Beware the pastor with no backstop.

One day, I asked my buddy which church service he went to, the 9:30 or the 11:00.

Instantly he said, “The 9:30.”

I asked him why and he replied, “At the 11, the pastor has no backstop.”

Although he was using the wall behind a catcher that stops the baseball in an unusual way, I knew exactly what he meant. At the last service of the day, the pastor has no governor. There is no other service waiting to start. There is no satellite uplink or next commitment that must be filled. It’s just all sermon, all day.

I get it. At 99% of the conferences I speak at they give me a hard finish time. There’s literally a clock that turns to angry red that I can see if I go over. And there should be, they have a whole day of other speakers that need the stage time. (I once learned this simple lesson, “Never follow a gospel singer with an active crowd.” That dude turned a 3 verse song into 27 minutes beyond his allotted time. I basically had time to get up and say, “Jesus loves you. Good night.”)

Now it would be easy to say, “If the pastor goes long that’s just the Holy Spirit showing up.” That might happen sometimes but what are we really saying? The Holy Spirit doesn’t attend the early service? The Holy Spirit likes to sleep in? Maybe get some sort of complicated coffee first from “The Father, Son and Holy Roast?”

Perhaps, but you’ve been warned. If us speakers don’t have a backdrop, we’re going old school, long form, good luck playing Oscar music to get us off the stage.

Without naming names or churches, have you ever had a pastor turn a single sermon into a long form revival?

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  1. says

    Yes! (And if you knew where I lived, it would make perfect sense.) It’s not so much a single sermon as multiple sermons loosely connected together. Ever sat in a space the size of a living room, with about 35 people, with a couple of fans blowing warm air around, when it’s 90 degrees outside, for 4-5 hours?

  2. Lizzzy says

    Yes. I was visiting a church of a family friend which was rather interesting as the parking lot had more Harley’s than vehicles and 94 percent of the congregation was decked out in leather vests and their arms were covered with Jesus tattoos.

    They had a visiting preacher from another church (another Christian biker gang) who spent the good part of two hours preaching about talking in tongues as the only gift of the spirit. Given my ultra-conservative Baptist upbringing, I was already feeling out of place with the applause after each song during praise and worship.

  3. Susan says

    I haven’t so much experience a sermon turn into a revival but – oh my goodness – I’ve heard a meal-time prayer turn into a 5-minute sermon on the need to repent. Really?! … I am not exaggerating.

    • Kesh says

      I let my Sunday school students take turns praying when we end class. I’ve got a 3rd grader who turns any “please pray for this specific request” into a 5+ min prayer that includes every request mentioned, a highlight of the lesson, and a reminder(prayer that we all remember) to learn the memory verse.

  4. Lauri says

    I was at a conference when a controversial speaker had 17 points and went 45 minutes over his allotted time. I was eh about his talk and started watching the stream of people sneaking out.
    We had an older associated pastor who would go long – we’re UMC at the 65 minute mark we get restless.
    There’s also a worship leader now that when he fills in as the minister does not want to give up the microphone even if he no longer has points to make.

    • Amanda N. says

      I’m UMC also, and our last pastor used to get super antsy if the joys and concerns section of the service went long (“I would like to ask prayers for my car’s engine, which has been making a loud clunking sound all week…”). I knew this was because he was concerned the service would go over the sixty minute mark and he would be hearing about it for the next few days. Our new pastor preaches longer and just shears off the last hymn if he needs to :)

  5. The_Other_Tom says

    Our church also has a large, red angry countdown timer that flashes “TIMES UP” when the Pastor is out of time.

    How do I know this?

    Because we attend the 11:00 service and it flashes every Sunday. This is when our Pastor usually mentions that he only has three more things to cover.

  6. LJ says

    One time my church had a guest preacher who was a young guy who’d probably just barely graduated from Bible college. He evidently hadn’t learned how to “land the plane” yet, and went on for 35 to 40 minutes longer than usual. His sermon wasn’t just long, it was also disorganized and hard to follow, with numerous fake outs (is he finishing it or isn’t he?). It got bad enough that ten to fifteen minutes after the service normally should have ended, people started getting up and leaving. I kind of felt sorry for the poor guy, but not really…

  7. says

    When I was pastoring a little church, we had a backstop – my organist and I both had to leave at 10:45, so that he could play and I could attend a spinoff church (albeit a much larger one, and one that had spun off nearly 150 years ago) just down the road.

    There was a preacher who had been slighted by my church many years prior, and I thought to be gracious by inviting him to preach a sermon – his first in nearly 30 years at this church. I was very clear – be done 10:45 at the latest. 11:00 rolls around, and he’s just getting started. I actually let the organist go in the middle of the sermon, and dutifully stayed *until 11:30!* at which point I thanked him perfunctorially… and never, ever invited him back.

  8. Ryan Reveley says

    A friend of mine and fellow pastor went way too long at our denominational meeting a couple of years ago. If he would have stopped half an hour into the message, it would have been perfect. But, he still had about 6-8 more pages of notes to get through. The president gave him the cut sign, so he left out a couple of pages. He admitted he went too long.

