Take a long, hard look at your calendar. One of the things you'll notice is that there is a Sunday in every week. If you are a pastor that means for most of those Sundays you will need a fresh sermon to share with your congregation. Does your church still have a Sunday evening service? If so, you can double the number of sermons you will need to prepare for the next year. That is a lot of messages you will deliver to mostly the same people each week which puts sermon preparation at the top of most pastor's priority lists. I think it is one of the biggest challenges facing many pastors, and this is especially true for the bivocational pastor who often has less time for sermon preparation. How can a pastor reduce some of the stress associated with preparing weekly sermons?
One of the best solutions I found as a pastor was to do a better job of planning my preaching schedule. Although I have blogged about this before I believe it is a topic worth repeating simply because of the stress associated with developing a new sermon each week. This time of the year, November-December, is when I did much of that planning. After listing each Sunday of the next quarter on paper I noted which of the Sundays were associated with special days such as Mother's Day, Easter, etc. to ensure I didn't overlook a holiday. I would then spend some time thinking of the areas where our church needed to grow and what messages might help with that growth. I considered any special emphases our church was having in the coming year and possible sermons that would fit those emphases. I looked for opportunities in the calendar for sermon series that would allow me to explore a topic more thoroughly. As we entered the summer months I developed a lengthier sermon series that would cover a book of the Bible or a significant portion of it such as the Sermon on the Mount. That series would cover the entire summer and sometimes go into the fall months.
I tried to work one quarter ahead in my planning. Usually, I would finish my planning with little more than a text and sermon title. Sometimes, I would jot down some initial thoughts about a text or topic and include them with my schedule to ensure I would have them when I actually began preparing specific messages. When I finished with one quarter I would begin on the next one. Very seldom did I ever work out further than two quarters as I wanted to provide myself some flexibility in case things in the church changed. I never felt locked into my sermon planning to the extent that I couldn't change a message one Sunday if I felt the need to. Sometimes I even switched the order in which I delivered the sermons if such a switch made sense. But, by doing this planning I felt much less pressure when it came time to prepare my sermon for the next week.
For one thing, I already knew what my main idea would be. I didn't have to spend two days trying to decide what to preach. That task had already been done. I could go directly to the preparation of the message. It gave me time to obtain any study materials I might need. For instance, if I knew that during the summer I would be preaching through the book of Romans I would begin looking for good resources well before I needed to prepare those sermons. Normally, unless I already had a good collection of commentaries on the book I planned to study I would purchase three or four commentaries or other study helps for that book earlier in the year. A third benefit was that I was more attuned to any material that I might come across that would be helpful for an upcoming message. I might find a quote in a magazine that would be perfect for sermon that was four weeks away, but I could put it in a folder now to use later. That eliminated my spending hours trying to find that quote I remembered reading earlier.
My sermon planning was very simple and low-tech, but it helped ease a lot of the pressure I felt before I began planning my messages in advance. For more tips on sermon planning and preparation as well as ways to reduce many of the pressures of ministry, be sure to read my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.