The Secret to Getting Ahead on Sermon Preparation

Stressed???Pastors, do any of the following describe you?

  • You are constantly worried about what you are going to preach next.
  • You often find yourself pulling out a Saturday night special (finishing your sermon just before you preach it).
  • Nobody in your church knows what you are preaching about next (staff included).
  • You often feel overwhelmed, and have occasional anxiety attacks.
  • You feel like your messages are stale – like you keep preaching about the same things or you have run out of creative ideas.
  • You feel like you never have enough time to work on your messages.

If any of the above descriptions describe you, you need to get ahead on your sermon preparation. This article will show you how.

Why you need to get ahead

Knowing what you are preaching about in advance eliminates stress.

When you have your preaching calendar laid out, you no longer have to panic every Monday about what you are preaching about next. The planning has already been decided.

When a crisis pops up (you have to make the emergency hospital visits, preach a funeral, you get the flu, etc.) it’s no problem. You don’t have to stress because suddenly your week is over and you haven’t had any time to work on your message. You already have your message written!

Knowing what you are preaching about in advance allows the sermon time to marinate.

If you know, for instance, that in a few months you are preaching Ephesians 5-6 about marriage, you will be more alert when ideas and illustrations present themselves. If you have a silly argument with your wife that could make a great illustration, you will write it down knowing you will need it. If you come across a great article on marriage, you can set it aside to be used later.

Make a folder on your computer for each message you will be preaching, so when you find a good article, illustration, picture, or video you can store it away. Then, when it comes time to knock out that sermon, you already have great research and illustrations waiting for you to pick the best. (I use Evernote to capture everything.)

Knowing what you are preaching about in advance saves you time.

Less stress makes you happier and more productive. Capturing research and illustrations as they come to you saves you a ton of study time. It’s already been done.

Knowing what you are preaching about in advance allows your creative team to do their best work.

If you don’t have a creative team, you don’t need a paid staff member. Having your messages laid out in advance allows you to coordinate a volunteer team that takes your messages and creates art, video, stage designs, etc. You cannot do this if you are week to week.

If you have a paid creative team, this also gives them time to do their best work. Videos or graphics that they have months to work on will be better than if they only have hours.

How to get ahead: creating a preaching calendar

Obviously, the first place to start is seeking the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through prayer. I am hoping and assuming you already know how to do this. So this article will focus on the practical side of things.

The way that all the great preachers get ahead is by laying out a preaching calendar. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. An annual calendar or an excel spreadsheet will do just fine (click here for an example).

Also, remember, a preaching calendar isn’t the Bible. It can be changed. Think of the calendar as a roadmap. It is a tool to guide you, but sometimes it is necessary to take a detour every once in a while.

Once you have your calendar ready, start by filling in the big things first.

Look at Special Sundays and Holidays

Add all the big events and holidays to your calendar: Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day weekend, etc.

Ask yourself: What impact will these days have on your preaching? Obviously, Christmas and Easter are big ones. But what about other special weekends?

Look at Special Days in your community

Every city is different. Are there any special events in your community that might affect your preaching? Some events you can ignore, others you are better off not fighting but capitalizing on instead.

How do the seasons affect your ministry? Do you get a lot of snow birds in the winter? Do people stick around in the summer or leave town? If you are in a college town, is your attendance affected by the school’s semesters?

Decide what days you will preach?

Determine how many weeks out of the 52 you are covering. What weekends do you plan to be out on vacation? What days will you take a break so you can get ahead?

What weekends are you letting someone else preach for you? Are you allowing other staff members to speak? Are you bringing in any guest speakers?

If you plan on preaching every week it is a sign that you are a) a workaholic b) a control freak and c) are setting your church up to fail if you leave or if you get hit by a city bus.

Who are you developing? Healthy pastors share the platform and developed other communicators.

Plan Your Message Series

Some pastors prefer walking verse-by-verse through entire books of the Bible, others only preach topical sermons. It’s OK to play to your strengths. However, I suggest a balanced approach using 4 different types of sermon series.

As you fill in your calendar, just remember that each should be thoroughly grounded in scripture.

Bible - Either preaching an entire book of the Bible, or a really digging deep into a select passage (10 commandments, beatitudes, fruit of the spirit, etc.)

Topical - Based on felt needs of your people specifically addressed in scripture. (Marriage, money, parenting, etc.) These are messages that your people need to hear every year because these are the pressing issues they face in their day to day life. Your time spent with your people, counseling them,and knowing what they struggle with should shape these sermons.

Vision - Based on vision and mission of your church. Where you are going and how you will get there? What do your people need to do to advance the church? (core values, small groups, evangelism, serving in a ministry, serving the community, etc…)

Special - A stand-alone message or series based on a special event or special need (Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, special guest speaker, etc.)

How to get it done

Get Away

Chances are, you are not going to get this done in the office. There is too much going on – too many distractions. Take a week to get away by yourself or with your team to plan out the entire year of preaching.

