When I say “short-term,” I’m referring to the task of preparing to preach on a regular basis month after month. This is why I take a 4-week approach to preaching, studying each week for what is in the queue for the next month. Because my long-term approach means I have several months already planned, I can access that material and begin each week with the next set of messages lined up.
Perhaps it is best to lay out my short-term approach in bullet form based on the day of the week (how I prepare each week):
Sunday PM: (INGESTION) Read and re-read next Sunday’s text. I mean, a lot! My goal here is intake — soak in the passage many, many times before calling it quits for that day. I usually do this late, either in the living room or in bed, so the last thing on my mind this Sunday is the Scripture for next Sunday.
Monday: Church administration focus. Little to no real, official sermon prep.
Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday: (FORMATION) These three days are filled with developing the final working copy for Sunday and the rough drafts for the next three Sundays. I typically spend time each day on all four weeks, ending with the one that is closest (the next Sunday).
Some specifics: By Tuesday, I usually like to have Sunday’s message and “single sentence/big idea” ready to go, using Wednesday and Thursday to simply reduce and refine it as needed and if necessary. Regarding the weeks farther out, I try and use T, W, Th to collect and colate textual information, contextual background, stories, quotes, illustrations, etc. This process normally leaves me with several “big idea” sentences for each of those weeks, which is exactly where I want to be when it’s time for the Sunday night ingestion.
Additionally, these are the days I prepare the various social media platforms we use for the week’s message, such as YouVersion, Twitter, and Facebook. Some are pointed towards promotion, others towards participation. Regardless, this is one of the best things I do to cement the big idea in my head as well as the secondary points of emphases. Nothing beats trying to summarize your sermon in a few sentences as a way to see if you really know what you plan to say.
One other nugget – Here’s the pattern I follow on each of these days: Start with the farthest week out and end with the closest week. For me, this allows my mind and heart to subconsciously dwell on the concepts and Scriptures for the upcoming week even when I’m home, at a game, eating out, even sleeping. Call me crazy, but it seems to work well for me.
NOTE: As a pastor, along the way things will come up; life happens. Calls, visits, emergencies, meetings, etc. I’ve noticed that God uses these very things in my preparation, teaching me how the upcoming text(s) intersects with real life. So don’t consider your other responsibilities as obstacles to preparing, but rather as additional opportunities to prepare in a different way. Your radar needs to be on at all times. Of course, this doesn’t negate the need to be disciplined in your scheduling, but don’t let your discipline in preparation turn into avoidance from people.
Friday/Saturday: (DIGESTION) Though these days are officially non-office days, my best digestion of everything I’ve ingested and formed during the week happens Fri-Sat. Can’t really explain this, but I think it’s a good bit like eating –the effects of nutrition take time. After over 20 years of weekly preaching, I can say this is the most crucial part of my process, and motivates me to stay ahead in the earlier part of the week. Frankly, maybe wine is a better analogy — a little time to age and it just gets better.
Sunday: (PROCLAMATION) I arrive to my office early Sunday morning, and basically read the text several more times, review my one-page notes, then spend time in prayer. At this point, it’s delivery time, and I see myself as, like Spurgeon said, one who is about to give birth to a sermon. It’s a humble privilege!
One thing I don’t do Sunday morning prior to preaching is avoid people. I find that interacting with those who are coming in doesn’t distract me, but rather it connects me. Granted — there have been times some difficult conversations have occurred that have had a negative effect on my ability to focus, but those are rare. Typically, the sheep are a key element in helping me approach the platform with the proper realization that God’s Spirit has one target for God’s Word: God’s people!