5 Ways to Conquer Sermon Prep Stress

Sermon prep for the bivocational pastor can be a challenging issue. From selecting the right topic to developing ideas in the midst of unrelated work, crafting a sermon requires forward thinking and resolute diligence. Whether you’re a novice bivocational pastor or a seasoned veteran, here are some ways I’ve learned to conquer sermon prep stress.

  1. Pray at all costs

It’s been said no man is greater than his prayer life. Considering prayer, quiet time, and sermon prep are mutually inclusive, one could also deduce how no pastor is greater than his sermon prep. Of course, ideas come and go and the needs of people change; however, the one thing that must never waver is the commitment to pray (for revelation, the people of your congregation, etc.) at all costs. preachingpyramid-1024x777

To put it another way, the foundation of any teaching must always begin with prayer since it allows God to be the driver as opposed to our own finitude. So whether you’re discouraged or simply have sermon writer’s block, pray through the grind and position yourself for illumination by carving out closet time between you and God. Oh, and while you’re at is, don’t forget to bring a note/iPad so you can jot down what God tells you for future reference (which reminds me…go see “War Room” when you have the chance; such a powerful film…you won’t regret it) .

  1. Look ahead

I’m a fan of living in the now; however, with sermon prep, looking ahead isn’t just a good idea; it’s absolutely necessary. For instance, there are times when God will unveil a sermon series to you, as opposed to a stopgap message. When this happens, there are two appropriate responses: 1) rejoicing and 2) projecting (i.e. looking ahead). Not to suggest a la carte messages are inferior; I’m just saying when you’re given a sermon series, it’s critical to a) let the Word/assignment marinate in your spirit so it can be processed and b) look ahead so it can be divvied up systematically.

  1. Take advantage of breaks

At my job, there are two types of seasons: busy seasons and “less busy” seasons. During “less busy” seasons, my workload will occasionally stall to the point I’m able to reference my youth pastor worklist (or my wife 😉 and chisel it down so I can direct my focus on other things (like this blog).

Granted, productivity can still happen during busy seasons; it just means anticipation must be met with greater intentionality. Case in point: during year-end closeout season (one of the busiest for accountants), I know at the very least, I have two fifteen-minute breaks and an hour lunch. This means regardless of how busy work gets, I can take advantage of 7.5 hours of potential prep time.

Of course, we all find ourselves in different boats on different waters in different seasons; however, the point here is: if you seek the opportune moment, you will surely find it (Matthew 7:7-8; Luke 11:9; Jeremiah 29:13).

  1. Flesh out the content

Some of my greatest pastoral mentors are known to manuscript their sermons. While I certainly understand the benefit of such an approach, I also know it can be more practical for some to develop a detailed “five point-ish” outline, with a clear-cut introduction and conclusion. Whatever method you use, make sure the content is fleshed out. By this, I mean a message with a coherent outline and an organic flow sprinkled with some applicable illustrations to help the audience track with the truth1.

  1. Develop a routine

Preaching is just as much week-by-week rhythm as it is in-the-moment delivery. While congregations and experiences vary, the common denominator for rotation speakers lies in developing a steady routine tailored to what works best for them. For me, I like devoting select days to content development/study and others to revision and delivery. Of course, each week is unique with the potential to go off-script. Yet, while those weeks can be unnerving, they don’t have to be as long as I reference an establish accountability system or development checklist. Doing so will not only sharpen the content, but enhance confidence leading up to the sermon date.

Perhaps you’ve discovered some other helpful tidbits aiding you in your sermon prep. If so, feel free to share them in the comment section below.

Footnotes

  1. I believe the most memorable sermons feature applicable illustrations. For me, if a powerful truth is presented without an analogy/work picture attached (or without it amplified on a big screen for me to read à tweet), it can sometimes go in one ear, out the other; however, as a youth minister, I’ve learned the value in bolding the truth by associated it to something presentable. At any rate, the goal is not to entertain and/or convince the audience of the truth’s relevance (i.e. let God do His job) as much as it is giving them a greater chance to remember it in the first place.

Photo credits: thefrontporch.org, preachersinstitute.com

How to Survive a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Crappy Day

Have you ever had a really, really, really bad day?

You know…the kind of day where absolutely nothing goes right…where the only musterable reaction is a masquerading laughter to hide behind…

Well, let’s just say I had one of those infamous episodes recently…

…one that was not only terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad all wrapped into one…but one that gave a whole new (and literal) meaning of what it’s like to have a ‘crappy day’…

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It all started last Wednesday when I returned home from a decent day at work, ironically enough. I was on the phone with my wife discussing our next-day travels to Atlanta when I suddenly slammed into a brick wall…disguised as an offensive odor straight out of a National Geographic documentary gone wrong.

The smell was downright unbearable…like fermented dung reeking from the decaying innards of an infested beast.

Okay, okay…maybe it wasn’t that bad, but clearly…something was not right.

I mean…if you deck the halls with cinnamon branches and autumn-wreath scented candles one weekend and a few days later, come home to a fragrance of “hazy aftermath o’ nuclear bowel explosion”…something has to be off, right?

