5 More Itchy Ear Preachers

Presenter3Paul warned Timothy about the time when people would gather teachers to suit their own passions and preach to itchy ears.  We already considered five last time.  Here are five more:

6. Preacher Worm – this is a variation on Preacher Hard.  Unlike the spiritual personal trainer, this preacher meets people needs simply by making them feel bad.  Woe is me!  I am a worm.  Bizarrely, this can be attractive to human flesh (sort of spiritual masochism)

7. Preacher Prof – some people love listening to an apparently intelligent and well-informed preacher.  I say apparently because they don’t necessarily need to be able to understand, but it does something for them to watch a scholar in action.  Strangely, this kind of intellectual curiosity, even when bereft of life and relevance, can scratch some ears.

8. Preacher Cliché – this preacher is neither intellectually rigorous, nor homiletically purposeful.  Rather than seeking to preach meaningfully, this preacher satisfies listeners by parroting clichés and stock phrases in Christianese.  What they say may amount to nothing, but they may thrive on the praise that comes their way after they finish.  Some listeners love a good dose of clichés.

9. Preacher Deep – this preacher may or may not say things that are deep and spiritual, but this preacher sounds deep and spiritual.  Their poetry helps.  And their frequent references to their own amazing times with God.   Listeners feel the inadequacy of their own spirituality and so love to be in the presence of one so deep and spiritual.  The anointing is tangible.  The preaching is almost irrelevant.

10. Preacher Bash – all this preacher needs is a target that is acceptable to the listeners. It could be the enemy atheists, or the pagan culture, or people of a specific race, or another denomination . . . as long as the listeners appreciate hearing a good bashing of absent enemies, the preacher will scratch itchy ears time and again.

Just like before, if any cap fits, quit the ministry for a while and get sorted.  Next time, another five . . .

5 Itchy Ear Preachers

Presenter2Paul urged Timothy to preach the word in his final letter.  One of the reasons he gave was that the time would come when people would not endure sound teaching, but instead would accumulate teachers to suit their own passions.  Itchy ear preachers.  Here are some possible itchy ear preachers:

1. Preacher Myth – this is one Paul referenced, preaching that strays into the realm of speculative mythology.  We have our own versions of this today.  Sensational, conspiratorial, and often offering insight that nobody else can offer.

2. Preacher Fun – this is always going to be attractive to people, the preacher who is just plain fun to listen to.  There is nothing wrong with your humour coming through as you preach, but if that is your defining quality, perhaps something is broken?

3. Preacher Easy – this is the preacher who makes the listener feel like life and Christianity is without cost, an easy road.  The Gospel is a message of cheap grace that does nothing to a life except take away consequences.  The listener can be what they like and do what they like, because it doesn’t matter anyway.  In reality the Gospel transforms lives and following Christ can be extremely painful at times, but this preacher seems oblivious to that.  (Please note that I wrote the Gospel transforms lives.  It is not up to the preacher to twist arms and achieve conformity, although that is an itchy-ear option…)

4. Preacher Hard – hang on, isn’t this contradicting number 3?  In reality, no.  Preacher hard is like an old school personal trainer at the gym.  This preacher piles on the pressure and appeals to the religious fleshliness of the listeners.  They will typically walk out after being burdened with duty and responsibility, stretch their arms and grimace, “Wow, I needed that!”  Our flesh loves the idea of our autonomy, which means we love the idea of being pressured to be better people.

(Both Preacher Easy and Preacher Hard are essentially appealing to the flesh of the their listeners, speaking of which…)

5. Preacher Rich – this is the preacher who loves to highlight out of context promises of blessing for the nation of Israel under the Palestinian Covenant and promise the listeners that God wants nothing more than for them to be ridiculously wealthy and perfectly healthy.  (The pressure is on them to believe enough though, so it ends being combining both types of worldly fleshliness – both the desire for pleasure/possession and the desire to self-strive and be independently religious).

