What’s Your Preaching/Worship Planning Process? Here’s Mine

Yeah. Right.

I love hearing how other pastors put sermons together. Advance planning or seat of the pants? Or something in between? Writing on Thursday or Saturday night? It’s all good.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me to hear that I have a process. I don’t follow it slavishly and it probably works as I intend it to less than half the time. But the Spirit works as much through intentional planning as the spontaneous lightbulb moment. This I believe. (In fact, I think planning makes space for the lightbulb moment to happen, but hey, I’m a J on the Myers-Briggs, I would think that.)

I’m doing a lot more series these days, and about 6 weeks to 2 months before the series begins, I’ll set aside a few hours or a half-day to plan. I put together a packet of papers with one page for each Sunday/topic/text. There is space on the paper for me to brainstorm specific items:

  • resources I already have for this text (papers from the Well preaching group I’m in, maybe a sermon from the last time I preached the scripture)
  • images
  • quotes (e.g. for the bulletin cover)
  • spiritual practice/insert—I’ve been doing half-page study guides for people to take with them and use the following week. These include questions, things to try, additional quotes. I’m not sure how sustainable this is long-term, and I don’t do them for every series/season… but I think they add a lot. They also give me a place to put stuff that didn’t make it into the sermon :-\
  • liturgy
  • hymns

I keep this with me at all times, so as I read stuff in the news, or ideas occur to me, I can capture them on the sheet. I also look through my Evernote files to see if there is material there that I can use.

Then this is what I do each week… ideally. *ahem*

  • Tuesday is a big sermon/worship day. I read the scripture text, jot down some notes, and figure out what is stirring within me. I re-familiarize myself with what’s in the planning packet. I also write the order of worship, but hopefully I’m not starting from scratch, thanks (again) to my planning packet. Lately I’m also writing the bulletin insert, called the GPS (grow pray study), on Tuesday. Getting it done on Tuesday means our part-time administrative assistant can copy and collate it in the bulletin, so it saves me time to get it done early, but this makes for a very full day.
  • Wednesday: I create a .doc for the sermon. That’s all I do that day for worship. But having a document ready, with the header and the text and all that jazz, is the equivalent of parking downhill when it comes to actually writing on Thursday. I will also do a little reading based on the previous day’s work—commentaries, Well papers, etc. But no writing. This is a blatant psychological trick I play: I don’t usually feel like sermonating on Wednesday, but Surely I can get the document set up in Microsoft Word! That takes five minutes! And read this article? No problem!
  • Thursday: I write a sermon draft. My goal is not necessarily to have it done, but to reach a place that if [random cataclysmic occurrence] happened over the weekend, the sermon is basically preachable.
  • Friday I finish the draft and write the prayers of the people. I also choose the hymns for the following week, which I give to my organist on Sunday so he has a week to prepare.
  • Saturday is our family’s Sabbath day so I do my level best to have the sermon done on Friday. That makes for some late Friday nights sometimes, but I prefer those to late Saturday nights.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook today that she’s “getting it all done 30 minutes at a time” (paraphrased). I say Amen to that. Preaching is a huge task and a humbling responsibility. The perfectionism and the immensity of this weekly task can be crippling for me. So that’s why I break it into chunks. And I know I’m not alone.

So how do you do it? Non-preachers, how do you “chunk” your work?


12 thoughts on “What’s Your Preaching/Worship Planning Process? Here’s Mine

  1. marciglass says:

    I am preaching lectionary right now, more or less and have my texts planned out through June.
    Monday and Tuesday I read through the week’s text and glance at the future weeks too, so that they can start simmering. I don’t glance at Hebrew at all (sad confession) but will glance at the Greek most weeks.
    By Tuesday I’ve read all the commentaries I’m going to read and then they percolate through my pastoral visits and other work.
    I tend to work ahead on bulletins so my administrative assistant is not waiting for me.
    Today I’m reading, because I felt that I needed to look at Walter Wink again before I preached “turn the other cheek”.
    I’ll write tomorrow. I’m getting better about getting the writing done on fridays, but often revise on Saturday. Our office is closed on Fridays, and I work from a coffee shop not far from my house, but it is where I can get work done.

    • MaryAnn says:

      Very nice… I am the same way with Hebrew/Greek. I’m actually incapable of working with Hebrew anymore.

