In 1967 Charles E. Hummel wrote a little book, which he titled Tyranny of the Urgent. In it Hummel argued that we often live in this tension between the things that are “urgent” and the things that are truly important, with the urgent usually winning out.
As a church planter of a young church, and a father of four kids aged four years and under, there are many “urgent” things that pop up on a daily basis: a “well-child” check-up, a trailer that needs to be returned, the little red bubble on my phone that constantly reminds me I have 3,000+ unread emails…tempting my slightly OCD nature to explode…
There are many things that seem urgent, but in reality, they distract us from focusing on the truly important.
As pastors, one of the most important tasks we are called to is faithfully delivering God’s Word to His people (2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Timothy 4:1–2, 4:2-4, Acts 10:42, Ephesians 4:11–12, Colossians 1:28–29). This is a task we should take seriously; preparing our sermons should be a time we protect each week.
That being said, sermon preparation is not the sum total of our calling. As pastors, we should also be spending a significant amount of time in our community reaching the lost, discipling and equipping our people, and prayerfully leading our church with the Spirit-led vision He has given us.
So how do we find time to prepare a Spirit-led, meaningful sermon each week in the midst of all of this?
I want to humbly offer 5 tips that have helped me prepare:
- Make it an appointment.
Inevitably someone will ask me on a Sunday morning after church, “Hey, can we grab coffee this week?” which leads me to this moment of mentally thinking through my week and searching for openings. One thing that has helped me protect my sermon prep is to put it on my calendar as an appointment, reserving it just as I would a commitment to someone else. This has allowed to me avoid filling up all the gaps in my schedule and leaving no time for preparation.
- Prepare in large chunks of time.
I have heard and experienced that sermon prep is best done in large chunks of time. The heavy theological and practical topics a passage presents often requires “deep thinking,” thinking that requires time to wrestle with and sort through the passage until we fully understand it and can see a path to explaining it clearly. That cannot happen in an hour. And often, the first 30 minutes or so of our prep time is spent “de-cluttering” our minds anyway, giving us 30 minutes to actually start working on the text. So, schedule three to four-hour chunks of uninterrupted time, where you can work your thoughts through all the way to the end.
- Do word study and commentary work early.
I focus on doing commentary work and word studies earlier in the week, typically on Monday or Tuesday afternoon. This is helpful in two ways. First, it allows time for my creative/emotional thinking to recover. Come Monday, I am tired. The emotional and physical toll of Sunday is still having its effect, and it is hard for me to drum up the creative thinking needed to write a sermon. Second, I often find that word study and commentary work clear up any questions I have about the text. Answering those earlier in the week allows time for me to “let it soak” the rest of the week, letting God give the inspiration needed to order my thoughts and present the Word clearly.
- Keep a notebook handy.
As a preacher, I often see things throughout the week and think, “That would be a great illustration” (we can make anything into an illustration, right?). As we are allowing time for our message to “soak” throughout the week, there can often be moments of inspiration outside of our preparation time that we want to remember. The challenge is that with each phone call, diaper change, or counseling session, there is a possibility of forgetting that thought. Keep a list on your phone, or, if you want to go “hipster” or “old school,” keep a small leather, hand-crafted journal or notebook in your pocket where you can write down these thoughts for later use.
- Start, continue, and finish with prayer.
Sadly, I have to admit that there have been times I have had the thought, “I wish I had time to just pray about this” but have not. Preacher, you are delivering the Word of God, to God’s people. Your task is to hear what HE wants to say through exegeting the text and delivering it clearly and with passion. There is no way that we can do that faithfully apart from the inspiration of God. And if it is being done apart from that, it is missing out on the key factor in making that sermon life-changing, rather than merely entertaining.
Start, continue, and finish your sermon preparation with prayer. Get on your face before God, asking Him to reveal to you what He wants you to say, and for the passion and ability to communicate it well. If there is a “tough spot” in a passage, before going back to your commentaries, stop and ask the Spirit for clarity.
In the ongoing “Tyranny of the Urgent,” remember that the MOST important thing is hearing and sharing the Word of God, as inspired and led by the Spirit of God. The time spent in prayer for wisdom and inspiration is NEVER a waste.