Do you see yourself in any of these categories?  If you do, please take a serious time out from ministry, soak in the Bible and get together with God . . . you don’t want to be the kind of preacher Paul was warning Timothy about!  Next time we’ll consider a further five . . .

10 Pointers for “Untrained” Preachers

10 target nonsemLast time we looked at some pointers for preachers who have had formal theological training.  This time let’s ponder the situation for those that haven’t.  There are many, many preachers, in many denominations, in many cultures, that are doing wonderful ministry without ever having had the privilege of formal training.  Here are 10 pointers for the “formally untrained” preacher:

1. Don’t wallow in insecurity because of a lack of formal training – Most of the “formally untrained” preachers I have met would love to be able to study in a Bible College or Seminary.  There are undoubtedly great benefits from being able to do so.  However, God knows the circumstances of your life and He is thoroughly committed to developing your character and ministry.  There is no need for insecurity because of a training path you have not been able to take.

2. Don’t be proud of your lack of a degree – Some of the strongest critiques of the arrogance that can result from formal training have come from people who reek of pride.  Why the pride?  Because they haven’t been “formally trained.”  They are self-taught.  They are self-made.  Sadly, they are often also self-absorbed and self-deceived too.  The “formally untrained” preacher can be wonderfully godly, but this person can also be horribly arrogant and painfully unaware of what they don’t know.

3. Recognise the first of two big weaknesses of “self-taught” ministry: a lack of exposure – It is hard to know what you don’t know if you have always chosen what you have read and studied.  A formal curriculum helps to force exposure in areas you might never choose otherwise.  I remember a conversation with a man who claimed all he needed was his “library of 66 books” (i.e. just his Bible).  In the same conversation he revealed his commitment to a major heresy, but he had no idea.

4. And note the second of two big weaknesses: a lack of critique - While there are a lot of problems with Bible schools, there are some great benefits.  One is to have your thoughts challenged.  You have to express your thinking on paper, and you then get those thoughts shot at by someone who knows a lot more than you.  You get to discuss with fellow students over lunch, who also are happy to test your thinking with alternative viewpoints.  A “self-taught” preacher is in real danger of carrying untested thinking through life, into the pulpit, and straying theologically as a result.

5. Beware of trying to sound educated in ways you are not – Actually, this could have gone in the list for the seminary trained preachers too.  It is tempting to try to sound more knowledgable than we actually are.  For instance, having read some commentaries, it is tempting to drop a Greek term and its definition into the message.  Please don’t.  Anyone who has studied Greek will spot a lack of awareness, anyone who hasn’t might be impressed by your knowledge and there is a chance you will preach error.  The goal in preaching ministry is simplicity that communicates truth and serves the listener, rather than complexity that communicates nothing and serves the preacher’s ego.

6. General critiques of people with training are unbecoming – Some trained folks are worthy of great critique, but don’t generalise (and typically, don’t verbalise either).  I remember one preacher I used to enjoy who suggested that everyone with a PhD is insecure and gave a harsh alternative for what the three letters stand for.  I am not sure what benefit his listeners derived from this critical spirit, but I know his shelves were full of the fruit of the labour of numerous PhD’s.  Tearing others down to strengthen your own position will always come across poorly.

7. Grow – Lean into your walk with Christ with an inquisitive spirit, a disciplined reading schedule, a passion for ministry and you will grow.  Do that for a decade and your ministry impact will add up to much more than a highly educated, but spiritually stagnant minister down the road.  (And if the highly educated individual is not stagnant, but is also growing and thriving?  Then praise God and press on!)

8. It is hard to know what you don’t know – I’ve met many people who assume seminary is a place to learn obscure theological trivia.  Actually, the best theological training is not about probing the frontiers of obscure theoretical theology.  Rather, it is about probing the very foundations of our faith and discovering the richness of the Gospel.  There are a lot of people with a very “thin” Christianity who are convinced they know all there is to know (that is worth knowing).  They are wrong.  There is a rich Christianity that standard fare evangelical preaching knows all too little about.  Perhaps you could get a taster in Mike Reeves’ The Good God, for instance.