Shut off your phone. Don’t check your email. Don’t let anyone bother you except for emergencies.

Setting aside a large portion of time to be singularly focused on one task will help you get more done in less time than if you spread out your planning.

Brainstorm

Allow other staff members or select church members to be a part of your preaching team. To help you come up with sermon ideas.

Give the team tasks in advance to bring specific ideas or resources with them. This will save from wasting a ton of time coming up with ideas on the spot during your meeting.

Throughout the year, keep a Moleskine notebook or an app like Evernote with you at all times so you can record sermon ideas as they come to you. This will help you build a deep reserve of ideas, so when it comes time to lay out your calendar you aren’t starting from scratch.

Writing to get ahead

Write two messages a week.

I worked for an amazing pastor who was over 2 years ahead in his message writing! No joke. The man is a machine. But how did he do it? He wrote two messages a week, almost every week for years.

He could literally not write a message for the next two years and he would be just fine! Now, I know that this is an extreme example. But it shows that it is possible.

If you write a full manuscript for your sermons, you will have a harder time with this than those who just outline. (Personally, I write a manuscript for each sermon to gather my thoughts, but I don’t preach from it.)

You may not need to be two years out, but there is nothing stopping you from getting two or three months out by doing this. Set a goal for how far out you want to be in your writing and go for it!

Once you are as far out as you want to be, all you have to do is revisit you sermon you already wrote for the week and write one for the future.

Note: the sermons you write for the future don’t have to be flawless. Just get them written. Refine and perfect them the week you preach them.

You can do this

Make it your primary goal to finally get ahead. Do whatever it takes. The amount of stress that will fall from your shoulders is worth it!

I learned this technique from the pastor mentioned above. And I can almost guarantee you that your favorite preachers do something similar in their planning.

The only thing stopping you from getting ahead is you. Get disciplined. Start planning. You can get ahead.

If you struggle getting ahead, what excuses have you used? If you are ahead, share your tricks. What has worked for you?

Other Posts from the Best Year Yet Series

  1. Make This Year Your Best Year - Start Here
  2. 5 Characteristic of Goals that Work - Set Goals
  3. The Secret to Getting Ahead on Sermon Preparation - Get Ahead
  4. How to Eliminate Bad Speaking Habits. Umm… Like… You Know? - Speak Better
  5. Lose Wight; Preach Better - Healthy Body
  6. Why a Healthy Ministry Requires a Healthy Family - Healthy Family
  7. Out of the Overflow of the Heart the Preacher Speaks - Healthy Spiritual Life
  8. 41 Ways to Risky Preaching - Try Something New
  9. You Don’t Have Time Not to Read - Read More
  10. The Secret to Winning Time Management - Accomplish More of What Matters
  11. Do You Make This One Common Preaching Mistake? - Step Away From your Desk

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  • justin

    I would love to say I am even one message ahead, but that would not be honest. Even my wife encourages me to try to get ahead. It is difficult on a minister when it is the end of the week and he is trying to wrap up a message. You know what happens when this is the case, a member wants to meet last second, a member gets put into the hospital, etc. Then you may feel you have to choose between the two.

    It’s my desire to get ahead when I am in a series. Something I struggle with though is how far ahead do I want to be. I look at the difference between Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel. Andy is many weeks ahead and probably knows what he is preaching for months to come. Craig mentioned he never knows more than three weeks ahead of time what e is preaching on. He said he does this because he wants to stay current with what is going on with his church and what is needed there. I think both Pastors have good reasons for their styles. I grew up under you study for that week, but I do s

  • justin

    (Sorry it wouldn’t let me type any more)
    … the need to get ahead. I just noticed some great communicators at opposite ends of the spectrum. You do you have any thoughts on this?

    • http://propreacher.com/ Brandon

      I think you have to find what works best for you. Far too many pastors are week to week and the amount of stress they carry is unbelievable. I can definitely relate!

      So even if you just got out 2-3 weeks in advance, try starting there. Not everyone has to be a full year in advance. Also, being ahead doesn’t even have to mean that your messages are all finished. Maybe you just have a rough outline, or an ugly first draft written. But how much easier would it be to sit down monday and start with something already on the page instead of a blank screen?

      Find what works best for your busy schedule. The great thing is, once you are ahead, all you have to do is work on one future message a week, and polish up the current weeks message.

      Hope that helps

      • justin

        I agree having just a passage of scripture to start with and a general idea of where the message is going is a huge help. As stated earlier, I want to be ahead. I am just still trying to figure what that looks like for me personally.

        Brandon, I do appreciate the website here. For a young pastor(32 I hope that’s still young), who is leading an independent church this site is a huge blessing to me. I am not surrounded by a plethora of ministers all the time as someone in a denomination might be. So thank you, and may God redeem the time you spend keeping this site going.