I'm listening to several sermons by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, thanks to a Tweet from Phil. In the (very fine) sermon I'm just hearing, the Doctor just said briskly, "I mustn't keep you" — and it stopped me.
I realized that he'd said something similar in one or two of the other sermons as well; then I recalled that I'd actually heard it more than once from Lloyd-Jones, in various forms:
"I needn't detain you"Now, ponder that. Here is one of the most powerful, influential preachers of the 20th century. Should the Lord tarry, folks will still be hearing and reading Lloyd-Jones' sermons in a century, two, three... and he's worried about me thinking that he's wasting my time. "I'll not keep you." The beloved physician doesn't want me to imagine that he is taking my time for granted, or that he's presuming on me.
"I'll not keep you"
"I mustn't detain you"
Of course, it's a little ironic, this brisk language coming from the man who could preach a whole sermon on a single conjunction or a preposition. But even then, what he preached was full, deep, useful, meaty. Like Spurgeon who, famously, could preach wonderful sermons on the wrong texts.
One might say it was just an expression, or even a rhetorical device. I'm not so sure; after all, Lloyd-Jones is quoted as having said that he personally "would not cross the street" to hear himself preach.
A little appropriate humility might do us wonders in the pulpit.
More generally, I've been a younger unmarried pastor, and I've been an older married churchgoer. I have to confess, in the former role, I felt everyone should be at every meeting. In the latter, I see where that's not so easy. It wouldn't hurt a pastor to remember that he may be the only one actually paid to attend church meetings. Most or all of the others are volunteers, who work 40+ hour weeks and/or attend school and/or have to bus kids all over the place. Their time at church is important, vital, and costly.
So? So everyone involved in any aspect of leadership should remember that. Be thoughtful. Be disciplined. Be organized. Be purposeful. Be respectful. Be reasonable.
"Unspiritual!" Really? Is practicing Matthew 7:12 unspiritual?
Please note, by the way, that I've said nothing about how long worship services should be. I'm talking about how full they are, how wisely-crafted — in other words, what you do with other people's time. If others lend their time to your care, redeem it well.
I recall one church where maybe 45 minutes of content was "crammed" into two full hours of time. Rambling chit-chat, shallow choruses sung over and over and over....
I'm talking about planning out what you're doing before you do it. I'm talking about showing that you actually have taken to heart Proverbs 16:1a, 3, and 9, as well as the principle of 1 Corinthians 14:32 and 33.
There's a difference between someone getting up and free-associating through a 5-10 minute patchwork of "like's" and "y'knows" to open the service or expand the announcements, and some over-regimented military march. If the Holy Spirit is not well-served by an intricate and lifeless liturgy, neither is He honored by a vapid chorus repeated until emotions are excited or trances induced (or desperately sought).
Scripture is a book of amazing artistry and complexity. We hardly glorify its Author if we sidle into a text, wander around like Israel in the desert for 40 minutes (seeming like 40 years, to our poor victims), and then circle around and around in search of a conclusion, like a Christmas shopper seeking a parking slot in a crowded mall.
To say the least, it is not unspiritual to have an eye to the most respectful, fullest, wisest use of the time of the folks who come to worship, putting themselves under our leadership and care.
If you find yourself tempted to the self-indulgent laziness of bloated, meandering doodling, think of the good Doctor. Hear him say,