9. Get training – Don’t miss opportunities to attend training courses, seminars, workshops, etc.  Is there a Bible school where you could take a single course?  Diligently hunt the best books to read, as well as well-informed people to engage with in conversation.  Pray about finding someone who can mentor you in some way.  Not going to Bible school is not a commitment to solitary learning – look for conversation partners who can help you think, and nudge you to read things you never would otherwise (Luther, Sibbes, Edwards, etc. or maybe a book about early church history like JND Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines).

10. Being in a seminary is a privilege, so is being in God’s school – But taking pride in either is dangerous.  Be sure to keep up your conversation with the ultimate conversation partner – God himself.  Ask him questions, write them down, see how you learn and grow.  Pride always manifests in an “I don’t need you” attitude.  It is ugly irrespective of educational opportunity or lack of it.  Humbly walk with Christ, prayerfully engage with him through your study of the Bible and he will equip you for every good work.

What would you add to this list of pointers for preachers who have not been “formally trained?”

10 Pointers for Seminary Trained Preachers

10 target semThe periodic 10 Pointers series is going to add two more posts this week.  Previously we’ve considered younger preachers, older preachers, and preaching teams.  Here’s a set of 10 pointers for those of us who have had the privilege of studying in a Bible College or Seminary.  Next time we will offer 10 pointers for those without formal training.

Disclaimer – I get frustrated with articles written about “all the things I never learned in seminary.”  I really praise God for the time I got to spend at two great seminaries and feel they prepared me very well for ministry.  This post is not intended to critique formal training, I believe in its value, but I also want to be honest about its dangers.

1. Graduation is not the end of learning - I am so thankful for the years I was able to spend in seminary, but I have learned a lot since.  Seminary equipped you to some degree for ministry (some institutions do better than others at this), but most of all, it equipped you to keep on reading, studying, learning and growing.  You cannot have a fresh and vibrant ministry today based on how good your Romans lecturer was back in the day.

2. Don’t treat your pulpit as a surrogate classroom – Academia has a habit of stirring a desire in some, though not all, to pursue further degrees and to aspire to teach in the classroom.  I am probably right in stating that you didn’t yet get hired by the seminary of your dreams to join the faculty.  Please don’t impose that aspiration on your church by turning your preaching ministry into pulpit lecturing.  Create venues to train, accept invitations to lecture, but when Sunday comes, be sure to preach the Word!

3. Seminary is a glory environment, but ministry is done in the trenches – I loved my years in seminary, but it is clear that academia has the poison of human glory in its very DNA.  There’s the prestige of the institution, regular praise from feedback on projects, peer competition via grades, ego stroking through certification and awards.  Everyone in seminary should ponder the last verses of John 5 at least twice each day.  If you are now out of seminary and in church ministry, welcome to the trenches.  Ministry tends to keep its servants wounded and humble.  This is probably healthier than the intoxicating glory chase of academia.

4. Education can undermine authentic spirituality – Having left the institution of learning, you probably need to detox.  I am being provocative, even though I loved my seminary years.  However, the human glory DNA can really undermine a close daily walk with Jesus.  Our spirituality can grow sophisticated, our theology can grow heady, and our Lord can seem to grow distant.  Beware of plastic spirituality. Your church needs you walking closely with Jesus more than they need your great learning.

5. Pray for God to develop a loud pride radar – You may have thrived in studying languages, or theology, or whatever.  Perhaps, post-Seminary, God needs to help your character catch up with your learning.  One helpful tool would be a loud radar that beeps whenever your fleshly inclination toward pride rears its head.  Pray for this.  And speaking of pride – don’t name drop.  You may have learned Romans from Professor Doctor Exegenius, but people probably don’t need to know that.  Just give them Romans!

6. The Bible says more about the heart than a lot of academia does – Due to a potent combination of emphasising the intellectual, mixed with some philosophical assumptions, and buried in dubious exegesis, many in academia turn the biblical emphasis on the heart into a matter of cognitive processing.  Good preaching, good counselling, and good living, all requires a spirituality that is hearty, not just heady.

