Charles Spurgeon once asked a ministerial student to preach an impromptu sermon, the result of which deserved entry in the Guinness World Records for the shortest sermon ever preached. The student preacher proclaimed the entire sermon in three sentences. Appropriately, the topic was Zacchaeus:
“First, Zacchaeus was a man of small stature; so am I. Second, Zacchaeus was very much up a tree; so am I. Third, Zacchaeus made haste and came down; so will I.”
With that, the student sat down to shouts of “More, more!” from his fellows. “No,” said Spurgeon. “He could not improve upon that if he tried.”1
Several years ago, after enduring an extremely long ordination service that had entered its fourth hour, I was given the pulpit. The host introduced me by saying, “We are asking Pastor Cress to take all the time he needs.” (I concluded that surely there must be a better way.)
So when our Ministerial Association was recently assigned to plan an ordination at the headquarters for our world church, we purposed to provide an example of accomplishing the complete program in just one hour.
While we hoped to embrace our self-imposed time limit, we wanted to avoid appearing rushed. We also wanted the two candidates to feel affi rmed and to provide ample opportunity for their sponsors to introduce and welcome them. The 60-minute service that we implemented follows:
For the short sermon, I selected the following in 1 Timothy chapter 1 from the apostle Paul:
You are gifted by Jesus. “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me” (v. 12, emphasis added). The Holy Spirit personally endows those whom He calls to ministry. Beyond your natural capabilities and talents, your work must be fully freighted with the Holy Spirit’s gifts.
You are justified by Jesus. “Because He counted me faithful” (v. 12, emphasis added). God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, counts our efforts as His perfect will.
You are called by Jesus. “Putting me into the ministry” (v. 12). Our Lord’s mercy places us in service to His cause. With His call to our individual lives, He equips us to accomplish His work.
Your potential is in Jesus. “Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief ” (v. 13, emphasis added). Heaven is more interested in your potential than in your pedigree. Where you have been in your past life is less important than where God will take you in the future. The Holy Spirit repeatedly demonstrates what good can be accomplished by a life surrendered to His power.
Your message is from Jesus. “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (v. 14, emphasis added). Never wonder what topics you should preach. Consistently proclaim Scripture’s message of grace, faith, and love in Jesus and your preaching will both flourish and transform.
Your mission is from Jesus. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (v. 15, emphasis added). Your mission must match God’s message. The church’s purpose—as well as Christ’s goal for your own ministry—is to save the lost. Preach the Word! Call for decisions. Build newly baptized believers into disciples. This is soul winning. Heaven has no other priority.
Your example is for Jesus. “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (v. 16, emphasis added). Beyond eloquence, education, or erudition, the world needs to see the Holy Spirit’s impact on your daily life. The same apostle says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” You will be successful in ministry to the extent that you live your individual life following Jesus closely and inviting others to join you in that journey.
Doxology. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (v. 17). When God’s ministers actualize these realities, their lives join Jesus’ own ministry in a doxology of glorious praise.
To see the entire ordination service, view it online at www.ministerialassociation .com or order a DVD for US$10.00 (includes shipping).
1 Murray Watts, Preachers at Large (Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2001), 6.
2 Responsive reading and hymn numbers refer to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.
3 Suggestions for a formal charge and welcome to ministry should be selected and abbreviated from the Seventh-day Adventist Ministers Manual, chapter 15.