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)
- 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 :-\
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?