I’ve been preaching for 30 years now. I’ve taken graduate studies in preaching. You think that I would have figured out how to preach by now. In many ways, I still feel like a novice. The task of preaching is so challenging that I don’t think anyone can claim to have arrived. I’m still learning. I still have a long way to go.
I’m spending some time this year working at my preaching. I’m going to be reading a book a month on preaching. Over thirty people have joined me. If you’re a preacher, I’d love for you to join me too. Check out this post for the details.
Here are three ways that I’m preparing to change my sermon preparation in the coming year.
1. More Time Meditating
John Starke posted a great series of tweets this past weekend:
Doing sermon prep on the road (planes, hotel rooms, and guest rooms) is super tough. Hard to give the time for reflection and meditation. I always assume I have more time.
Someone who travels regularly said to “you get better at it” but not sure I want to get better at sermon writing without much reflection time.
I think that’s the danger of getting better at preaching… you learn how to write a *good* sermon without spending much time. It becomes a formula. You can take short cuts without much loss in the short term, week to week.
An older pastor, in his 60’s now, said that young pastors should resist shortening their prep time for sermon just because they can write the same caliber sermon in shorter time. Use that same amount for deeper reflection and meditation.
That older pastor has deep rich sermons that feel like he’s been reading your journal, btw.
He corrected me when I wondered if there was a conflict between spending time in sermon prep and with ppl. The conflict, he says, will be with you. You have 45-55 hrs a week to spend with God and ppl. You have enough time in the week for it not to be either/or
How we ended up here by starting about traveling and sermon, I don’t know
I love that. We all face the tension of limited time in every area of life. It’s easy to short-circuit time spent in the text and to begin to take shortcuts. But there’s no substitute for unhurried time wrestling with the text, allowing to wash over us again and again, before we rush to preparation. The advice of the older pastor is good: “Use that same amount for deeper reflection and meditation.”
My friend Paul Martin gave similar advice recently too. “Do you know who I want to preach to me?” he asks. “I want men that are going to work their tails off getting to the bottom of a passage. Men who will actually work extra hours if needed to figure something out.” His whole post is worth reading.
This year, I want to spend more time in the text. I want to write it out longhand, to read it over and over again, to tease out questions, to refuse to take shortcuts through the preparation process. I want to give the text the time it deserves.
2. More Feedback Before Preaching
It helps to get feedback on a sermon before we preach it. I’d rather hear about the problems with a sermon when there’s still time to fix them. It’s why Mark Dever writes, “I build people into my sermon preparation schedule, including a lunch devoted to brainstorming over application and a Saturday night reading preview. Not only do these encounters improve the sermon, but I’m also able to get a sense of different folks, and encourage them.” Ryan Huguley offers the same advice. “While we cannot delegate the task of sermon prep to someone else, we can draw others into the process for the purpose of helping us produce better sermons under less stress.”
I haven’t figured out exactly how to do this yet. I’m thinking of starting a weekly Facebook Live session in which I talk about the text and the direction I’m going. However it happens, I want to ensure that I’m getting feedback on my sermon partway through the preparation process.
3. Greater Focus on Application
Shallow application is easy. Application to a variety of people, to groups as well as individuals, and that helps to shape hearts and not just prescribe behavior, takes work.
It flows out of the unhurried time in the text, feedback from others, and a deep pastoral love of one’s people. How does this text show up in the lives of the listeners? What does it mean? How can they not only enjoy the truths and riches of the gospel, but bring them into their lives?
I want to work harder at application this year. It’s just plain hard work, and I’m committed to doing it.
If you’re a preacher, I’d love to hear how you’d like to improve your sermon preparation this year. It’s not too late to join me in reading 12 preaching books this year.