One of the most important priorities for the busy preacher is to make adequate time for sermon preparation. I have taken an informal survey of the pastors I know and asked them to rank their daily activities by their importance. Most rank prayer number one and study and sermon preparation number two. Followed by ministerial visitation. counsleing and church administration.
However when asked what they spend their time doing, church administration, counseling and visitation take the top three places. Why is this so? Because most preachers are reacting instead of acting. They are responding to the urgent need but not attending to the most important tasks. A preacher or pastor only has one-hundred sixty-eight hours in a week, just like everyone else. It is impossible to do everything for everybody and to be everything to everybody. So you must prioritize your activities putting the most effective activities at the top of the list. Preaching and sermon preparation must be given priority. Studying to prepare your sermon outlines must be given top priority in your study schedule. So, how do you do that?
It begins with making a weekly schedule. Every Sunday night you need to spend some time with your personal calendar planning what you need to do during the coming week. I believe that this begins with making a list of everything you know has to be done. This list will include, prayer and devotional time, general study time, sermon study and sermon outline preparation time, hospital visitation time and general visitation as well as evangelism, church administration, rest and recreation time and time with your family. Once you have a list of all possible activities you can sort them into these 4 categories. URGENT and IMPORTANT, URGENT but NOT IMPORTANT, IMPORTANT BUT NOT URGENT, NOT IMPORTANT AND NOT URGENT. Everything needs to be placed in one of these four. categories.
Make a box divided into four sections like the one illustrated, and place every activity of your coming week into one of the four boxes. You will need to make a decision on the importance and urgency of each item. Some items are urgent, they are already scheduled, they are out of your control. For example a doctors appointment, or a committee meeting. Some things are not urgent, they are not things that have to be done soon or at a particular time. Important things are the things that matter the most to you, or the things that give you the most results. Take some time a evaluate each activity.
The pareto principle states that 80% of our effectiveness comes from 20% of our effort. So with this "pareto square" we are attempting to prioritize our 20% most effective effort. With this in mind put all your known activities in the appropriate box.
The next step is to transfer these to your calandar. You need to start with box one, because these things demand your attention. They won't wait and they are important. Put these on the calandar first. If at all possible get them done during the first part of the week. Get them behind you so you can get on to the items that produce the most results for you. You'll find these in box three, IMPORTANT but NOT URGENT. These are things that usually produce great results for us. Like sermon outline study, prayer time, family time, even recretation time. Now, when I say schedule them, I mean to write them on you calendar at a particular time. Treat them as an appointment. This helps to safe guard the time from the time thieves. If you had a doctor's appointment you wouldn't schdule something at the same time. would you? Of course not. But how many times have you let small time parasites eat away at your sermon outline study time or your family time? Schedule them on your calendar, then when someone or something come up and demands your time you can honestly say you have a previous appointment.
Scheduling your activities also help you to discipline yourself to do the things you really want to do. Schedule your time with your family, schedule your devotional time, schedule everything. Now that I have said that, I will tell you not to schedule every moment of every day. Why? Because emergencies arise. Un-plannable events occur and you need to make allowances for them. So I advise that you leave at least 2 hours per day for the unforseen.
After you schedule quadrant three, Important but not urgent, move to quardrant two, not important and urgent. These are usually the things other people and the small time parasites demand of us. Schedule these in those empty hours and the hours when you are the least effective. Lastly deal with the items in quardrant four. How? Throw them out. Don't schedule them and don't do them.
Having time to study for your sermons and for making sermon outlines is a matter of discipline. Discipleship is rooted in discipline.
When I first started preaching I bought a book of sermon outlines. I thought that it would come in handy on those busy weeks when I didn't have time or was just too lazy to write a new sermon of my own. But I discovered that these sermons just did not sound like me. They didn't fit my style and they didn't address the need of my congregation. Yes, I kept the books, just in case I might need them. Over the next 30 years I have scanned these sermons again and again yet they are still as usless to me as they were the day I bought them.
Preaching is personal. It is you the preacher delivering a special message from God to your congregation at that particular time. Because of the personal timely nature of preaching it is impossible for you to preach another preacher's sermons. That is, unless you work hard to make it your own sermon. Eternal truth is universal so the great truthes of a sermon my transfer from one preacher's sermon to another's. The skeleton is the same. But the flesh is different. The look and feel is different. God has given you a unique personality so that you can preach His message within the unique framework of your personality and history. Your sermon is a unique conversation between God and the congregation. Could you imagine trying to have a timely conversation with your friend and instead of interacting with you, she was reading from a script she got off the internet? The first reason you should preach your own sermons is that preaching is personal.
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Not Urgent, Not Important
Making Time to Create Them
The length of the average sermon has changed over the past century. Even 4 decades ago it was not unusual for a sermon to last over one hour. Today if you preach over an hour your congregation will grow restless and a lot of people will even get up an leave. What has changed?
Two main factors have changed in our culture that effect the length of time people are willing to sit in church and listen to a sermon. First of all I believe that people have become more impatient. We live in an instant world. We have instant grits (I am from the South) instant potatoes, instant coffee, instant tea, instant cameras, fast food restaurants, fast lanes and now people need fast sermons. We have become accustomed to having our news condensed from a multipage newspaper to the Headline News chanel where you get 'all the news' every 10 minutes. I am not surprised that our congregations are impatient with long sermons.
The second factor is that we are bombarded with an overload of intensly stimulating entertainment. Almost everyone is addicted to TV and its hyper-stimulation of our senses. For a show to become top rated is must be bigger, louder, more action packed than its competition. As a result we have become numb to the more subtile values of speech and personal relationships. A sermon doesn't have the sensory impact of a TV show. As a result the modern, over stimulated, listner soon loses interest in a sermon. So, what are we to do about it.
