the narrative forward.

Pastors and teachers, you are transmitting the most important message in the world. How you deliver this message makes all the difference – especially when it comes to reaching men.

The NFL season kicks off a week from tonight. If you’re planning to watch the game, do so with a dispassionate eye. Watch the many ways the broadcasters keep you engaged. Observe how you interact with the broadcast. Notice what grabs your attention and what bores you.

Then incorporate some of these things into your weekly talk. And tell us about it! What effect has it had on your men? Leave your comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page. 

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