Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Problem with One-Hour Worship

From time to time through my years in Cedar Rapids, there was one man who would drop hints that he thought perhaps my sermons were a bit long and that if we would keep our services a bit shorter, we might attract more people into our fellowship. I catch a lot of grief about the length of my sermons (about 10-15 minutes shorter than my dad's, but still in the 40-45 minute range). Most of it is in the category of good-natured ribbing. This man was serious.

When he said that, I always gave him sermon 108b. It usually stopped him from saying anything for a year or two after that. I know, I am mean.

Here, in summary, is sermon 108b. One huge problem in American churches is the length of our worship services. There is simply not enough time in the typical American worship service to perform half of the true worship we are supposed to perform. The one-hour worship service may grow churches, but it destroys Christianity.

I am convinced that a biblical worship service would take somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Minimum. Look at biblical worship. It was many things. It was never brief. It was a day, or a half-day. At least, it was hours.

There is, I believe, a pattern to biblical worship. Psalm 100 tells us to "enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise." A worship service needs to begin with a time of praise. I am not talking about a short praise chorus, but a SEASON of praise. There was little I liked about the church we attended in Dallas, but we had a music team that would lead us in 15 or 20 minutes of uninterrupted singing to God. But I think this time should be interrrupted. People should interrupt reading scriptures of praise and voicing their praise and thanksgiving to God.

When you stare into the light of God, the first thing that you become aware of is the dirt of sin. The next part of the service should be a time of confession. This would generally be a quiet time of confession of sin, but also a time when those who come under conviction could voice their own need for forgiveness. Confession might offend man but it pleases God and the confession of sin would be part of true, biblical worship.

When you have entered into a spirit of praise and spent time confessing sin, then the heart is prepared to worship. Worship begins at this point. This is when you begin to introduce the theme of the day. Evidently, the public reading of scripture was very much a part of early Christian worship. Then, perhaps, the pastor would bring the message, taking time to exposit a passage of scripture and apply it to the lives of those who hear. With hearts properly prepared, the hearers would be cut deep by the Word and the Spirit could do his work in their hearts.

After the sermon there would be a time of response. No, not just an invitation hymn. A time of response. We would sit in silence, or perhaps singing appropriate songs to reinforce the purpose of the sermon, we would respond to the Spirit as He applies the word to our hearts. We would give him time!

There is one more aspect of this that I haven't even mentioned. In the early church, evidently everyone participated in the worship. It wasn't just the pastor and the musicians performing and everyone else being spectators, it was everyone having a part. This would necessitate smaller churches or at least dividing up into smaller groups.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Pauls says, "When you come togther, each on has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation." Yes, some of these things are a little strange to us today, but the fact remains - people came to church expecting to take part, not to be spectators.

When you add this all up, it is hard to see how you can do it all in an hour, or an hour and 15 minutes.

So, we can keep shortening worship services, but we cannot expect to experience the full glory of God in discounted services.


S Hyde said...

Hey Dave,

I agree completely. Especially since the Sabbath is the Holy DAY, it always seemed odd to me to rush in and out of a short service. I prefer long times of singing and a good one hour message with fellowship. Cambodian services are about 2-3 hours long.

God bless,
Steve Hyde

Rex Ray said...

Here is your old sparing partner at it again. After church, if someone asked, “What did the preacher say?” the usual answer will be less than a minute.
“What else did he say?”
“Well, he said…(less than a minute)”
“What else?”
“That’s about all I remember.”

So what’s good about an hour long sermon if people can’t remember?

In training to give our personal testimony, we’re told not to make it over three minutes, because people stop listening.

It’s been said if a preacher hasn’t prepared his sermon; it takes three times as long to preach it.

When Jesus preached, people remembered what he said because he spoke in parables.
So what good is something if it can’t be remembered and applied to our lives?

Dave Miller said...


My real point is that there are so many other things, beside the sermon, that we need to do in worship. We tend to just leave those out.

personally, I find 45 minutes or so is a good length to a sermon - if it is exegetical and expositional in nature.