First of all we need NOT to try to compete with the worldly entertainment industry. Bigger, louder, more exciting and more 'show biz', is not the answer. Preaching and sermons are not to be entertaining. However, they don't have to be boring.
Sermons need to be interesting and they CAN be if the preacher will spend the time and energy to properly develop them and relate them to the congregation. The biggest problem with sermons today is that they are delivered to the wrong part of the human body. In general sermons should be aimed at the heart, not the head. They should be delivered from the heart of the preacher not his head. This means that he needs to be intense and intensely believe in the message he is delivering. Sermons are boring because the preacher is bored. The same preacher who will scream and holler at his son's football game comes to the pulpit cold and without passion. A sermon delivered without passion is just a speech (a boring one).
If we are to overcome the short attention span of the modern listener it will be because we grab his attention with our passion. Be passionate, catch fire, and preach an organized message with fervor.
Of course it takes more than wildfire to win men to the Lord and it takes more than unbridled enthusiasm to build a church. I will speak more about this next week. Until then, I suggest you check out the sermon course called Preaching with Power. It will teach you the techniques that allow your passion and enthusiam to be harnessed and applied to the sermon.
A sermon is a living communication. It gains its life from the interaction between the preacher and his listeners. Because of this it is impossible to preach a living, vibrant sermon by reading a manuscript. A sermon must have the flexibility to warp and change as the interaction between preacher and listner changes. The preacher need to observe the reaction of the congregation and let these observations modify his words, delivery and emotion.
This is why I advocate preaching from notes. Not an extensive, detailed outline, but a skeletal outline of no more than about 500 words maximum. Why bother to even use notes? Why not be extemporanious? The reason to use notes is so you will stay on track with the sermon and not become unorganized in your sermon. People can only take away from a sermon a few key ideas. When you use sermon notes you are certain to get these key ideas across. The worst habit preachers have to trying to say too much in one sermon. I have a preacher friend who I continually have to remind not to preach the total Bible in each sermon. By using sermon notes you stick to your intended subject so your reach the goal or purpose of the sermon.
Using an outline doesn't eliminate study. You have to have your mind and heart full of material in order to flesh out the skeletal outline as you preach. So you must have studied well for the sermon. Using a directed method of study as I teach in the Preaching With Power course will help you prepare a good outline and be ready to flesh it out 'live' in in the pulpit.
Remember that if your sermon is to have power it must be alive, dynamic and able to change as the congregations reactions change.
A Sermon is a Living Communication
You Face a Gigantic Challenge Every Week.
You must preach, one, two and possibly three sermons to a congregation that has already heard you speak many times. This is a gargantuan task because your congregation expects your sermons to be fresh, interesting, dynamic and challenging. They are looking to you to bring them a fresh insight from the Bible. They are looking to you to bring them guidance for their lives. They are expecting you to challenge them, inspire them and motivate them. They want a personal message. Not something generic, not something canned or copied. They deserve to receive God's message for them for that particular moment. However, there is a problem. There doesn't seem to be enough hours in a week.
To meet this challenge requires hours of research and study. It requires time spent secluded with God's word, mining its riches for just the right nugget for that sermon. However, there is a problem. Your ministry has other obligations also. There are visits to the hospital and visits to prospects in addition to organizational meetings, civic meetings and the many other administrative tasks of the ministry. With only one hundred sixty eight hours in a week, how can you do everything expected and required of you and spend the necessary time to properly prepare your sermons?
Many good preachers rely on using the sermons of other preachers. You may find yourself in a pinch for time, so you open a book of sermons or a collection of sermon outlines and you copy a sermon. The sermon you borrow doesn't exactly fit your style, it doesn't exactly fit your congregation's needs, it isn't exactly right. But it will do for this time.
The problem is that this becomes a habit. You find yourself relying on OPS (other preacher's sermons) more and more. In this age of internet access you can subscribe to sermon outline services, you can download collections of sermons. You can get sermons with power point presentations, illustrations and the total dog and pony show. But are these what you really want or what your people need?
Sometimes you enter the pulpit unprepared. You have an unclear idea of what you want to preach and you are not organized. You do not have a sermon, just an idea. So you begin to preach without a clear directions and soon start rambling. Sometimes you lose your way in a sermon and start whooping to fill the time. This is not what you want.
You want to be able to write your own sermons. You want to preach sermons that speak to your particular congregation, not some generic congregation. You want to be able to preach to your people about their situation. You want to be able to study rapidly and effectively and produce quality messages for your people. You want to be able to preach with power and effectivene.
What if you could find a way to cut your sermon preparation time in half? What would that be worth to you? Suppose there was a technique that would supercharge your ability to see the natural divisions of a scripture and come up with perfect points for your sermon. What is that worth? What if there was a method of organizing a sermon that would make your messages perfectly clear to your congregation? What if I could show you a way to preach so that your congregation will respond to your sermons? Would it be worth a few hours per week to learn these methods and techniques? You bet it would. If you only saved four hours per week in preparation, that is over TWO HUNDRED hours per year! What could you do with that extra time? What would it mean to your congregation if your sermons became more pointed and effective? What would happen to your ministry if your preaching was more dynamic and interesting?
Let me tell you what would happen. Your ministry will grow! Your influence will expand. Your effectiveness for God will increase. My friend you cannot put a price tag on that! The Preaching with Power course can transform your preaching.