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

Making Time for Quiet Time (Part 1)

Have you ever wondered how your pastor spends his alone time? Or what he does away from church?

I know I have.

In fact, I remember as a kid, thinking the pastor was like the Wizard of Oz – a man of big presence and mystery, yet shielded behind the curtain of Monday thru Saturday.

But as I grew older, and watched my dad make the transition from road warrior to senior pastor, I learned firsthand the importance of not only making time for God, but being a wise steward of that time.

And now, as a bivocational minister, I’m living what I learned, rediscovering the value of quiet time in an entirely new light.

Now, I know when we talk quiet time, it’s easy to get squeamish. After all, it’s not easy making room for it with so much going on in life.

But it’s not like pastors are any exception.

‘Cause with pastors, quiet time can get lost in the shuffle rather easily, whether in tedious logistics…like studying and writing out sermons, orchestrating service flows, making phone calls, responding to e-mails, staff meetings…or the personal items like counseling sessions, house church, attending important social engagements, hospital visits, etc.

And keep in mind, we’re not even talking about other full-time jobs, academic loads or family commitments.

But maybe you’re reading this wondering what the heck is real “quiet time” anyway?

Well, at its core, quiet time is time intentionally set aside for intimate communion with God, whether through prayer, intercession, reflection, reading the Word…or a combo platter of two or more.

So quiet time is basically premeditated meditation.

670px-Establish-Personal-Quiet-Time-with-Christ-Step-5However, for ministers and church leaders, quiet time can be a slightly more complicated issue.

For instance, many pastors prep multiple messages on a weekly basis, spending many hours submerged in Scriptures, commentaries, concordances, databases, journal articles, etc.

Is it okay, then, for them to occasionally use prep time as quiet time?”

Well, the quick, smart-aleck answer is: Of course!

‘Cause if you think about it, prep time is literally applied quiet time

 …yet, with one notable caveat: Prep time is  seeking God with an agenda, quiet time is seeking God for the agenda.

 True, both can be purposeful…and planned out in advance.

However, with “quiet time”, we’re talkin’ about a holy hangout we get to have with the living God, completely free of technical, relational or work-related distractions.

Pretty amazing, eh?

Yet, when we dig a little deeper, we find “quiet time” to not only be a conversation with God, but also a gateway to higher level understanding concerning the ways of God. Thus, if we’re truly thirsty to see our relationship with God advance, then spending yielded time with Him is not an option.

And hear me, guys, I know what it’s like to wrestle with a desire to spend quality time with God, especially on days when I have a lot on my plate or when I’m feeling burnt out.

Yet, whenever I find myself wrestling with the decision to spend quiet time with God, I ask myself:

  • Have I committed this day to the Lord?
  • Have I expressed praise and thanksgiving to God today?
  • Have I spent agenda-free time with God today?
  • Have I opened my heart to give and receive from the Lord today?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, then chances are, I need to pause and recalibrate through quiet time. And hey, if you run down the checklist, but are still struggling, simply ask God to fill you up with a deeper desire to know Him more. It won’t take long before He pours into you with supernatural hunger.

So coming back to the initial question: is it okay for ministers to use prep time as quiet time?

Well, yes

But think about it: wouldn’t it be better for quiet time to lead into prep time?

Shouldn’t prep time flow out of quiet time, given the point of either is seeking God first and foremost above content?

‘Cause bottom line: We don’t prep to have quiet time, but have quiet time so what we do flows out of it.

Matthew 6:33 confirms this:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV)

In other words, when we lay down our agenda and seek the Lord first, we’ll find He, in turn, will inspire the content for the prep. Thus, quiet time doesn’t have to hinge on our productivity or intellectual efficiency. Rather, we can rest in knowing God will be faithful to provide the timely word or revelation we’re looking for. All we have to do is stand at the door and knock (Revelation 3:20).

Stay tuned next time, when we’ll conclude this mini-series by talking about how ministers can tangibly model quiet time and how they can keep it from becoming a “grey area” in the church.