Several years ago I stood up to preach the message and casually remarked that the clock on my pulpit was flashing, indicating that the battery was dead. Almost immediately several people in the congregation offered to give me their watches for the duration of the service.
There’s one person in the church who needs to know what time it is, and that is the pastor.
The obvious reference relates to actual time, in terms of hours and minutes. I don’t have anyone telling me how long to preach, but as a general rule try to finish preaching before the people finish listening. And as one preaching professor said to us young ministers “you’ll rarely hear a church member complain about a short sermon!”
Pastors need to know the time in another way, and that relates to the occasion and experience of the church’s health and vitality. It’s an important responsibility to stand before God’s people every Sunday, and a good way to remain effective is to stay connected to the people’s needs and life situations. There’s a lot of pain out there, and serious challenges as well. It’s a good idea to have something to say on Sunday rather than have to say something. I read about one retiring pastor saying “I can’t remember how many sermons I have preached, but can remember the good ones I have on one hand.” I loved that.
I came across a great article about ministers “keeping the ‘ha’ in hallelujah.” It is a helpful reminder about the task that ministers have in easing the burdens of their people. It doesn’t mean that the people aren’t to be challenged in their faith or walk with God, but rather that folks are hurting and need to hear an encouraging word from the pulpit rather than condemnation. I don’t think it hurts to incorporate humor if that is the personality of the speaker, and a good story helps ease the transition into the message.
Finally, and somewhat related, outgoing pastor of 7th and James Baptist Church in Waco, TX, Raymond Bailey, gave some interesting reflections about preaching for 50 years. It’s worth noting that the desire for relevance is a lifelong journey, and the traveller must take note of the time along the way.