Most of you know the drill by now.
But here’s the warp & woof of my sermon preparation (in a very human sense, leaving out the terribly convicting times of prayer and personal introspection, which can be both painful and encouraging and is all too intimate for Diner discussion):
Step 1: To recoil and answer, “No.” The question is usually phrased thusly, “Hey, Brent. Would you like to teach from the pulpit on May 25.” The question is usually re-phrased thusly, “Would you be willing to serve by teaching from the pulpit on May 25?” The answer to the re-phrase is always, “Yes.” Words mean things.
Step 2: Spend two weeks mulling over the topic. I kick around all sorts of ideas on the topic at-hand. From Scriptures to use to illustrations that might work to needs our church body has to songs that fit to the amount of time for all of the above. This will border on obsession. Read the chapter you’re speaking on again and again. Begin reading commentaries.
Step 3: Pay close attention to the sermon on Sunday & listen to it again on Mp3. Begin thinking through transitions from last week to this week.
Step 4: Sermon week, Monday. It’s my day off. Stay incredibly busy doing menial tasks as you’re trying to have some semblance of an off-day and purposely avoiding thinking about the sermon. Yard work. Dishes. Keep radios on so as to focus on the plight of a local sports team rather than the sermon. Watch mindless television (re: pretty much all of it). Go to bed early, but have weird dreams and don’t sleep well.
Step 5: Sermon week, Tuesday. It’s a busy day of meetings. A late-morning one and a mid-afternoon one. At both meetings, you’ll try to focus on the topics, but the reality is that you’re wishing you were back in your office studying. People will talk about things very important to their particular ministry and you’re looking right at them but thinking about illustrations on what it looks like when people “bite & devour” one another. And added wrinkle for this particular week: You’ll have to excuse yourself from the mid-afternoon one because you’re feeling nauseous. That “feeling” will come to fruition and you’ll hope it’s just a bug rather than the stomach flu. You can’t do the reading you’d wanted as you’re still a little lightheaded.
Step 6: Sermon week, Wednesday. You’ll wake up relieved because it apparently was a bug rather than the flu. Blog extensively to avoid thinking about it too much. But, you have full-throttle excitement of a day ahead full of nothing but a closed door, a library full of shelves of books to browse, post-it notes full of illustrations that might work, ideas that might go somewhere, insights that really might be helpful for people. It’ll be 8 to 5 of nothing but potential…and very enjoyable. You’ll drive home thinking you might be on to something.
Step 7: Sermon week, Thursday. The notes are due to the office staff and requests for slides and anything else (like movie clips or song CD’s, etc.) need to be in by noon. This helps the entire staff do their jobs better. It could be pushed back if you get any emergencies on Wednesday that require personal pastor-type involvement, but ideally, you’ll have it done by then. The office staff will be very nice and tell you that they think it all looks good and it’s coming together. The afternoon is spent scripting it all out. You realize it’s too long. You might have to cut the exposition of that text by about 3 minutes, but that will wreck the whole point of the movie clip or illustration. Where else to cut? What else to emphasize or de-emphasize? Maybe there’s another text that allows you to do both! But, wait. That’s not what the writer emphasized in that text. Drive home biting your lip and wondering why you didn’t just say you couldn’t do it when they asked you to preach. Hope that The Office gives you a respite from thinking about it. Usually, it delivers.
Step 8: Sermon week, Friday. Doubt every single thing you’ve thought through and every single illustration you planned on using. Wonder why you paid all that money for seminary. Wonder why you’re in ministry at all. Wonder why Christ even bothered. Begin to believe that every single thing you studied was really just so God could convict you personally and cause you to grow and that you have no platform to teach others about it. Wonder why your church body keeps you on staff. Okay the notes for the Grapevine. Watch the slides and clips and agree they’re good to go. Leave the office thinking that it might be the last day you’ll ever be leaving the office because after Sunday your church will have little, if any, need of your services.
Step 9: Sermon week, Saturday. Do yardwork because you know you won’t feel like it on Monday. Listen to sermons of guys who are really good at their craft and wonder why you didn’t load sermons of worse preachers onto the iPod. Some time after lunch, go into a malaise about the notes, the clips, the text…everything. Shrug and say to yourself that there really isn’t much you can do about it now, that you’ll just have to go with what you’ve got and that Sunday’s coming and it’s just going to have to be what it is.
Step 10: Sermon week, Sunday morning. Wake up with a profound sense that this really isn’t about you and that really all you have to do is use His strength to teach His living and active word using the gifts and talents He gave to you to be faithful to His will for you and that he’ll use His Holy Spirit to draw folks from wherever they are to wherever He wants them to be. Pray with thankfulness for all of these things, and that Christ would glorify Himself…not necessarily in that order.
Step 11: Sermon week, Sunday, 7:40PM. Sit in the car and laugh because the reality is that your Sunday morning should’ve been how your Monday morning should’ve started. Wonder why this process is what it is for you and wonder why you don’t just trust God and do the next thing and save yourself all this hassle.