EXEGESIS FOR THE BUSY PASTOR

 |  August 7, 2020

The late Adrian Rogers used to joke that he would “rather be a Baptist preacher than have a paying job!” Clearly, as Dr. Rogers obviously knew, the calling to ministry is more than a job. But it is work. Regarding the work, every pastor quickly learns two irrefutable facts about ministry. First, there aren’t enough hours in the day; and, more importantly, it’s always almost Sunday! In both instances, we have to make the most of a limited amount of time.

Today’s pastors average working fifty-hour weeks, and somewhere in the midst of it all, they have to prepare to preach.[1] Thom S. Rainer, “How Many Hours Does a Pastor Work Each Week?” CHURCH ANSWERS, July 6, 2013,  https://churchanswers.com/blog/how-many-hours-does-a-pastor-work-each-week/. Accessed June 20, 2020. Sermons, after all, don’t prepare themselves.

We can’t add any more hours to our days; but we can get better at managing the relentless demands of ministry, especially as those demands relate to the regularity of preaching and the intense preparation it requires. From the preacher’s perspective, Sundays may seem to come more frequently than once a week; and we are responsible for at least one unique message each weekend, and probably more. When you consider the unpredictable nature of our schedules, with a myriad of other demands pulling at pastors, the week disappears quickly; but the sermon must be ready. How can you manage the demand?

The text is primary! We have to study. Exegetical study is not a luxury or an afterthought. If you’re a preacher you must prioritize your preparation. You need to spend as much time with the text as possible—and think in terms of hours for every message. The word “exegesis” itself is a clue to its prominence in the preacher’s life. It means “to lead out” or “draw out.” It takes hours to adequately draw out the historical, grammatical, and theological meaning of every word, phrase, and clause in the paragraph or pericope you’re preaching next Sunday. If you are committed to preaching two or three times a week, as many pastors are, or even if you preach only once, it is absolutely essential that you develop a strategy of time management for sermon preparation; or eventually, you will be overwhelmed by the load you’re called to carry.

Put your study time on your calendar! Never leave sermon preparation to chance. Treat your time in the study as a priority like your other most important meetings. By calendaring your preparation, you give yourself the discipline of getting started and the luxury of saying “no” to other good things. You have no priority more important than bringing God’s Word to the people.  Accept, therefore, the fact that preparation is the number one responsibility you have this week.

Don’t feel apologetic when you have to say to other invitations, “No, I’m sorry. I’ve already got something scheduled for that time.” Preachers have to say “no” to some good things in order to say “yes” to having a powerful word from God ready for next Sunday. Block out time on your calendar, and keep that commitment.

Start early, and stay after it! The first thought a preacher has every Monday morning should be, “It’s almost Sunday!” In other words, the priority each week is adequate sermon preparation; and it’s never too soon to get started. Over the years I’ve continued to develop the skill of sermon crafting. In my definition, sermon crafting means I’m working on the message almost continuously whenever I can. There will obviously be big blocks of time scheduled on my calendar for study, as mentioned above; but I will steal an extra thirty minutes wherever I can to work on a sermon. For instance, since I have apps on my phone that allow me to load books and commentaries, along with websites to help with Greek and Hebrew, I can translate a sentence while I’m walking the dog. With sermons due this week, there’s no such thing for the preacher as having nothing to do.

We can tweak our outlines while sitting on an airplane or read commentaries while marooned in a waiting room. We can, and should, copy and paste from multiple sources and save the results in our notes app. With our ubiquitous smartphones and tablets, the world becomes our mobile study. At the pace of ministry today, the art of sermon preparation must both adapt to and maximize the added leverage technology affords us. However, you may choose to redeem the time, make sure you give yourself every advantage by allowing yourself the benefit of hours of study every week.

No matter how long we’ve been practicing the art and science of preaching, we can get better. The 20th-century expositor Dr. Stephen Olford once said, “The only thing that will ever take the place of great preaching is greater preaching.”  Perhaps we could paraphrase and say that, for us, the only thing better than preaching is for our preaching to get better.


Kie Bowman is the Senior Pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.

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