Until recently, for the last 14 years, I have been preparing to preach or teach at least three times a week to a wonderful little church. It has been my greatest joy in ministry but it has also presented some of my greatest struggles. Week after week I would find myself in the proverbial ditch. Have you ever heard this saying when someone needs some help and they call you up explaining “my ox is in the ditch?” I would like to offer some help in getting the ox out of the ditch when it comes to sermon prep.
There are a lot of different statistics roaming around the internet regarding the average amount of time a pastor will typically spend in sermon prep. Depending on what you are reading and the pastor it is describing it is safe to say that the average time spent in sermon prep on any given week is around 15–20 hours a week. Now this will be much lower for the pastor who has way more going on than he should and it could be much higher for the pastor who has some staff to help with other pastoral duties. So just for argument’s sake, let’s say the average pastor will spend 15 hours a week in sermon prep for about 40 sermons a year. Now, this is just taking one time on Sundays. I am perfectly aware that more than most preach and teach at least twice a week and sometimes 3 times a week. With these figures, an average pastor is spending 600 hours a year trying to give the church the best he can week in and week out. It is not a far stretch to believe sometimes a pastor will experience his “ox in the ditch” during his sermon prep. The struggle is real! A pastor is trying to put together his best for God’s glory so that lost sinners would be saved and believers would be encouraged to grow in their faith. It is a burden we all bear and often times it can bring anguish even to the best preacher.
I would like to offer three ways to “get ox out of the ditch” in weekly sermon prep. When you find yourself in the ditch try out these practical techniques.
1. Pray – Yes, I know this sounds so simple and even cliché. But think about it for a moment. When you find yourself struggling to find the main idea or the take home truth; how often do you just simply pray asking God to illuminate the text? Do you believe Romans 8:26–27? “In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Trust God to give you what you need.
2. Walk away – Sometimes you just need to get up and walk away from the task. I can’t count the number of times I had to just get up from my desk and take a walk. Walk down the hall. Go tell a bad joke to someone on the staff. Call your wife and check on her. Just give yourself a moment away from the deep well of God’s Word before you get back to it. Believe me, it’s not going anywhere and when you sit back down you may find a renewed strength to persevere.
3. Go tell someone about Jesus – I believe this is the best way to get the ox out of the ditch. Nothing fires me up more than to get out of the office and into the community with the specific intentionality of telling someone about Jesus. It is the supernatural jet fuel that will ignite the fire in your preaching. When you sit back down to finish the sermon you will find yourself seeing the clear red-line of the text marching straight to the cross. Even if it is not your best work, one thing is for sure, you will use the divine text to point people to Jesus and there can’t be anything wrong with that.
Teddy W. Sorrells, Jr. is the Minister of Church Plants and Outreach Strategies at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, and a DMin student in Southwestern’s School of Preaching.