What follows is a blend of the funny and the serious, what some call “peanut butter and jelly,” the PB for nourishment and the J for delight. Please bring a sense of whimsy and expect to receive no sermon ideas from this! Thank you. –Joe
In the January/February 2015 issue of Preaching, executive editor Michael Duduit (and my longtime friend) tells of a fellow in Florida who carved out a slot in the Guinness Book of World Records with a sermon that lasted 53 hours and 18 minutes. Well, actually, it was 45 of his old sermons stitched together, not just one. Michael says the guy used 600 PowerPoint slides and basically covered the entire Bible, from Genesis to the concordance.
All of that tickled Editor Michael’s funny bone, as oddities in the ministry usually do. This started him thinking, “What other record-breaking attempts could be made by preachers?” After relaying his suggestions–with some parenthetical notes from moi–we will have an idea or two of our own.
Okay. Michael suggests the Guinness people might want to look at:
–The most fried chicken consumed at a church supper. (As a growing teen, I was perturbed by the way the church women would put the food away before I finished eating. So, determining to eat nothing but fried chicken–true story–I consumed 14 pieces by the time they were closing up shop. We never did learn my actual capacity.)
– The most irrelevant stories packed into a single sermon. (I’ve done this. Once I used a story from a granddaughter who is a twin. Then, I said, “As you all know, Abby and Erin are sitting here listening to this. I’ve told a story about Abby, and now need to tell a story about her sister Erin. So the following story has nothing to do with this sermon…..”)
–The most “and finally” references included in a message before actually stopping. (I plead not guilty on this one.)
–The most deacons packed into a church courtyard to catch a last-minute smoke before the service begins. (I don’t see this any more, but used to all the time.)
–The longest sermon introduction before actually beginning the body of the message. (I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually do hold the record on this, but thankfully don’t recall when or where. Or why.)
–The most points packed into a single sermon outline. (Michael adds, “The most I’ve heard so far is 27.” I seem to remember the inimitable Angel Martinez telling about his first sermon. As a teenager newly called into the ministry and completely ignorant of the correct way to plan a sermon, he gathered all the tracts from the foyer of the church and memorized them. Yep, he had an amazing memory, even as a kid. In the sermon, he would say “firstly,” and quote the first tract in its entirety. “Secondly,” and quote the next tract. I think the number went into the 50’s, but could be wrong. Audiences loved hearing him tell about it. Whether they would have enjoyed the sermon is another matter.)
Those are Michael’s suggestions. Here are a few record-setting ideas of my own for the ministry–
–The most “amens?” called for by the preacher. You know how this works. The preacher makes a point, pauses for effect, then says to the congregation, “Amen?” If they don’t spontaneously come through with sufficient verbal support on their own, he will draw it out of them.
–The most scripture verses cited in one sermon. I have a young friend who owns the unofficial record, I’m betting. I told him once, “It’s not really necessary to use every verse that applies to this subject. Choose a few of the best, and leave the others.”
–The most unprepared sermon ever. Every preacher should qualify for this because of all the times we have been called on at the last minute to fill in for someone. Or worse, we got to a meeting and found that we were expected to be the preacher. I recall times in my childhood when our home pastor would introduce a visiting pastor in the congregation and follow that with, “Brother Kennedy, why don’t you come up and preach for us?” The visitor would decline with all humbleness, insisting he had come to hear the pastor, but in my memory, the pastor would not leave the poor guy alone until he walked to the pulpit and delivered a sermon on the spot. When I became a pastor, I realized exactly what was going on there: The home church preacher was unprepared and found a convenient way to keep from revealing it. For shame.
–The longest prayer in a worship service. Now, no one clocked me, but I might actually hold this record. I once prayed the entire service. Really, no joke. It was a 45-minute Wednesday night service at church, what we call a (ahem) “prayer service.” So I made it one. That was some years back and I’ve long since forgotten the details, but I’m fairly confident I can recall what was going on. A few leaders were continually on my case about real and perceived failings of mine. One can take only so much of that before deciding to do something drastic. And for me that was to call the church to prayer and to make sure everyone prayed by leading them in a single prayer that consumed the entire time. At the long-awaited conclusion of the prayer, I ended with an “Amen” and said “Thank you for coming. Good night,” and walked away.
–The most sermons delivered inside a prayer. Every church-goer knows the process. In the middle of the prayer, the preacher thinks of something else he should have said in the message, so he says, “And Father, help us to realize that….” And later, “We know that Thou hast said in Thy Word that….” There is no limit to the sermons one can pack into such a prayer. That prayer could last for…well, for 45 minutes or more.
And speaking of that….
–The most prayers prayed inside a sermon. I did a funeral once in which I would cite a verse or two of Scripture, follow that with a few words of explanation, and then deliver a prayer. Another verse, another mini-message, and a prayer. It seems that I did it 10 times, but, as with the 45-minute prayer, that was a while ago and I forget the details.
–The most details forgotten by a preacher. I hold the record on that and yield to no man. (They ask me, “How many sermons have you preached?” “How many weddings/funerals have you done?” “How many people have you drawn?” And this week, “Do you still have that sermon on tithing you preached in 1975?” The answer to these and a thousand other questions is: “Nope. No way of knowing.”)
I can honestly report I own no actual records for anything, in the ministry or out of it. But I’m fine with that. As Dr. James Dobson said, “Sooner or later, life has a way of trashing all your awards.” He said that after seeing the loving cup with his name engraved on it twice thrown into the trash bin at his alma mater. He retrieved the cup and keeps it on display, he said, to make the above point.