Prepping for sermons…well, I love prepping (said in the voice of Stanley from “The Office” from the pretzel day episode).
I love preaching. Declaring the love of Christ to people is such an amazing privilege that I do not take lightly. It’s why I go full-tilt on my preaching preparation. My wife will tell you, my mind NEVER turns off of preaching prep. It’s good in the sense of having my radar up constantly to get and gather material. The negative, I struggle with turning it off as to enjoy myself. Thus, the reason why I needed to develop tactics and tools to help me in my message and sermon series prep.
Over the past couple years, I’ve been contacted about my practical approach to this, specifically, how I accumulate (get and gather) ideas and information. Usually, the end of those conversations end with a request for a blog with the list of them.
I’ve found out that many ministers regulate research and ideas to office time. Or, some will get ideas and don’t know how to organize them. I want to make this as simple and practical as possible. I don’t consider myself a “specialist” on the subject, as it’s taken me years to work out what fits me and my personality type. Most of these tactics and tools require very little to no investment and they fit the type of person I am.
But the key: These tactics and tools work for me. And that’s what you’ve got to discover for you. This is not an exhaustive list as you may uncover other ways/tactics. If you have something to add to the list…PLEASE SHARE!
First: Where I get ideas:
- Time in the Word
- It’s incredibly difficult to hear a word for your congregation if you’re not in the Word yourself. It’s also important to note that if the Word isn’t challenging you, it’s probably not going to challenge your church community. Personal time in your bible can produce ideas, messages, and series but it shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is always a greater revelation of Christ and His Kingdom.
- I know the scripture in James 1:19 is in the context of anger, but there is some beautiful wisdom for us as preachers. We should be “slow to speak and quick to listen.” We ought to be very quick to position our minds and heart to quiet ourselves and listen for the Spirit of the Lord to speak to our hearts. Which leads to my next thought…
- You’re heard it said, “leaders are readers.” I think it’s true. But I have to admit, it’s not natural for me at all. I’m slow at it. I don’t comprehend at rates others do so it takes me time to take in what the author is saying. But it’s out of positioning myself with a variety of authors and subjects that the Lord has stirred ideas and thoughts.
- If you have time to pray, you’ve got time to walk. I start working well before the office hours begin. Sometime in the afternoon, I like to take a break from studies and counseling to go for a run. The exercise helps both clearing out the mind as well as providing necessary exercise for the body. I listen to podcasts of preachers for part of my run. I spend another part just praying over people. It may sound like multitasking, but it’s what works for me.
- NOTE: Pastors, your congregation needs you to get exercise, eat right, and be healthy. “Burning out for Jesus” doesn’t burn with Holy Spirit fire to give God glory, it burns with pride and makes people look at you. I’m not promoting a size or shape but promoting healthy habits that lead to a healthy life (see my post “Slave to the Scale“).
- I LOVE getting my creativity stretched by other preachers. Each preacher stretches me with both content and delivery. And the more I can get outside of my little Kfirst sphere and my denominational comfort zone, the more I can glean from the Kingdom of God and be a better man and preacher for it.
- Social media/websites/blogs
- From a church/pastoral blog to Instagram accounts, I follow a variety of people, groups, and churches. We serve a creative God who, through His church, has amazing creativity. Don’t be afraid to see not just what others are doing but how they’re shaping the Message. Check out their approaches. See their promotional strategy. Remember: We are not in competition with others. WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM AND PART A HIS KINGDOM. We are in a Kingdom of collaboration. Look at others. What you want, get permission to use. Let people in the Kingdom be iron sharpening iron
- For example, a graphic artist wrote a blog about God leading us from Point A to Point B. I felt the Holy Spirit lead me to write down the idea. A few years later, the Lord started stirring me toward a series on how God led Israel from captivity (Point A to the Promised Land (Point B).
The series was called “A2B.” One blog title turned into a series of messages and people encountered Christ because of it. I thought he should know about it as well as to encourage him.
- Living life (fun, vacation, struggles, etc.)