7. Make sure your learning closes the gap through clarity, rather than extending it through impressiveness – Watch you vocabulary as well as your attitude.  Technical terminology is typically unnecessary.  Grammatical and original language references are almost always unhelpful.  The best athletes make their sport look easy.  The best preachers don’t obfuscate.

8. Good classrooms include robust discussion, but good ministry requires Christlike love - So perhaps you formulated a watertight theological position on divorce or whatever.  In church world you need to be able to lovingly shepherd real people with real pasts and real struggles.  You will need the biblical basis, and you will need a heart of love and compassion.

9. Incidentally, your listeners are typically not as interested in your Bible school experiences as you are interested in telling the stories – They need to know that the Gospel works in real life, so don’t keep talking about how good it was when you were in seminary.  That can seem like a bubble to those who’ve not experienced it.  Instead, talk about how good God is in the midst of the life experiences you share now.

10. Own what you preach, and be owned by the One you preach about – Don’t regurgitate your class notes.  People can tell.  Instead preach out of the overflow of a present day walk with Christ that is vibrant and vital.  Be thankful for your seminary years, but never despise where you are now.  God has brought you to this point to know Him now and spill that goodness onto others as you preach.

I am sure there are many points that could be added.  I probably should have written that you should wear your learning like your underwear: It is important that you have it on, but don’t let it show.  Maybe I should have nudged you to pray about paying off any education debts.  But, I ran out of points.  What do you think should be included here?

3 Ways Preachers Fear Listeners

Fear2Preachers can fear listeners.  When they do, the ministry suffers.  Here are three ways preachers fear listeners:

1. I am scared because you are there!  This “deer in the headlights fear” is typically an issue for the beginner preacher.  Actually, the fear is usually of public speaking.  Seeing all the faces looking toward them, the preacher freezes and goes into a restricted function coping mechanism.  Vocal range becomes limited, pauses disappear, body language gets stuck, the mind struggles to think clearly.  This can occur for more experienced preachers under specific circumstances (perhaps a special event, preaching in a new venue, preaching after illness), but typically preachers who have moved past the deer in the headlights fear will be able to adjust fairly easily to new circumstances.

2. I am scared of what you might do!  The itchy-ear-scratching fear can occur for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the preacher wants to keep listeners happy rather than stirring any controversy.  Maybe the preacher feels their position or even salary is being threatened (after all, churches can become hideously political environments).  The result of getting the gaze fixed on the listeners evaluations will be preaching that is stripped of its potential.  Sometimes God wants to stir up listeners, or challenge them, or change them.  Itchy-ear-scratching preachers are dull tools for divine purposes.

3. I am scared of what you will think!  This need to impress is closely related to the itchy-ear-scratching fear.  The preacher’s insecurity is more about self than about what the listeners want.  This is about what the listeners think.  Are they impressed?  Do they think I am clever?  Spiritual?  A good leader?  Because if they think that, then maybe I am.  All fears are forms of insecurity, and this one is certainly a matter of insecurity.  This is a preacher whose identity is found in what others think rather than in what God says to be true.

There are other fears too.  The fear of consequences if we preach certain things will probably only grow as culture “progresses.”  What fears would you add to the list?  What fears do you sense in your own heart when you preach?

What Are You Giving Away?

“The value of a life is always measured by how much of it is given away.” – Andy Stanley

Any preaching ministry involves giving.  You give of yourself in preparation.  You give of yourself in delivery.  And often you feel spent when you are done.  But the relationship between visible ministry and giving is a complex one.

The value of a lifePublic ministry is certainly demanding, but it can also come with its own rewards.  People see you.  People may respect and appreciate you.  People may even pay you.  Once there is reimbursement in the equation, then the giving nature of ministry can become murky.

This is why I think Andy Stanley’s quote is so important for those of us who are involved in visible ministries – whether that is preaching, or teaching, or leadership, etc.