      I tell my folks that Thursday I’m in my “sermon cave”… but that cave moves around. Today it was Panera, which my friend Michael says is Latin for “sermon birthing room.”

  2. anne says:

    i am lay so i don’t write sermons but many times during the year i have commitments to write ‘occasional’ poems—usually the occasions are birthdays or anniversaries or leavetakings (or funerals). these are poem that folks have come to expect and look forward to so i really do have to write them.
    during the weeks leading up to a birthday/anniversary/moving away party that i need to have a poem for i think about the uniqueness of the person/people and how they express their uniqueness in outward and visible ways. i don’t ever sit down to write the poem until a frame to hang the poem on jumps into my mind. if i hadn’t been preparing the way by actively thinking about the person, probably the ‘hanger’ wouldn’t magically appear, but so far it has always appeared and the poem just flops onto the page (waiting for rewrites/edits etc.)

  3. MaryAnn says:

    I realized I left some stuff out—namely, that on Wednesday I also tidy up and send the previous week’s sermon to our admin for copying and putting on the website. This can be a big task if I’ve preached from notes the previous week.

    Also, the Thursday bullet point looks so pat. I could write a whole blog post about the ridiculous ways I distract myself from writing the sermon. (SQUIRREL!) But I won’t, because it would be yet another distraction.

    I am, mostly, done with my draft though. TBTG.

  4. Kelley says:

    Panera is a great space for sermon writing! Latin for “sermon birthing room” just makes me giggle!

    Sometimes when Rosemary is at her piano lesson, Matt and I will wait the hour at the local Panera. I will work on church stuff and Matt either works or plays on his Ipad. 🙂

    I only wish I had something close to either Marci’s or MA’s sermon preparation process but what I do have works for me.

    I plan my sermons a month ahead of time so that we can post the scripture and sermon titles in our monthly church newsletter. So the seed has been planted and the “feel/flow” of the sermon has time to germinate.

    Tuesday is my bulletin preparation day (Monday is my day off), and the hymns and the bulletin are sent to the music staff for their perusal. Tuesday is also committee day, so after the bulletin is done, nothing else is intentionally done for the sermon/worship preparation.

    I read commentaries/writings/helps on Wednesday and more specifically I prepare for my Pastor’s Bible Study (held on Thursday) which is always based on my sermon scripture (usually lectionary). This has been a WONDERFUL help for sermon writing. I learn more from my bible study members than they learn from me.

    And…are you ready…I write my sermons, always, on Saturday night. I have for almost 24 years now and it is hard to get out of that pattern. I have tried and continue to try to make Friday my sermon writing day but I can’t get the acute focus I get on Saturday early evening.

    Thanks for the question. It is helpful and fun to read what each of you are doing.

  5. Kelley says:

    One more thought since you mentioned Myers-Briggs. I find the fact that I am a 20+ “off the scale” extrovert on the Myers-Briggs greatly disrupts my sermon writing process because I will choose to talk with and greet church members who come into the office when I should be attempting some “introverted” writing time.

  6. Keith says:

    Speaking for the unchurching…

    Since mine are novels (the first 4 took between 1.5 and 2 years each, and the current one is in the home stretch of the first draft on year 6), using days for different things never occurred to me. When I’m on a good roll, it’s a certain number of words per day, most recently 250. (That’s really low, compared to most people, but 1. I don’t outline, so I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what happens next, and 2. I’ve been really tired for the last 6 years.)

    So in terms of time chunking, I guess no resemblance. In terms of chunking conceptually–the bird-by-bird aspect–each time I write myself into a corner, that’s one bird. Then I have to either do some plot work to figure out why I did that and what comes next, which I guess is analogous to the prewriting in your graphic, or hide from it and work on some different plot thread.

    INTJ. Less than 1% of the world’s population, but you’re the weird ones.

  7. I realized a few years ago that I still follow the basic exegetical process that I learned in Seminary. Raw translation, word studies, outline, etc. with the intention of ‘hearing’ the text anew. That’s my Monday and Tuesday morning activity, so I’m ready to discuss with a lectionary group by 10:00 on Tuesday. Then, I write liturgy, etc. and turn hermeneutical, focusing on the meaning of the text for today. By Thursday I’m going homiletical and imaging how to proclaim it in our world, with my specific congregation.
    But, it’s all much more circular than it sounds. That’s why I appreciate your diagram, because each new opening takes me back both critically and creatively to the other places along the way.
    I love this “job.”

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