- I don’t enjoy time with my family to get something to share, but my engagement in life naturally gives opportunity to connect the spiritual to the practical. So many times, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is like…” He connected the Kingdom to things in the culture that people were familiar with. These metaphors or illustrations helped bridge the gap between mystery and understanding. Enjoy life. Engage with your families in life. Serve in your community. And the more you live, the more stories you’ll develop. You’ll no longer be depending upon some book of “101 Great Sermon Illustrations.” Why? You’re developing them right now. People want to connect to the human being on the stage. And the best way, I believe is for them to hear about how you are still working, growing, and yes, sometimes struggling.
- NOTE: Never share a family story without permission. I don’t share about my wife or the children unless they give me permission.
Second: How do I gather and develop ideas?
My whiteboard – $20 (for the hardware)
I literally found a piece of plexiglass in a closet in a church. Paint the side facing the wall and add a couple decorative bolts and you’ve got a whiteboard. As I’m thinking, I sketch out thoughts. I’ll write out scriptures in one color and work out ideas with other colors. It helps me look at the main thought/point and work out of it while being able to go back and reference it.
My schedule – $0
My calendar has a weekly flow to it (even if I’m not preaching on Sunday). From planned time to study to taking a break from books to go for a run to pray over the message, I do my best to keep a schedule. Monday mornings at the coffeehouse is about getting my mind off of the previous Sunday and fixed upon the next message. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are about crafting the message. Saturday morning is about prayer and focus.
Something I’ve built into my schedule is “future” message time.
On Monday afternoons, I spend time in prayer over the preaching calendar. It’s at this time I spend time seeking and listening to God regarding the upcoming 4-6 months of the preaching calendar. That leads me to…
My “future series” calendar – $30 chalkboard from Hobby Lobby; $6 for the chalk markers
This might be the most expensive piece in my office. I use the colored tape to mark out how the series flow (start and stop). It helps give me an overview as to how the year looks. Some of the pieces have the names of the series. Some are blank. Usually, I have locked in the direction of the next 3-4 series as it helps me in my prep.
My Google File – Free (for 15GB)
Having a filing system at my fingertips is huge. From laptop, iPad, or iPhone, any idea or thought can go right into the appropriate file. I always add a hashtag onto the name of the current series as it keeps the file at the top (as seen in the pic as #Playlist). The next series is always in this located on this screen as it’s there for easy access (for some reason, the next series “Pivot Point” was cut off of the graphic). Obviously, with the filename “Future Series and Messages,” it shows the catchall location for any ideas that come from prayer and research.
My Journal – $3-5
Sometimes you’ve got to close the computer and physically write things down. I can’t carry my Whiteboard in my backpack, so this is my way to sketch thoughts and connecting thoughts. Sometimes I’ll draw out an idea of graphics. Other times, I’ll write the heart of the message/series and, than underneath it, try out some titles.
My Wall – $5.99 per large sheet of foam-board (creates roughly 12 sermon plates)
The “wall” reminds me of the series we have covered with our congregation. Part of it helps me steward what we’ve studied as a congregation. The very practical side: We want to steward the graphics of the past series as to make sure we don’t have the same look and feel of other series. I remember something I heard on Food Network: People eat with their eyes first. I’ve taken that to proclaiming the Word. Graphics are not primary as Jesus is primary. But a name and graphic can trigger interest as well as remind someone of the Word that was proclaimed.
My “Preaching” Bible – $2.99 for the package of red pens
This may seem small, but it’s a big deal to me. Since pastoring at Kfirst, I started with a fresh bible and started underlining my main preaching texts and dating them in red. It helps me be a steward of the Word in regards to what I’m bringing to our congregation. As ideas and creativity come to me, I like to get into the Word and see if and when I as a pastor have visited that passage and when that happened.
This may see like much, but over the past 7 years of being the Lead Pastor, it’s the practical way that I approach the getting, gathering, and the developing of messages and series information/creativity. The success of this blog is that you will discover, perhaps, a new way to help steward this amazing privilege that we preachers have in delivering the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I love you all. I’m praying that our creative God will give you creativity beyond what you could ask for or imagine.
Thanks for letting me ramble…