We started a new year a few days ago and with that change comes the stress of resolutions for the coming seasons. We all do it, even if we don’t do it in a formal way. On a personal level perhaps we say, “This year I am going to travel more”, or “This year I am going to have more family time”. On a pastoral level maybe it is, “By the end of the year we will have 4 new families in the church” or “This year I will not write any sermons on Saturday night”. Actually, that last one can help you with many of your other goals (whether or not you actually try to keep them!).
I have found the week-to-week grind of preparing services and writing sermons is a big source of stress for me and robs me of much of my time which could be used for travel, family time or outreach, among other things. But how can I avoid that grinding routine? For a bivocational pastor avoiding that grind can be lifesaving, literally. Stress has all sorts of bad health effects, so reducing stress should be a top priority. Here are a few tips for doing exactly that.
1) Pick a time and sit down to schedule out your sermon series for the coming calendar year. Yes, you heard me right…the WHOLE YEAR. It doesn’t matter if it is November or March, you can start anytime, but do it now. You will need a calendar and a list of holidays and special days. You can do this in your favorite spreadsheet or on paper. Mark all the holidays and special days on the calendar and any recurring events. For instance, we do a ‘Family Sunday’ with communion and following potluck on the second Sunday of every month. I use Microsoft Excel for this and color code our various event types.
2) Mark out any other days that are going to be unusual. These would include days when you are going to take vacation or going to denominational events and need to find pulpit supply.
3) After praying about it (you have been praying about this, haven’t you?), put down on a separate sheet of paper your anticipated sermon series and weekly sermon themes. For example, recently I did a sermon series on Titus, going through the book in five weeks. This was followed by a four week series on Advent. Note your main scripture references and perhaps a blurb about the theme for each sermon.
4) Place your sermon series on the calendar. This can be like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Every so often you might have a gap of a Sunday or two…these can be filled in using stand-alone sermons or extending a sermon series. They can also be a good opportunity for doing something out of the ordinary, such as an all-music worship service or baptism service. Adjust as needed.
Once you have a good calendar for reference you can begin to structure your services around them ahead of time. When I did our calendar for the coming months I sent the basic information to our Worship Leader to aid her in picking out music. Rather than having a weeks notice she now has several months notice to think about and pray about the music selections. My wife (and co-pastor) does the Children’s message, and she now has my sermon schedule to coordinate with well in advance of the service. You can work on sermons as far ahead of time as you would like, getting your outline prepared, illustrations gathered and cross-references noted. You can find time in breaks or lunchtime at work to work on them, or set aside a specific time or day. You can edit the manuscript at your leisure, rather than doing so hastily on Sunday morning. Ahhhhh…..can you feel the stress leaving your body?
If you set a deadline to have your sermons ready to go, say two weeks ahead of delivery, you can approach a Sunday worship service with a finished sermon in hand, service prepared and music carefully selected with much less stress than normal. Even if you end up slipping that deadline due to other unforeseen events, such as a funeral, you will still be able to be ready in plenty of time.
There are many nuances to this process, some of which are going to be specific to you. Certainly there is much more than I can cover here in this short article. I highly recommend reading “Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services” by Nelson Searcy, Jason Hatley and Jennifer Dykes Henson for further and more in depth information on the specifics of this kind of technique. Don’t let your calendar control you, control your calendar!
“My times are in your hands”
Psalms 31:15 (NIV)