Preaching Articles

Early in my ministry, Thursdays were my sermon prep day—for the coming Sunday (I’ve never been a Saturday guy; just can’t live that close to the edge). And when we started Cobblestone, eight or nine days in advance was the norm. But that changed about five or six years ago, and here are some of the reasons why:

1. Working two weeks in advance allows for other staff and volunteers to get in on the process.

Once a message is written, the work has just begun. The worship pastor plans from it (though she also has the annual teaching plan in outline, titles and Scriptures included, so she does some planning even before that point), the message notes are printed for inclusion in the programs, the presentation slides are created from the message script, any videos or special ingredients are created, etc. Most of this is done by volunteers who really appreciate more than a 24- or 48-hour timeframe in which to work!

2. Working two weeks in advance paves the way for extra creativity.

For example, a while back, I had mostly finished my message for 2+ weeks ahead, but was missing something impactful to drive home the point of the message. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I threw it out to my fellow staff members. We thought about it for a few days, and eventually settled on a visual, tactile exercise that really supported the application and made the response time one we’ll remember for a long time.

The message was on submission, and I showed a clip of The Passion of the Christ, which depicts Jesus actually crawling ONTO the cross. If I could have, I woulda had a couple of life-size crosses on the floor and invited people to crawl onto them to indicate their submission. That wasn’t practical, of course, for a crowd of several hundred. What we did do, though, was to erect two rough-hewn crosses at the front of the auditorium, each with a hundred rough nails driven into them.

People then came forward with a small white slip of paper, a “white flag of surrender” representing their surrender (some folks wrote a prayer or signed their names or listed the things they were surrendering), and impaled the paper onto the nail. It was beautiful—and because the idea had to percolate and the crosses had to be constructed by one of our gracious volunteers, it would not have been possible if we worked just a few days in advance.

3. Working two weeks in advance allows us to be flexible in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

Funerals, births and sicknesses don’t happen on schedule, so working well in advance gives us the ability to roll with the punches. If a call comes on Friday or Saturday and the speaker for the coming Sunday needs to respond, there’s no problem; everything is already in the can.

4. Working two weeks in advance prevents panic.

It’s one thing to be creatively “stuck” while working on a message for later in the month; it’s quite another thing when the well has dried up and Sunday is right around the corner! While I’ve sometimes heard pastors insist they do their best work under pressure, I’ve been the recipient (or victim) of some of those sermons, so I know that’s not always true. And for me, knowing that, if the creative juices aren’t flowing, I can give it some time makes a HUGE difference.

I’ll admit that when I first started working that far in advance, it took some getting used to. It was hard at times to project myself—my mind and heart—two weeks into the future and discern what the Spirit was saying to the church. But not anymore. Now, such distance usually improves my prayerful dependence on God and gives him more room to work. And there are still times when I scratch an idea or insert a new thought in the last couple of days. But in those cases, the idea is an improvement instead of a concession or an act of desperation.

Bob Hostetler is a writer, editor and speaker from southeastern Ohio. His 30 books, which include Quit Going to Church and the novel The Bone Box, have sold over three million copies. He has coauthored a dozen books with Josh McDowell. Bob is a frequent speaker at churches, conferences and retreats. He has been a disc jockey, pastor, magazine editor, freelance book editor and, with his wife Robin, a foster parent to 10 boys (though not all at once).

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Tim Secrist

commented on Jul 9, 2013

Great article! I learned a technique several years ago of starting a new sermon every Monday and then working on the sermons each day for a few hours each day Mondays through Thursdays. By having four sermons going and moving them along each week, I have eliminated panic, stress and the unexpected hindrances to good sermon preparation. Whatever technique you try, anything is better than going Sunday to Sunday on a particular sermon. Try it - you'll like it.

Sheldon Boyd

commented on Jul 9, 2013

I totally agree with every point. I have been doing this almost my entire (27 years) ministry. I have added to this practice preparing a one year preaching calendar. It is not that I tell God He can't change what I have planned but I have been amazed at how God has worked ahead of even what I thought I had cleverly planned.

Keith B

commented on Jul 9, 2013

I dont know how you can keep your thought process straight if you have that many in the hopper at once.

