Elements of a sermon that works

What makes for a successful sermon? Keep it to eight minutes or less, and leave politics out, says the Rev. J. Perry Smith, a retired Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Florida. He writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Preaching is really hard, and many churchgoing people have no idea what goes into preparing a sermon. Perhaps they shouldn’t care, but preachers are disappointed to find that many folks think we just preach on Sundays and do little else. There are preachers who wait until Saturday night to get their sermons ready; they are either extremely gifted or stupid and lazy.

The late Rev. Dunstan Stout, a Roman Catholic missionary priest to the American community in Mexico City, was the best homilist I have heard, ever. I knew him in the mid-1960s, and he could deliver a four- to six-minute homily, hard-hitting and even accusatory, and everyone in the church believed he was speaking directly to them. “Any homily longer than eight minutes is too long,” he once told me. “Any homily shorter than four minutes is too short. A homily or sermon must be Gospel-centered and relevant to the listeners.” His final rule on preaching: “Never say anything from the pulpit that you do not believe.”

Read his column here. Before he retired, Fr. Perry was Canon for Pastoral Care at St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville, and is author of a recent memoir, “An Unlikely Priest.

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