  9. Sharon says

    Yes. I grew up in a missionary baptist church. If the pastor got “in the Spirit”, we never knew when he was going to stop. This was especially true during night time revival meetings. I always made sure to do my homework before we went to those, because I never knew if I would have time to do homework afterward.

  10. rikomenzies says

    We held our first Holy Spirit Conference a few years ago. Our guest speaker was speaking on the offering, during which the worship team (co-led by yours truly) was supposed to wait backstage and come back out for the “slow set” after the offering had been taken.

    What was planned to be a short message turned into an almost two-hour sermon on the significance of tithes and offerings where the lead pastor and the guest speaker were ping-ponging off of each other. No notes. Just a free-for-all.

    Of course, everybody forgot that the worship team was backstage. No one was able to make a decision as to whether or not we should just go out and join the congregation or remain on deck. All we kept getting were variations of “I don’t know – just stay there for now.” We had time to order a pizza, have it delivered backstage, and managed to finish it.

    Here’s the kicker. After two hours of preaching on it, they decided not to take the offering so that the congregation could take time to find what it means for them. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great message and certainly Spirit-led. It was a timely word and it really transformed a lot of mindsets.

    It’s just hilarious in hindsight. We definitely changed some things operationally in the long run. I’m sure everybody in the main sanctuary could smell the pizza.

    • TarynE says

      This is quite probably the best possible comment. I just have this image, though, of you guys eating pizza and suddenly being called out on the stage and you have pizza sauce on your mouth as you start the song.

  11. Jarrod Nisly says

    If you have ever heard of Aaron Cavin, you know the guy is a gifted speaker. He runs a church in New England, (or at least he did last time I saw him) and he is one of the coolest pastors I have met.

    A few years back, he was a guest speaker at Lift Camp, and he was a crowd favorite. He preached one night on Saul and Jonathan and went an hour and a half over time!

    The best part is, no one got tired of him speaking. No one got bored. We weren’t even fazed. When he finished up and apologized for going so long, my first response was, “Going long? What does he mean?” Then I turned to see the clock and my jaw dropped. I looked around and saw that most of the other attendees had the same, shocked expression.

    Sometimes, being long-winded isn’t so bad. Not when you have the right speaker. :)

  12. says

    Oh man yes. I had a pastor a few years back that one time preached from 1030 till about 115. And me, as a young high schooler with an attention span of 20 minutes at most, you could see how bad this was.

  13. Lauren says

    Father, Son, and ????? Be careful how you speak about the Holy Spirit. I know this writer meant nothing ill, but still… Be careful, watch yourself and what you say.

    • spacegal2003 says

      I’m pretty sure that was a dig against Christian coffee houses that try to come up with clever religious puns as names, not about the Holy Spirit at all.

  14. Dave Elledge says

    Heck yeah!
    But how about funerals with no backstop? Been to a few of those with multiple speakers and, well, the guest of honor certainly isn’t going to get up and leave. So they just keep going on and on.

    BTW John, so sorry that Cameron Strang exiled you to “the internet. ” I loved you with more time on the Relevent Podcast.

  15. Eutychus says

    On time, I was with some friends in the upstairs of their house and this guy named Paul was preaching. It was really hot in the room, so I was sitting next to the window to get some air. He just went on and on for hours; well into the night and I fell asleep. Next thing I know, I wake up on the ground. I must have fallen out the window while I was sleeping! Everyone thought I was dead. We went back upstairs, ate some food, and Paul went right back to preaching like nothing had happened. Guess he didn’t get the hint!

  16. says

    At a professional and college athlete’s conference, one speaker exhausted his time and consequently started eating up the time for the guy who was supposed to follow him. Not only did the rambling man kind of lose me, it was difficult to watch the face of the man who was to follow. He was in agony, but trying to wear a smile – although it looked square. The kicker was when the first guy ended with his wife doing a flaming baton routine. I felt like I was on set of a Saturday night skit.

  17. says

    I went to a play staged by a christian academy at our state theatre. The play was, as my sister-in-law put it, “home made” but you know, you give these things a shot because it’s all about the message. After a tiring 2 and half hours the pastor walks up and proceeds to recap the whole thing, while we sit there thinking “Yes, we saw it. WE WERE HERE!”. Then he goes on to, “Is there anyone who would like to know more about Jesus” and specifically makes the point that no one would be called to the front or embarrassed in any way. Nothing. He repeats the call to action. Still nothing. He does it another 7 times. Eventually a few nervous hands go. He asks these people to stand up (after promising that that wouldn’t happen) and informs everyone that these people will be escorted into an adjacent room where they will receive further ministry. I was not impressed.

  18. says

    Our pastor’s sermons are usually around 20 min., give or take. But every now and then he goes longer. It is what it is. The Word ought not have a time limit. But for us self-obsessed idolators who have more important things to do (like brunch)…we will pinch out to God the bare minimum and He will just have to be happy with that, otherwise we will find a church that fits our schedule a bit better.

