“Now, in closing,”

Church culture comes replete with its own preacher jokes.  The other day an acquaintance of mine asked me, “Do you know what it usually means when a pastor says, ‘Now, in closing?’”
“Absolutely nothing,” he laughed! 
Billy Graham loved to tell this story about a long- winded preacher:  Two men were sitting on the front row in church when one took off his shoe to throw at the preacher.  However, his aim was way off and the shoe hit a man in the head sitting across the aisle.  After a few seconds the second man yelled, “Throw your other shoe, I can still hear him!”
My homiletics (art of preaching) professor in Bible School was famous for saying, “Stand up so they can see you, speak up so they can ear you, and sit down so they will love you.”  Long-winded preachers have been the butt of jokes forever, but the fact remains that “our ears can only hear what our seats can endure.” 
Years ago, my family and I went to hear a nationally acclaimed speaker, who was known for his wonderful insights into God’s Word.  He had a reputation for moving crowds.  However, we were all extremely exhausted when after four hours the man quit preaching.  Yes – four hours!  Perhaps the Apostle Paul was long-winded, too.  Do you remember a young man by the name of Eutychus, who fell to his death from a second floor window while Paul was preaching (Acts 20:9)?  It was good of Paul to raise him back to life, since he had been so long-winded!
Long is not necessarily better.  Gospel communicators are entrusted with earth’s greatest message.  But we don’t need to preach through the Bible in one sitting! 
Today’s audiences are more time conscious than ever before.  What we say must be communicated quickly and effectively.  We must pack the biggest punch we can in a reasonable amount of time, asking the Lord to drive our words, illustrations and thoughts like an arrow to the hearts of our listeners.
I have been challenged by the Lord to deliver one key thought in each message, using sub-points and illustrations to support that thought – then trusting the Lord to drive it home.  I might not always achieve my objective perfectly, but this I know, we who minister the Word of God to a very mind-cluttered culture need not add to their stress, but offer a word that methodically and with the Spirit’s anointing brings salvation, help and encouragement to fast-paced lifestyles.
I certainly don’t want to do what a guest speaker did in one of my churches.  He had already preached a fine message when I heard him say, “Now in closing I have 18 points I’d like to share…” I, of course, thought he was kidding, so I laughed out loud!  Forty-five minutes later he dismissed the service.  Believe me, I was no longer laughing.  I could not believe his lack of wisdom and audacity to trample my good graces and steal the congregation’s time.
Well prepared and prayed over messages in today’s church, I believe, will go a long way to more effectively reach a generation whose collective attention span has been proven to be reduced.  I know this may sound funny or even unspiritual coming from a preacher in my faith tradition, but 41 years of ministry have led me to this conclusion:  Pulpit ministry should downplay the messenger and elevate the message in a timely fashion – trusting the Lord for maximum results.  Preparation is key! 



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