I’ve posted on this blog about writing sermons two weeks in advance (here) and planning an annual preaching calendar, so it may not surprise the regular readers of this blog that I totally agree with Mark Pierce, in this article on Pastors.com:
It’s Tuesday morning early in July. I sit down at my laptop computer and begin planning for the next worship experience at Church Requel. I’m not working on next weekend, five days away. I’m working on August 5th—almost a month away!
Such working ahead does not come naturally to me. In college, I was the guy who could type (yes, we used a typewriter back then) his paper the night before. As the pastor of a small church, I used to get my week’s work done “just in time”. From many conversations with lots of my pastor friends, I know many of you are also working frantically at the last minute to finish everything for the coming Sunday.
Now that I’m working a month out, I never intend to go back to those pressure-filled days. Here’s six reasons why working well in advance of deadlines works so well for me:
#1 – My work is better.
Instead of one crack at the sermon, I now have approximately a dozen opportunities to rewrite, rethink, and polish my work. When I do the artwork for the slides, I’m thinking about the sermon. When I copy it into YouVersion LIVE, I’m thinking about how the parishioner might respond. This, I believe, honors the LORD more—giving him my best offerings. It also benefits my congregation, making the most of those precious 30 minutes each week in the pulpit.
#2 – My work is more focused.
If you are a pastor, you know what it’s like staring at the blank screen. There’s nothing worse, especially at the beginning of your work week. I used to waste so much time just trying to come up with what I should be working on. Not any more. I come up with game plans for weeks at a time—at times scheduled for that creative “blank page” project. So when I sit down to start my work I can dig in right away. I’ve also learned the secret of ending my previous work session mid stream so it’s easy to pick right up where I left off.
#3 – My work is more flexible.
You might think that this working a month ahead limits my flexibility. I can already hear some who say they wait until the last minute so they can better respond to changes in the congregation’s needs, or societal trends, or the Spirit’s leading. Getting my work done well before deadlines makes me MORE flexible, not less. It’s easier to change and adjust than to create from scratch. And on those few occasions when I have completely changed up a worship service, nothing was lost. The sermon writing and worship planning can always be used on another weekend. As for the Spirits’ leading, he is more than capable of leading three—four weeks ahead of time!
#4 – My congregation can be more involved.
Working well in advance not only is good for me, it’s also great for my congregation. The pastorate is my full-time job. I’m devoted to it 24/7. It’s easy to forget that members of my church have full-time jobs and loads of other family commitments beyond what they give to church. Asking someone to help out with the worship service the week before (or–let’s be honest–the day before) severely limits who can participate.
#5 – More volunteers can serve routinely.
One might think that large churches with dozens of staff members must work ahead, while smaller churches can more flexibly get things done at the last moment. My experience of serving both on the staff of a mega-church and as a church planter has convinced me that it’s even more important for the small church pastor to work well in advance. People so want to help. But they need to know what’s coming well in advance so they can schedule their own volunteer time. For example, we now have a woman in our church, who completely edits and prints our weekly programs. I give her everything she needs from me—including a detailed sermon outline—by Tuesday each week.
#6 – I can better respond to pastoral emergencies.
Let’s face it. Leading a small church is not just about writing sermons and planning worship services. It’s also about leadership and shepherding. There are weeks when I have not only taught on Sundays, but also sat beside family members in the hospital, consoled loved ones at a funeral, and led the joyous celebration of a wedding—sometimes all in one week! And the way things usually work out, there will be a board meeting stuck in there too. What’s the response of the last-minute pastor? Grab something… ANYTHING out of the archival files. The response of the work ahead pastor? This prayer of appreciation: “Thank you LORD for providing ahead of time for my needs!”
Look, I know that pastors are insanely busy. Their schedules are unpredictable. That is all the more reason to get—and stay—well ahead in preparing your preaching and worship experiences. I advise an annual preaching plan (subject to revision, of course) and at least two weeks ahead in sermon writing. For the reasons above…and for many more.
Bob Hostetler is a literary agent, an award-winning writer, editor, pastor, and speaker from southwestern Ohio. His thirty books, which include The Bone Box and American Idols (The Worship of the American Dream), have sold millions of copies. He has co-authored eleven books with Josh McDowell, including the best-selling Right from Wrong (What You Need to Know to Help Youth Make Right Choices), and the award-winning Don't Check Your Brains at the Door. He has won two Gold Medallion Awards, four Ohio Associated Press awards, and an Amy Foundation Award, among others. Bob is a frequent speaker at churches, conferences, and retreats. Bob was ordained to the ministry in 1980 by the Salvation Army and earned degrees in English Bible from Cincinnati Christian University and English Communications from Bloomfield College. In 2000, Bob (with his wife, Robin) helped to co-found Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio. They have two children and four grandchildren. He has been a disc jockey, pastor, magazine editor, freelance book editor, and (with Robin) a foster parent to ten boys (though not all at once). They live in Hamilton, Ohio. You can follow Bob at @bobhoss.