For the person who is not clear on their thesis (what it is they are talking about), they have the tendency to take “rabbit trails” and talk about too much about too little too long.
For the person who is very clear on their thesis (and is a serious student), they have the tendency to try to give too much information and thus go to long.
So how do you balance the message and the clock (being eternal significant without be ever-lasting)?
I’ve developed a formula that works for me. At Fort Mill I budget 40-45 minutes for my message and the invitation. Factoring in that the average words per minutes that a person speaks is 150 words per minute I bring to the pulpit sermon notes that are no more than 2000 words; then I triple them (6000) to factor in all the extraneous words that I will speak (I do not prepare a manuscript sermon) and that—on average keeps me within my allotted time.
On one hand, when it comes time to finalize my sermon which is Thursday morning (that’s when I have to turn in my bulletin sermon outline) if I do not have at least 2000 words in my study notes I know that I have not prepared enough.
On the other the hand, when I finish my final preparation (Friday/Saturday) if my study notes are more than 2000 words (almost always the case), then I know that I’ve got to get out my carving knife and start cutting things out. This is where my thesis helps me. While studying I discover a lot of good information that I could share, but my thesis helps me to keep the main thing the main thing.
For example, this week’s message and last week’s message were originally going to be one message. However, because of the length of the text and the abundance of the material related to the thesis I knew that it would be impossible to preach it all in one message. Therefore, I was able to make a judgment call—based on my formula that I needed to either cut out mission critical material or preach two sermons. I choose the latter. But because of my formula, I didn’t go into the pulpit last week “hoping” that I could get it all in and end up wearying my people while not doing a good job with the important material the Holy Spirit had prompted my heart with.
This has really helped me over the years and I believe it will help you as well. I encourage you to develop your personal formula and stick with it—your people, through not aware of it, will be ever so thankful and your effectiveness as a communicator will be greatly improved.
So to recap my formula:
- My study notes must be at least 2000 word—this lets me know that I’m ready to prepare my message notes.
- My message notes must be no more than 2000 words—this helps me to carve out of my study notes the good but nonessential material.
- Then I triple the word count to allow for extraneous speaking and “being led by the Spirit” (Pentecostal preaching) allowing myself a word count of 6000.
- 6000 divided by 150 words per minute = 40 minutes
And who said preaching wasn’t mathematical!
P.S. By the way, there’s a version of this for writing things solely for reading. The average person can read 250-300 words per minute—I go with the low-end: 250.
Keep in mind, people are busy and mostly think in sound bites now days. That is why my weekly devotionals that I give my people in the bulletin and my daily blogs are seldom over 500 words—that’s two minutes; about all a busy person trying to get their kids off to school and themselves out the door and to work will give me.
So for example (I’m long-worded today) this blog, according to my word processor has approximately 750 words and thus should take three minutes to read; but then I’m writing to preachers and teachers—you’re used to spending more time reading and studying 🙂