A quote attributed to Rev. Frederick Buechner, one of the most influential preachers of the 20th century, speaks of one of the realities of the life of a pastor…”Sundays come with alarming regularity.” I am not sure of the alarming part of it, but there is a reality to the fact that as soon as one Sunday is done, most pastors begin to shift thinking to the next one that is less than 7 days away by that time. And in that time are all the other realities of day-to-day ministry as a pastor – the administrative things of working with staff, budgets, building questions, and so forth…the spiritual dimension – counseling, teaching, Bible studies, prayer, study…relationships – conversations planned and unplanned, visits to people at home and in other contexts, connecting with the neighborhood…the unexpected – funerals, emergencies, late night phone calls, people stopping in for help…And oh by the way, there are the realities of self-care, relationship with significant people in life (in my case my wife and kids and dear friendships), and so forth…Just a few. Now, please don’t hear any of this as complaining – it is just the reality that pastors have. As much as we love to have days that are fully planned out and structured, very few days end up that way. So, in the midst of all that…how does a sermon come together?
When I first started as a pastor, I tried to follow the method that we were taught in seminary. It was a fairly structured process of looking at the original languages, contextual studies, comparisons, commentaries, prayer, writing, and so forth. There was one adage that went that for every minute a sermon is, there should be an hour of preparation. So, for what my sermons “normally” are, that’s 15-20 hours just on a sermon. Look back on that list…how does 15-20 hours just devoted to the sermon come into that picture? Reality is that it doesn’t.
However, what has emerged for me in the sermon process is something far more organic and flowing rather than structured and rigid. It is a process where my sermon work is basically ongoing throughout the week – in my drives to/from Ft Thomas, in between conversations with folks, on my early mornings walks with Scout, and so forth. While I do spend a good bit of time on my Mondays going through some of the resources I use (commentaries, podcasts, language work, etc), the vast majority of my sermon prep is conversational – me talking out the message. In that “talking out,” I view it as not only a conversation with myself but a conversation with God. The conversation is a lot of asking God, “What do you want the people to receive this week?” “How can I be more open to your leading?” “Am I on the right track?”
So it is an ongoing work throughout the week that eventually results in the message that is shared on Sunday. And sometimes the shaping continues even into Sunday morning. That’s part of why I
never rarely manuscript a sermon but instead it is an outline with key points because the conversation is still ongoing…
So how many hours do I spend on a sermon? Honestly, I am not sure but I do know that it is an all-week thing – from the end of the last sermon to when the last word of the new one is spoken.
My next blog post will be about what it is like to share a sermon in worship…