One of the most common questions I hear about being a bivocational pastor is how I make time for sermon prep. Most of the time, I want to say: By the skin of my teeth. The truth is, I have a weekly schedule, and it helps me stay on track.
Via Twitter, Lifeway’s President and CEO Thom S. Rainer asked pastors about the amount of time they spend studying for one sermon. The responses represented a slice of reality for many pastors. The key points I took from his post are:
- 70 percent of pastors’ preparation time is between 10 to 18 hours per sermon.
- The median time for sermon preparation in this study is 13 hours.
- Most who gave a response of under 12 hours indicated they were bivocational pastors.
I didn’t participate in the survey, and I’m not sure how I would have answered. Identifying my amount of prep time as a bivocational pastor is difficult because every week is different. Plus, it feels as if every spare moment often leads to thinking about the next sermon.
So with the hope of bringing some sense to it all, here’s a look at my week of sermon prep.
Start with planning months in advance.
I have my series planned for at least six months including passages, themes, main points that need wordsmithing, and tentative titles. I’ve met with our staff and elders to test the plan and ask for their input.
It’s critical for me to know where I’m going with my messages for an extended period of time as it helps me to spiritually prepare.
After sermon: Weekly planning begins
As soon as one message is done, I’m praying about how the next message intersects with what God is doing in that moment. My drive home from church each week sometimes gives me a chance to meditate on how the next sermon can dovetail with what I just witnessed the Spirit do in our lives.
I read the passage for next week and just sit with it for a bit. Meditation has become, and needs to be, a key part of my preparation. I have found that if I just rush right into outlining or reading commentaries I am robbing myself of hearing from the Spirit as the priority.
Monday: Heavy preparation
I outline the passage by simply rewriting and separating the phrases. I normally preach one core passage. But if I’m delivering a topical message with multiple passages, Monday night is dedicated to the central passage and investigating the various places I’ll point to during the message.
After the outlining, out come the academic resources. Commentaries, systematic theologies, and language resources are the core for me. Some of them I have physically in my study and others are accessed online with myWSB.com.
During this evening, I give a bit of time to illustrations but those often appear in the process later when the outline is closer to finalized.
Tuesday: Meditate and study
Before I leave for work, I go over the passage and ask for God’s guidance on whether I’ve hit on the right theme and principles to teach. It is a devotional time for me to test if what I’m planning to teach will hold up in daily life.
Tuesday evening is more study time. If Monday night was tied up with something else, then all of the regular Monday stuff must happen too. When able, I will shape the outline to its final form and begin looking for a key illustration.
Wednesday: Finalize major points
Before I go to bed, I finalize the main points of the outline. When it goes fast, sub-points also come together by this time. I email all of this information to our church office by noon on Thursday for what will be shown on the video screens.
Thursday & Friday: Reflect
I awake with the sermon in my head, go to bed thinking about it, and catch moments to reflect on it throughout the day. Somewhere in these two days, I usually finish the major editing to my sermon notes.
I tweak my sermon notes a bit and print them out. I try to get my mind set that it is finished and do a trial run out loud to work on the intro, transitions, conclusion, and timing.
Sunday morning: Scribble
Any last-minute edits or thoughts are written in the margins. Stuff gets circled or underlined.
As a bivocational pastor, I find time with family, extra work, and other pastoral duties can cut in on my sermon preparation. I work to be disciplined but don’t beat myself up if the system is interrupted. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the one that works for me.
Developing a system or rhythm for sermon preparation is worth the structure you can give, the prep you can have, and the commitment to the gospel you live out.
PHILIP NATION (@PhilipNation) is director of content development at Lifeway and teaching pastor at The Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out.