What are you giving in secret?

Please don’t comment and answer that question!

Here are some quick thoughts to ponder:

1. If all your giving in ministry is public, then your giving is not secret.  There is something about giving of ourselves without attention that is so important.

2. If all your giving in ministry is public, then your giving is being rewarded.  There is something about rewarded giving that somehow undermines the reality of the giving.

3. Even if you ministry is public, there is plenty you could give that is not.  Obviously there is financial giving, but there is a lot more too.  What about mentoring other preachers and leaders?  What about leveraging your contacts and resources for the sake of others in ministry?  What about strategizing together with others about their ministry?  What about dreaming together with an individual and believing in them as they launch something you aren’t associated with?  What about encouraging folks by private message, personal phone calls, etc.?  What about praying – and not just for your own ministry and its multiplication?

The value of your life is not measured by the profile you achieve in ministry, but by the reality of how much of it is given away.

Who Turned Preaching Into a Solo Sport?

SoloSport2The vast majority of churches rely almost exclusively on a solo preacher.  The vast majority of preachers prepare in isolation.  Who turned preaching into a solo sport?

Here are six factors that have influenced this situation.  None of them make a good case for going solo!

1. Tradition! – it is hard to overstate the impact of what you have always seen and experienced.  Pastors protect their pulpits and prepare alone.  It is what our fathers and forefathers before them have always done.  So it must be right!

2. Solitary Spirituality – the preacher is, after all, the anointed individual that climbs the stairs to the study and meets with God, alone.  We are much more into Moses on the mountain in Exodus 33/34 than we are into the Moses + Joshua in the tent with the LORD earlier in Exodus 33, or Moses and all the elders together meeting with God in Exodus 24!  Actually, if truth be told, we aren’t Moses.  We are members of the Body of Christ – and the New Testament description of spirituality is far more communal and shared than it is isolationist and solitary.

3. Clergy-Laity – the church has been a big promoter of a gulf between clergy and laity for centuries, but it is difficult to make a case from the New Testament for the distance that has been created.  A priestly class feels threatened by the invitation to share ministry with others, and a comfortable laity feels intimidated by the idea of joining in.  Perhaps we need to revisit the Bible regarding this assumption about the people of God.

4. Single Salary – since many churches only pay one person to be the pastor, there will be a pressure for that pastor to be the preacher.  Unless something is done about it, the default assumption of both congregation and pastor will be that the pastor should preach.  What are we paying for?  (Actually, much more than just preaching!)

5. Fallen Nature – preachers are human and suffer the same weaknesses others do.  This means they are likely to self-protect, both in terms of sharing the pulpit, and in terms of sharing preparation.  Human nature wants to be at the top of a pyramid, not sharing credit with others.  Human nature is such that I will assume my ideas are better than your ideas, so why should I hear your ideas anyway?

6. Insecurity – this one is massive.  How much spirituality is actually a mask for personal insecurity?  We don’t want to share our sermon thoughts with others until we roll out the finished article on Sunday, no matter how much it might help us to do so.  Insecurity will always seek to undermine ministry in team.  What if someone is better than me?  What if their input improves my message?  What if they are?  Praise God if it does!

On Monday I will post 10 Pointers for Preaching Teams.  This preparatory post is intended to stir our thinking.  Why do we prepare alone?  Why do we resist sharing our pulpits?

How Do You Pray for Fellow Believers?

PrayingHands2There is a strange phenomena in the church when it comes to praying for people.  Obviously this is a generalisation, but I have observed it enough to suggest that it may be a pattern.

When people become followers of Jesus our prayers for them seem to change.  Before they are saved we pray for God to work in their lives and circumstances, for their hearts to be drawn to Christ, for the spiritual blindness to be taken away, etc.  Once they trust Christ and are in the family, then what do we pray for? Often it seems to shift to the more mundane matters of health and career.