  19. says

    Not afraid to name names – we had Jesse Duplantis as a revival conference speaker on a weekday evening while I was working our middle school service. We went about 15 minutes long because we were told we could, because Jesse usually goes “a little long” – I came out and checked at that point, and I am not sure he had even started his message (he would have been speaking for 45 minutes at this point) – 90 minutes later (9 PM when the service started at 6 PM), he finally finished – luckily our middle school students were happy hanging out playing basketball and video games, but our preschool and elementary school leaders were about to riot. The only thing that saved them is that people slowly started trickling out about 7:45 PM and taking their kids home, so they only had to deal with 10 kids or so that were past their bedtime.

  20. Juliann says

    I was in attendance at a church service once where the song “These are Days of Elijah” went on for an hour and a half… We stood the whole time. The music and singing never stopped but the whole
    ‘Service’ was peppered with outbursts of tongues and prophecy. Every time
    You thought the pastor was going to take the lecturn, he was really just making himself
    Know that he approved and swirled his arms over his head as if to say, “one more time!!” It really was interesting. I know the Holy Sprit was there, because I was dizzy.

  21. Toni B says

    Several years ago we had a guest speaker who far overshot the 9:30 service. That service went until about 11:20. Some people left. Some people got mad. The 9:30 hour toddler teachers were freaking out because their replacements didn’t come. The 2nd hour choir didn’t know what to do. But if I remember right, 17 people were saved in that service.

  22. says

    As a speaker, it drives me nuts when I speak at a church and when the pastor stands up to introduce me he ends up giving his own sermon first. By the time I get to speak, I have only a few minutes left. I’ve also had instances where the pastor got up after I finished and proceeded to embellish on everything I said for another 20 minutes. Makes me wonder why I was even there. I understand completely that pastors have a calling and a heart to minister to their people. Unfortunately practical considerations do raise their heads. I’ve been a Sunday school teacher, I know what it is like to expect the parents to start coming for their children at 11:30 and end up winging it, trying to keep the kids busy as noon comes and goes, 12:30 still no parents, 12:45 still nothing…. As Jim Rohn once said “the mind can only absorb what the seat can endure” A good proverb for pastors to keep in mind.

  23. Kate says

    The best sermons I have had heard have had no backstop. I get everyone’s frustration but I wonder about our cultural expectation for clean and tidy experiences. Jesus didn’t seem to have a backstop either – people grew tired, hungry …hmmm and that’s when the good stuff seem to happen…

  24. David says

    It happened last Sunday. The sermon lasted 40 mins. Only on rate occasions shoul it last more than 30. Seminaries usually say 18 to 22. Several people were asleep. This article sole to me because I wa the preacher ! Plan to change this immediately. Thx.

  25. Brandon says

    You all are a bunch of wussies. My dad, a former minister, if he had to meet a deadline, stopped. Concluded the service, shook hands, then took his family into the car and continued right where he left off. Into the afternoon, and into the next week.

    PK’s grew up with no backstop!


  26. Thea says

    Normally my pastor is pretty good about going 30minutes and then giving me the invitation signal. But lately he’s gotten “excited” which makes for good sermons but they are getting longer. And prior to having my baby, it wasn’t a big deal. Now, I leave the service to a screaming child who wants nothing more than to eat and I’m the dining car. NOT COOL. And I’m not cutting my music shorter. Nope.

  27. mkj says

    Children are a great backstop. We have no problem stringing the nursery and children’s church kids in a line and handing them back to their parents while Rev. Longwinded is still preaching. Rather disruptive and noisy. Message received.

  28. Sean says

    Oh yes. Worst part of it was that I was the guitarist for the P&W team. This was kind of an ongoing problem with said pastor really. Back then I didn’t have kids yet- not at least until the last 1.5 years I served on the team, and it didn’t matter as much.

    When your wife calls you on the phone because she is sick of taking care of the baby by herself and you have been at the church for 7.5 hours now, it really starts to sink in. Needless to say, it was hard but I stepped down. God- Family- Ministry, in that order. If you rearrange the order, you will have problems. Just sayin’.

    I loved the “Holy Spirit” comments. Now I can put a Godly tag to my frustrations as a minister of music at that time of my life. I had a hard time

  29. says

    I didn’t grow up going to church, so when I started to my senior year of high school I thought it was completely normal to never really know when church was going to end. The church I went to my first year as a Christian is super small and only has one service at 11 am. The pastor goes long every single week. We even got a new pastor recently and it’s the same deal. What’s great about the new guy is he will throughout his sermon tell us that he knows he’s going long, but can he make a bold statement? This happens about five or six times. Throw in an alter call. And THEN he closes in prayer. Last time I went to this church I think I left around 2 o’clock.

    But, like I said, for the first year of my new Christian life I thought this was normal. Well, like most high school seniors I graduated and moved away for college. This was accompanied by a period of time doing some church hopping. And that’s when I learned that pastors usually have a time limit! Also, that I could have choices on what service to go to!

    Now I got to church at 9 am and it’s over by 10:30. Two years ago this concept was completely foreign.

    I love both of the churches I attend, but it’s funny to think of the differences.

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