Sermon preparation combines three disciplines: exegesis, hermeneutics, and homiletics. Our job as pastors is to learn the most effective and efficient methods for these disciplines.
Pastoral ministry includes more than preaching. For instance, it is very important to the church I serve that I visit members in the hospital. Hospital visitation and prayers before surgery are vital to my ministry. It is one of the key ways I show the congregation that I care. If I slacked in this aspect of ministry, then the people would not be receptive to my preaching. If you don’t shepherd the flock on Monday through Saturday, you can’t speak with any influence on Sunday.
Every church’s expectations are different. What we must do is determine how to allot our time so that we shepherd with integrity, while also putting in the seat time to prepare quality sermons. The personal side of pastoring is just as important as the teaching component. Balance is key.
To achieve balance, we must know exactly what we are setting out to accomplish. We need a plan to know if we are on schedule.
I am off on Fridays, so my sermon preparation is based on a Monday through Thursday schedule. I know what I need to accomplish each day to be on schedule for Sunday. Make no mistake. Sunday is coming. Whatever happens during the week, you must be ready to explain, illustrate, and apply your preaching text for the congregation.
I’ve developed the week I describe by learning the ebb and flow of my church. Your ministry context will determine your week.
For me, Monday is exegesis day. My goal is to complete my structural analysis, word studies, map and dictionary work, and whatever other study methods I need to use.
Tuesday is commentary day. I read the exegetical and expository commentaries I have collected for my chosen text.
Wednesday is hermeneutics day. I call it “What’s the point Wednesday.” This day is key. I sum up the main idea of my preaching text with three sentences. The first, the historical theme sentence, describes the text’s meaning in past tense language. The second, the contextual theme sentence, alters the previous sentence into a present tense universal statement. The third sentence, the sermonic theme sentence, retools the second statement into the “point” to be presented to the congregation. Once I develop these sentences, I work through an application worksheet, think through my conclusion and introduction, and decide on possible illustrations.
Thursday is sermon notes day. Over the years, I’ve developed personal formatting so that I can glance at my notes and easily find information. My goal is to limit my notes to one landscaped page divided into two columns. If I need more information, I write within the text of my Bible.
When I leave the office on Thursday afternoon, I try not to think about my sermon again until Saturday morning. Because I have small children, I wake up early on Saturday morning to review my morning and evening sermons. I sit in front of my laptop and, basically, preach my sermon to myself. Very low volume of course. Donna and the girls do not need to wake up to a gospel invitation every Saturday morning. As I preach, I edit my notes.
On Sunday morning, I wake up and go over my morning message again before printing my notes. By breakfast time, I’m ready to preach. On Sunday afternoon, I review my notes for the Sunday evening sermon.
What I’ve described is an ideal week for sermon preparation. As a general rule, you should plan so that you remain on schedule while spending half of your day studying and half of your day ministering personally to the congregation.
So, what happens if you fall behind? Either stay up late or get up early. Do not take evenings away from your family to study. Church emergencies may occur and require your presence. That is okay. It is part of the calling. But, you have control over your study time. Take advantage of the control.
Most weeks you will be able to stay on schedule. I have found that unusually busy weeks typically require only one late night or early morning to catch up.
Once you develop your schedule, you will always know if you are ahead or behind. You will have time to be with the congregation and your family, while also sharing good content on Sunday.