I’m in a bit of a sermon preparation rut right now. My sermon prep keeps getting pushed to far too late in the week. Most of the writing seems to take place on Saturday, and even spills over to Sunday morning. This is not a good place to be for a preacher.
One of the challenges for preachers who have been preaching for some time is that it is much easier to coast, to do less preparation and to simply rely on your experience. Read one of my earlier posts, "Stop Coasting as a Preacher."
Thankfully, you can get out of the preparation rut if you want to. It requires thought and planning. Also thankfully, I have some holiday time coming up.
Getting out of a Sermon Prep Rut
1. Admit there is a problem.
Admit that it is no good that you are getting up at 4:30am on a Sunday to write, or if you’re a night owl, staying up until all hours. You are not fresh and energetic on Sunday morning. You might still be preaching decent sermons, but “decent” is not the goal.
2. Take 30 minutes to solve the problem.
Your preparation rut is a solvable problem, so schedule time to actually work on a solution. In those 30 minutes look at numbers 3 through 10and figure out which ones might help you.
3. Read your text every day, preferably multiple times a day.
I have so many busy weeks where I think “I’ve got to get started on my sermon” and I simply don’t take the three minutes to read the text. It doesn’t take long. Just read it and think about it throughout the week.
4. Block off times to do sermon preparation.
Start early in the week. If this week is already a write-off, schedule your times for next week. Let nothing interrupt these times. These do not have to be long periods. Maybe 60 to 90 minutes each, sometimes even 30 minutes. I tend to do better if I schedule these times for the morning.
5. Change your venue.
Some of my best sermon prep is done at a library or at a coffee shop. There are way fewer distractions in these places than my study or my home.
6. No social media, no email.
When the rut is really bad, I won’t even do research online in case I’m tempted to check sports scores or the news or read some bit of trivia.
7. Go for a walk and take a notebook.
On your walk don’t think about anything but your sermon.
8. Stop blaming being “busy.”
Are you too busy to do adequate preparation? Are you up until 2:00am the day before your sermon? Why not schedule your 2:00am sermon writing for a different night of the week? In other words, take a hard look at your schedule—how are you using your time? What priority is sermon prep? Where can your prep be scheduled? See #4
9. Talk to someone about your upcoming sermon.
My sermons are better when I talk to someone beforehand about what I’m thinking. Sometimes this is a group, sometimes one-on-one. This doesn’t have to be planned—it could be just before or after a meeting or during a pastoral call. You could start with “Can I ask you a question—I’m trying to figure something out for the sermon this Sunday and I’d love to hear your opinion.”
Lots of the people in your congregation would love it if you asked them a question or shared with them something in advance about your sermon. I can sometimes get some good ideas this way, and often what is sparked in conversation sticks with me more than when I read it.
10. When you are supposed to be writing, actually write.
There is nothing worse than staring at a blank screen trying to figure out what to write, or what you might say. The way to get over this is to start writing. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But for whatever reason, this works—at least it does for me. The key is starting and not stopping. No editing, no second guessing. Just write.
A Writing Tool That I Use
I use a distraction-free writing app called Ommwriter, which has background music or noise, a few different backgrounds and fonts to choose from, and a kind of typing sound built in for each keystroke you make. My normal background is a white screen with a blue band across the bottom. There is just that and my text in Courier font. Most of my blog posts are also written in Ommwriter.
If you are in a sermon prep rut, you are not just going to slip out of it. You need to be intentional about getting out.