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Jul 9, 2013

There are some good insights here, but perhaps we should pull-back a bit. This might better be titled "Why I Write My Sermons at Least Two Weeks Ahead" or "How Writing Sermons Two Weeks Ahead Might Be of Benefit," but it's a bit presumptuous for one of us to say to the others, "YOU should do X because it works in MY context/it has worked for ME." Personally, I preach AT LEAST three different sermons every week. Sometimes it works to do some of them weeks in advance, sometimes even months out, but often there's much less time between development and delivery. I do prefer to do advanced planning (on a calendar), keeping 6 months to a year ahead, in order have a good idea of where we're headed, but I don't have the blessing (curse?) of a multi-staff creative worship and sermon preparation team. I liken my process more to my old football regimen. Every day is "prayer day," but Sunday is "game day," time to put it all on the line. Monday is "film day," time to review "game day" and make adjustments. Tuesday is a "light day," time for things that nurture creativity -- ruminating. Wednesday and Thursday are "heavy days," time for intensive reading, research, writing. Friday and Saturday are "walk-through days," refining, rewriting. But Sunday is not the only preaching day, so it's not as "neat and tidy" as it may sound and in my context, every day also demands some administration, some visitation, and all of the other things that go along with pastoring. Thanks for the ideas; keep them coming; but let's not suggest that because it works for us, that's the way it "should" be for everyone else. GREETINGS! :-)

Bill Williams

commented on Jul 9, 2013

I think it should be well-established by now to those who are regulars to this site that the titles are not always chosen by an article's author, that often the titles are chosen by the editors for the purpose of bringing traffic to the article, and that reading too much into the title can cause one to miss the point the author actually intended to make. I think it's quite clear from the article itself that the author is simply describing what he does in his own context and commending the advantages of planning far enough ahead; and that he is not suggesting that everyone else should do it the way he does.

Violet Arzadon

commented on Jul 9, 2013

I'm not a pastor but every now and then I'm called to give a message. It's really advantageous if you can prepare at least 2 weeks in advance. The Word and the Holy Spirit fills you. I simply jot down a note and it is as if I'm reading through a powerpoint presentation in my mind. Prison venues here in this part of the world aren't that much advance but there's at least a blackboard or white board where you can draw while you're speaking and that's it. The important thing is the audience internalized the message.

Brighton Mukwawaya

commented on Jul 10, 2013

personally l dont plan sermons.l preach Wednesday evenings,Friday evenings and obviously Sunday services our sabbath day.Oflate l have learnt to rely ultimately on the directions of the holy spirit.Whenever i try to plan or write a sermon it would seem stale or a delayed sermon to either the congregation or to myself.

Tejado W. Hanchell

commented on Jul 10, 2013

Love the article and the comments. I especially love Prescott's preaching planning process (how 'bout those P's :-) I wrote a similar blog a while back called "The Pro Football Guide to Preaching" would love to hear your feedback.

Stephen Sheane

commented on Jul 11, 2013

Totally agree. I am also a firm believer in preparing well in advance of when you speak. I do not find that preparing multiple messages at once is a problem for me, I always have a few in the works at once. Like fine wine a sermon has to ferment for a while in my brain. After it has rolled around for a couple of weeks and I have had the chance to meditate (regurgitate) on it for a while then it is ready. The Holy Spirit can move just as much in a message that is prepared a month before as with one that is given on the spot - God can touch your heart in the moment or a month before the moment. Both require sensitivity to His leading.

Jose Jacob

commented on Jul 12, 2013

It's a good idea. Usually I do my preparation in the same week and finishes my sermon at the last minute just before going to the church. It really bothers and gives tension to me. Though I long to do it early, but it happens so. Anyway, it gives me much food for thought to be practised in the days to come.

Jose Jacob

commented on Jul 12, 2013

It's a good idea. Usually I do my preparation in the same week and finishes my sermon at the last minute just before going to the church. It really bothers and gives tension to me. Though I long to do it early, but it happens so. Anyway, it gives me much food for thought to be practised in the days to come-Jose Jacob

Beverly Birchfield

commented on Jul 13, 2013

I have sooo much to learn,,,

Saul Dela Cruz

commented on Jul 16, 2013

This is a bright ideas, it is also better to compile all your preaching so you have more time to study, edit on it, and to avoid hassle, crumbing, and the result you have nice sermon delivery.

Mark Ampofo

commented on Apr 16, 2019

thanks for this message, very helpful indeed.

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