A preacher’s week
Have you ever wondered how long it should take to prepare a sermon? I’m sure that each preacher will offer a different response to this question. John Stott suggests that the true answer is a lifetime, although in his book ‘I believe in preaching’ he does more practically suggest that 1-hour of preparation equals 5 minutes of speaking. Whether you agree or not with Stott’s observation, I thought it might be valuable to share some material from one of the sessions at our recent leadership development conference where we explored this topic.
Routine can be the preacher’s greatest ally; it’s all too easy to mistake randomness for creativity, and actually waste a good proportion of time. Wherever possible try to set a pattern for a week, and then stick to it. I find something as simple as forward planning can actually save me so much time when it comes to thinking what to preach on. John Stott helpfully suggests four different factors that should influence our choice of topic as preachers:
- Liturgical. What period is it in the Christian calendar?
- External. What is happening in the world, both local and further afield?
- Pastoral. What is happening within the fellowship and community?
- Personal. What are the things that are going on in our own lives?
Once you have selected your subject, the next task is to structure your week to allow time for adequate sermon preparation; this is one model you could use:
On a Monday spend an hour simply with the biblical passage. Printing it out and highlighting words or phrases that strike you, can be helpful.
On Tuesday take 1-1½ hours to read the text aloud, and then consult commentaries, exploring key words and phrases identified on the previous day.
On Wednesday set aside a couple of hours prayerfully discerning what the text might say to the gathered church. Sometimes I do this whilst taking a long walk, seeking the single point that God is placing on my heart as a burden from the text. Exercise is a proven method of improving your productivity and thinking capacity.
Thursday is the day to set aside for writing. I would advise some careful thought about where to do this; I have often used a local café or other such place, where I can be free of the distractions of email and phone. When writing I try to visualise one of my friends who don't yet know Jesus, and imagine this as the last sermon they might ever hear. It is amazing the sense of urgency this can provide.
On Friday attempt to stop and listen. Invariably it is a better use of time to spend the day listening to God rather than trying to craft something afresh, however you may need to tweak the message accordingly.
Unless the week has been especially busy, Saturday is a time to rest the message; like a good wine, there is value in allowing it to sit for a while and breathe.
Invariably life has a habit of not being this neat and we may have to adjust our workflow. Regardless of busyness, I would always advocate staying close to the text, staying close to who we are as witnesses to Jesus Christ and staying close to the people amongst who we are to share this coming Sunday.