At any rate, I could only pray the stench belonged to a recently deceased rodent rotting in certain porcelain confines. Yet, as I slowly crept towards Selah’s crate, the writing on the wall became quite clear…

…it just so happened to be in the form of droopy ordure (feces).

Before I continue, let me just say maybe someday, I’ll unlock the mystery of how projectile excrement can condensate outside caged quarters while also splattering the wall as if it was an abstract Jackson Pollock painting. For now, I’ll just say I found Selah miserably trapped in a sharty prison…and it was up to me to set her free from the demonic oppression that had possessed her stool.

So after spending the next hour conquering Selah’s anal glands as well as my chemoreceptor triggers, I contacted my wife a second time to discuss our ever-evolving Wednesday night gameplan. Initially, I was to meet Lyssah at church following [what I thought would be] a brief dog-sitting break to pick her up from a women’s ministry promo vidshooting for Sunday service. We’d then return home, eat dinner, and head back out to church for our youth discipleship gathering. But as it turned out, due to changes in Selah’s health as well as our church’s Wednesday night schedule2, Lyssah would have to forgo youth service to tend Selah’s “issues”, leaving me to fly solo on the youth front.

A perfectly understandable predicament…all things considered; however, having lost 45 minutes cleaning fecal matter, an additional 30 minutes due to our church’s Wednesday night time shift, and an additional 10 minutes of extra prep time as a result of Lyssah’s impending absence, I realized I had no choice but to leave Selah unattended, considering we had no “plan B” for her now “out-of-commission” crate.

Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but at the time, it seemed like a worthy risk. After all, Lyssah was already on her way home…and I mean, c’mon…what damage could Selah possibly do in just fifteen minutes?

Well, as it turned out…quite a bit actually.

Of course, I can’t vouch for every canine conundrum, but what I can say is at some point during that fifteen minute window, Selah had snuck into the bedroom, located the sparkling spectacle that was my wife’s engagement ring…and devoured it3.

Now, thankfully, I wasn’t aware of this prior to service; however, after returning home to a wife and dog pawing around the bedroom floor on all fours, it didn’t take long for any incurred exuberance to dissipate.

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A quick glance at my wife’s eyes told me everything.

Something valuable had gone missing…

…and something just as valuable had contributed to it.

Needless to say, once I realized our furry companion had consumed Lyssah’s engagement ring, I couldn’t help but wonder what the crap4 was going on. Yet, as I watched my wife morph into a modern day version of the woman looking for her lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), it hit me how our joy was being deliberately pursued.

So Lyssah and I prayed, packed our suitcases, watched some 30 Rock, then prayed some more…residually discouraged…yet hopeful God would shed light on the missing ring…and cure Selah’s rectal dysfunction.

The next day, as we started our Georgia journey, we realized we hadn’t taken every negative thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) to the obedience of Christ. Having recently walked this issue out with LEGACYouth, we knew full well what we needed to do.

First, we recognized we’d been under assault from the enemy. So we acknowledged our authority in Christ and rebuked his schemes. Secondly, we confessed we hadn’t been as immediate in our obedience to overcome. So we repented and asked God to forgive us and redeem any unsurrendered part of our hearts. Thirdly, we renounced our fear and replaced it with godly belief and truth. And lastly, we expressed thanksgiving unto the Lord for all He had done for us.

Once we took these steps and laid our troubles at the feet of Jesus, I kid you not…the atmosphere in the car completely changed.

Suddenly, we felt secure in our circumstances knowing we’d been given everything we needed to be content in the Lord. Suddenly we felt excited knowing there was nothing Satan could do to break our confidence in Christ. And suddenly, we felt hopeful that God would meet our needs…and then some.

You talk about a weary car-ride transforming into a triumphant road-trip…no question, we had entered into a new peace as we crossed over into a new place…both internally and locationally.

So I guess the moral of the story is: you may feel the emoji of your life is nothing more than a steamy pile of crap. You may feel burdened by adverse circumstances…and think there’s nothing you can do when the devil comes after you.

But I’m telling you…when you realize your joy is being pursued, pursue joy in the Lord right back…choose to see it as strength in the times you feel Satan is after your weakness. And if you feel powerless to do this, then just pray…even if you feel you don’t have the words or the energy. Why? ‘Cause it’s in these moments God wants to reveal His power to you…to encourage you…and remind you that He’ll not only strengthen you in the dark times…He is your strength every second of every day!

My encouragement to you, friends, is be unwavering in your courage, especially when Satan comes knocking at your door seeking to rob you of the light you carry. Rather than feel helpless and/or assume you’ve done something wrong, why not let Jesus answer the call. After all, as Billy Graham once said, He’s the best home security system there is.

Footnotes

1)  Nightly classes had moved to a 6:30-8:00 pm timeslot as opposed to the usual 7:00-8:30 pm

2) A last-second assignment that had just been given to us the day before, mind you

3) A peculiar stunt considering she’d never done something like this before

4) Pun intended


Photo credits: sarah.theworkexperiment.com, nikkifort.com, https://tm-pilbox.global.ssl.fastly.net