A Plan for Working on (Not in) Your Sermons

by Will Graham

At least 4,700 pastors admitted in a past Rocket survey that they wish they could be less involved in the micro-details of their sermons and still be effective as a communicator. When you’re a part-time speaker or only preach about 5-6 times a year, you have more time to spend fine-tuning the messages you deliver.

But if you’re preaching more than forty times a year, you haven’t such luxury. After a while, all the pastoral duties that come with your position have a practical impact … you don’t have as much time to work on your message as you would like.

Perfectionist or not, the time just doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever recapture that lost time.

The key to message quality in “zoomed out” mode requires a commitment to change. In order to grow as a pastor and a communicator, the old ways of sermon prep need not apply.

In other words, it’s time to stop preparing your messages like they’re a college term paper or essay, where the over-zealous prof is generous with his red ink all over your expressiveness.

After all, what’s more important, dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s of your sermon, or having that sermon truly connect with your audience?

When you realize what you want (connectedness, transformation) you’re more likely to deliver powerful messages that actually take less, not more, preparation time.

But the question is HOW. As in, how do you get to a point where you are delivering spot-on sermons without spending 50 hours a week working within each one?

The answer is a simple one. It’s a process. But it’s a process you can begin. You can employ any or all of these ten steps. They all push you forward to where you need to be …

Where you are dominating your sermon without it dominating you first.

  1. Define your ideal week. Yes, this one is about you and your time. Use any calendar software and mock up what your ideal week looks like. Michael Hyatt first wrote about this on his business blog more than five years ago. While the principles he shares are specifically for business owners and executives, the truth is, even pastors can benefit from the application of some. By defining your ideal week, you don’t get stuck doing any one thing to the neglect of other things that are important to you (like family time). You also don’t let yourself get robbed of the experiences that actually enrich your perspective and allow you to be a more informed, relatable communicator.
  2. Have a preaching team. So how does having a preaching team give you more time and opportunity to work on instead of in your sermons? Remember this: Although an Ox, by himself, is a very strong animal, two oxen working together have more strength than either one acting alone. It is a case of the sum being more than the parts. The Oxen not only share the load but the load is lighter for each one because of the sharing. There are people in your church who would volunteer their time, knowledge, and wisdom to help you prepare messages. Yes, you can engage volunteers in the preparation process. Even though they don’t get a paycheck from the church or have official seminary training, there are people in your church who can contribute to the quality of your message.
  3. Calendar. At first, creating an annual teaching calendar might seem awkward or unnecessary. It might seem like you’re planning out the influence and leading of the Holy Spirit. But as you move through the process, you’ll feel the benefit of knowing where you’re going. You’ll rely on the Holy Spirit more, not less.
  4. Feedback. But wait, wouldn’t having feedback, even from trustworthy sources, make you even more self-conscious  and perfectionistic? Well it might, in the short term. But in the long run, you’ll begin habits in your preparation that will act as short cuts to developing a better process. And a better process will lead to better results and less time wasted. Preaching Rocket coach Jeff Henderson, on a very limited basis, offers sermon evaluations. You should take advantage of his time and expertise.
  5. Systems, Procedures, Planning and Tools. Speaking of Jeff Henderson, he offers a 12-module program called Preaching Rocket. It offers pastors just like you the opportunity to get better as a communicator by offering the systems, procedures, planning, and tools that will take you from good to great in your sermon prep and delivery.
  6. Community. Learning from others to hone your sermon craft will take you from where you are to where you want to be as a preacher. It’s true. Sometimes just being in the right community of pastors will teach you things about communicating you couldn’t have learned any other way. Relationship is the key. As difficult as it is to prepare and deliver great sermons each week, it’s equally difficult to have good support and accountability when it comes to your preaching. Pastors who do better usually have the right coaching and community. Another Jeff Henderson resource, Preaching Rocket NEXT, provides ongoing coaching and monthly support where you get to be in a community of pastors and benefit from new and timely resources and coaching for as long as you’re a member.
  7. Tell a story. In our rush to communicate life-changing information in the form of a sermon, we must not forget this simple truth. Stories work. And the pastor should be the chief storyteller. Learning to become a better story teller will take a lot of the pressure off your sermon prep.
  8. Quiet time. Ok, this one might sound a bit trite. Another article on preaching that reinforces the importance of quality time with the Lord. But that very exercise cannot be underestimated in its effectiveness. Andy Stanley has often said that his job as a preacher is to simply pour out for others the cup that his time with God has filled. If you want your sermons to pop, spend some time getting filled up.
  9. Review. Spend some time reviewing your sermons. I mean really reviewing them. Watch the video or listen to the audio recording. Make a list of the 3 things you do really well that you should do more of, then make a list of one or two things that detract from your effectiveness. By making a grand list, you can do a better job crafting a sermon “template” that will serve you well.
  10. Invest in your training. Don’t cut yourself short. It’s true. Only those that invest at the next level go to that next level. Make a decision today to look into Preaching Rocket. It’s only 12 modules and the resources alone are worth the price of enrollment. Save 20% off the normal price just for reading the blog.