Thursday, December 01, 2011

"And Your Point Is. . . ?"

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”  —  John 11:33–36 (NASB95)

     [This] is often called the shortest complete story in English, supposedly written by Ernest Hemingway. It is only six words long:   "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
     That simplest of narratives contain elements of death, loss, brokenness, and a longing for peace. Its power, in fact, reflects a longing that is rooted in the truthful themes of the Christian faith.  –  Gene C. Fant, Jr., God As Author (B & H Academic, 2010), p. 177

Instruction in both writing and speaking usually includes the advice, “Keep it short.”

The most difficult job in writing is editing.  I write.  Then I try to reduce what I wrote.  I’m almost always amazed at the number of words I throw away.  What I wrote still says, and means, the same thing.

The main reason for making things shorter is for the sake of the reader.  Readers don’t have much of an attention span.  You either get their attention or you don’t.  You’ve got only a few words to catch them up in what you want to say.  Otherwise, they’ll move on.

Preaching is much the same.  People keep asking, “How long should a sermon last.”  You’ll hear a lot of sage advice.  “Thirty minutes!”  “No, fifteen!”  I actually sat in a 50 minute class for preachers where a college professor insisted that sermons last no longer than twenty minutes.  I asked him why it took him 50 minutes to tell us that.  He didn’t like my question.

A wise older preacher once gave the best answer to the question about sermon length.  He said, “Fellas, as long as you’ve got something to say, preach.  When you get through, sit down.”  I have found that is wise advice.  I just wish I could follow it.  But it’s generally true that people will listen to a sermon as long as the preacher has something to say.  But they sure wish he would sit down after the third time he says it.

“Short and sweet,” is what people yearn for.  But short won’t always do the job, and I think that’s something that should be said.  We preachers ought never take up the time of others just because we can talk a long time.  But it’s also true that sometimes, a short message won’t communicate all that needs to be said.  Take the gospels as an example.  Mark is short.  I love Mark.  I’ve taught it several times over the years.  One of the things I tell people is that it’s a short book.  It moves fast.  It doesn’t get bogged down in details.  So if “short” is really all we need, then the only gospel would have been Mark.  I guess the Holy Spirit decided that we needed something other than short, so he gave us Matthew and Luke, then threw in John because it was different, but not so short.  Speaking of Luke, put together the gospel he wrote and Acts, and consider that it was written to a particular person, and you’ll have to admit that Theophilus got a very long couple of letters.  How about Paul?  I think Paul would have flunked the college English course I took as a freshman at Ole Miss.  He would have been way to wordy for the lady who taught my class.

I’ve already cut words from this article.  I just cut four out of the sentence starting this paragraph.  I’m trying to be short and say what I want to say.  “Which is. . . ?”  I can hear  you thinking.

Preaching and teaching is a two-way street.  The one laying out the information should try to do it as briefly as possible.  The truth is, that’s not always going to do the job.  Sometimes, you need details, and additional information.  When that happens, you must not get anxious.  Take the time to learn.

“Jesus wept.”  Short sentence.  Can you answer the question, “Why?”  That might not be so short.