Whether one serves as a bivocational minister or fully-funded minister, one of the challenges he or she will have is to be prepared to preach every week. It really does not matter what else you had to do during the week, when Sunday comes you must be prepared to deliver a message to the congregation. This will be true virtually every seven days you are in the ministry so time must be set aside for proper preparation of your message. In this post I want to share some tips that helped me be prepared when I served as a pastor.
As a bivocational minister time was always a challenge. I found I could prepare sermons much more effectively if I had planned them well in advance. I always tried to work ahead at least one quarter in planning my messages. You can read how I did my planning in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry. By taking time to plan ahead I didn't have to spend time every week trying to decide what I was going to preach next Sunday. I already knew that; I could focus my attention on the actual preparation of the message.
Every pastor needs a good library. Most ministers starting out do not have a lot of money for a library so I recommend that a minister look at his or her library as a life-long investment. Build up your library as quickly as possible. Keep a list of books you want to add to your library, and if someone asks what they can get you for a gift you can suggest one of those books. Having such a list will help you find such books at used book stores, the Goodwill store, at library sales, or at yard sales. It is amazing what good books you can find at such places for pennies on the dollar. Buy quality reference books and commentaries that will help you better understand the meaning of the Scriptures and any background information that might help the message. Ask that your church provide you with a book allowance. My small church gave me a $400.00 book allowance each year, and I spent every dime of it.
A library is more effective when you have a good filing system. It's so easy to not remember which book had a quote you want to use about a particular subject. You can waste large amounts of time trying to find the right book without some type of filing system. The system I use involves numbering every book in my library. On my computer I have a folder marked "Book Notes" that contains well over 100 files for different subjects. When I am reading I highlight important pieces of the book. When I finish the book I go through it searching for the various highlights which I then type into the proper file. At the end of the quote I add the book number and the page on which the quote is located. My notation will look something like this 280.4 MIL: 47. With that information I can go directly to the correct page in the book to verify my quote is correct. While it takes time to put that information into my computer it saves me much more time when I'm preparing a message or writing a book because I don't have to take a lot of time to find the material I need.
Before going to my commentaries I will read my text from several transations to get a feel for what is being said. I spend time thinking through the meaning of the passage, and then I turn to the commentaries to see what others have written about the passage. Assuming I have properly understood the text I seek material that will help me with the specific application I want to make from the passage to my listeners. At that point I am ready to begin developing the sermon.
For many years I would write out my sermon in manuscript form and from that would develop an outline I would take with me to the pulpit. I seldom write out the sermon now. Instead I jot down what I am gleaning from the passage and from those notations I prepare the sermon outline. This saves me a large chunk of time, and I'm now comfortable enough in my preparation that I no longer feel the need to write it out.
With good sermon planning, a growing library, and a good filing system actual sermon preparation becomes much easier and takes far less time. It does take commitment on the part of the pastor. I always gave my sermon preparation high priority because that message was the best opportunity I had to connect with our congregation. Such priority reduces the number of "Saturday-night specials" that one will preach. Even in the busiest of weeks, if a minister has given proper priority to the sermon, he or she will carve out the time to adequately prepare the message.