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

Setting Boundaries in Bivocational Ministry: Part 1

As young pastors in bivocational ministry, we’ve had to learn many things on the fly.

From working with volunteers and engaging with older staff to developing curriculum and teaching the Gospel to diverse audiences.

But perhaps the hardest element we’ve had to adjust to is boundary setting.

bible_hammer_web‘Cause truth is: with limited time and relational opportunities, providing pastoral care while faithfully holding down multiple day jobs can be challenging.

Knowing when to sacrifice, when to engage, when to say ‘yes‘, when to say ‘no‘ …

…I mean, let’s face it: it can be doggone hard discerning the right move at the right time, especially without a solid game plan.

Yet, we don’t have to feel helpless or lost in the dark.

‘Cause when we look at Scripture, we find that game plan in Christ and his ministry.

Now, for many, when we think of Jesus, we think about the cross, a parable he taught or one of his many miracles. But perhaps one of the most underrated aspects of his ministry was how he shepherded his own heart by setting boundaries and accepting the limitations of his humanity.

Could Jesus have done more on certain days?

Absolutely.

Yet, could he have also overstepped the boundary of authority given to him?

You bet.

After all, it’s not like Jesus forsook his divinity when he took on human flesh.

However…even though Jesus fully knew his identity as the Son of God, he never abused this by trying to bite off more than he could chew. Why? Because Jesus…

  1. Understood the importance of rest…
  2. Understood how rest encouraged a lifestyle of obedience…and…
  3. Understood how rest maintained a posture of yieldedness, anchoring his priorities and needs to the will of God.

Thus, Jesus never flirted with the temptation to overextend himself, since he knew the right time to speak the truth in love, knew the right time to withdraw or redirect authority, knew when to call out unholy behavior and knew when to engage the expectations he had for people.

Bottom line: Jesus knew if people were to step into his yoke, then he had to have one to begin with. And he knew in order to cultivate the yoke, he had to rely on God so his allegiance, hunger and drive could be refreshed.

However, just because Jesus was driven, didn’t mean he was hauling 60, 70+ hours a week…as hard as that is to believe.

Rather, Jesus could have cared less about how busy life got because he knew he could rely on what God provided…and knew he could know God’s heart if he daily postured himself.

You see, Jesus’ ministry didn’t end with rest, it started with rest* . Jesus didn’t spend quiet time with God when he had the time. He made it his priority before anything else happened. Thus, when the time came for action, for teaching, for healing, for loving the outcasts, Jesus had the capacity to fully execute because his pace was still rooted in obedience to God’s will.

And for 21st century ministers, caught up in a “work hard to reap the rest” mindset, it’s easy to forget what Jesus did behind the scenes. But it’s here where we must redirect our focus and realize it’s not about how many hours we put in during the week, but what we do with those hours that counts.

Stay tuned for next time, when we’ll talk about the difference between walls and boundaries…and how pastors can effectively establish these boundaries (whether personal, ethical or relational) while also making time for rest, family and quality time with God.

Footnotes

* Gaultiere, B. (n.d.). Ministry Begins with Rest – Soul Shepherding. Retrieved September 9, 2014.

 

 

 

4 Ways to Maximize Time Efficiency: Part 1

paperwork-time-efficiency-02-22884394Have you ever wished there were more hours in a day? I know I have…many times, in fact. No doubt, in this day and age, we’re all circus performers, doing our very best to juggle all of life’s responsibilities. Yet, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we’ll eventually realize how easy it is to hide a lack of discipline behind a love of distraction. True, we may be genuinely busy, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we believed we’re busy all the time. The fact of the matter is: if we look hard enough, we can find golden opportunities in our day to be good stewards of the time given to us. And as we’ll discuss later on, in the case of the bivocational minister, such truth can go a long way in expanding the tent pegs of ministerial effectiveness.

So with that said, here are four ways one can maximize time efficiency…

  1. Create daily/weekly time blocks for quiet time, planning, study…and rest!

Call me “old-school”, but I’m a firm believer in purposeful planning…in carving out set periods of time to plan, prep and soak in the Word. I know, I know. I’m no fun. Psh, whatev. But seriously, we live in a time that tolerates a “go with the flow, pedal to the medal” philosophy. We think if we push hard and fast enough, we’ll get everything done the way we want it. However, the problem with this approach is it’s not a reliable solution. In the long run, such thinking will only lead to skewed priorities, relational frustrations and burnout.

Truth is: If you want to righteously juggle a full load, it’s imperative to employ healthy time-management skills. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, there’s a time for everything … but at the end of the day, it’s up to us to use it wisely. By designating daily and/or weekly opportunities for quiet time, planning, studying and rest, you’re ultimately embracing a balanced diet of #smartlifechoices.

  1. Maximize free time.

When it comes to effectively managing multiple agendas, a good place to start is by maximizing free time. As an example, let’s assume a bivocational pastor has a standard day job adhering to labor law guidelines, and thus, grants 60-90 minutes of free time between snack and lunch breaks. Do you think the pastor, in his right mind, would waste such valuable time on social media and Candy Crush Saga? Of course not!

In order to maximize free time, it’s imperative to breathe purpose into inevitable stopping points…from the mandated lunch break to the compulsory bathroom break. For me, often times, the best way to get ahead is to give myself the opportunity to get ahead. And when I slow down enough to thoroughly analyze a typical day’s routine, I find more time gaps exist then I previously thought!

And true, time may seem to fly faster off the clock or on the go; however, don’t let this stop you from effectively maximizing it, whether it’s balancing your checkbook, drafting an important text, making a phone call or outlining a sermon. Truth is: You’ll feel freer when you create more free time with the free time you’ve been given.

So press on, challenge yourself…and don’t allow yourself to be intimated by time restraint. Either way, the goal here is to find appropriate outlets linking the “light-bulb” ideas that surface at work to time blocks (see point #1) set aside to complete them.

Stay tuned next time for “Part 2” where I’ll expound upon my final two points