This is not just the case in church prayer meetings, but also among leaders too.  I know that I am tempted to pray more fervently and more “spiritually” for those who are outside God’s family, or for those who are on the fringes.  But for those who seem to be doing well in human terms?  It is tempting to assume all is well.

Take a look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in 1:15-23.  He begins by referencing how thankful he is for their faith in Christ and love for the saints.  These are healthy believers – they have a vertical relationship that is spilling into their horizontal relationships.  These are the kind of people I am tempted to bypass as I pray.  Not so for Paul!

The One Thing – He goes on to make clear the one thing that he prays for them: that the Father might give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him!  That is, Paul prays for these believers to know God.  Simple.  Or is it profound?

Clearly he doesn’t mean that he wants them to “come to know” God, but to grow in their knowing Him.  He wants their relationship with God to go deeper, that the union they have with Christ should become more vibrant and developed.  (Remember that “in Christ” occurs almost forty times in Ephesians – union with Christ is a massive theme in the letter.)

I suspect many of us who have a passion to see the lost brought to salvation may fall into the trap of then missing the growth potential that exists for a believer.  There is so much more than just getting saved and then telling others, there is massive potential for spiritual growth and maturity.

The Three Things – Paul spells out this one prayer request with three specifics.  He wants God to enlighten the eyes of their hearts to know three things.

First, he wants them to know the absolute certainty of their calling in Christ.  We have churches filled with people who carry the label of Christian, and yet have all manner of uncertainty and confusion over God’s calling on their lives.

Second, he wants them to know that they are God’s inheritance – an inheritance He considers to be gloriously rich!  This is not something new believers readily grasp.  Just as it takes a wife many years to truly believe that her husband really loves her, so it is with God’s people.

Third, he wants them to know how much power there is toward them as they trust God for it.  That is, is there enough power for a life like mine to be truly transformed by the gospel?  Is there enough power for me to be raised from my sinful state of death to do the works God has prepared for me to do?  There is if that power is the same power that raised Christ from the dead, seated him in glory, put all enemies under his feet and made him head over the church!

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is incredibly encouraging for us to read.  More than that, it is deeply challenging to recognize that this prayer was prayed for those who were already faithful and loving.  Let’s not bypass those that seem healthy and established in our churches and in our ministry spheres.  Let’s pray for them, and for ourselves too, to be growing in our relationship with God, knowing more profoundly the reality of our hope, his inheritance and the abundance of power available!

10 Pointers for Older Preachers

10 targetcI offered 10 pointers to young preachers without being old enough to be a sage. There will certainly be better advice out there, but I am going to take the risk of offering some thoughts to older preachers before I fully arrive in that category:

1.    Keep getting to know God. You may know more than others, but you never know God enough. Keep your life ambition to really know and love Him, and the impact of your life and ministry will keep growing!

2.    Doggedly maintain a teachable spirit.  This will allow you to keep teaching others.  If you stop learning and growing we can tell, but we can’t tell you.

3.    Never trade a goal of gospel transformation for behavioral conformity. As energy for leadership and ministry wane, so pushing for conformity in others will become more attractive.  Hold out the gospel always!

4.    Embrace the transition from king to sage.  Too many leaders have undone their good work by resisting this transition and clinging to power. As we age, “strategic ministry” shifts from a position and office to an attitude and role. We need sages freed from leadership responsibilities, who have a fresh passion for the gospel, and enthusiasm for the next generation of leaders!

5.    Become a champion, not a liability. You have seen older folks become crotchety/awkward/negative and others age with dignity/delight/enthusiasm. You already know what I’m asking.

6.    Always be a Bible person, not an issue person. It is tempting to let issues define your ministry, and these will shift over the years. Instead of heralding a personal pet peeve, keep growing an infectious passion for the Bible.

7.    Please stay humble. Even with all your experience and insight, God still doesn’t need you.  But He really loves you.  The kingdom of self is ugly at any age. Those of us who are younger need the humble you.  Your experience and insight, salted with humility, is priceless to us.

8.    Don’t try to be cool, but do stay up-to-date. This applies both to wider culture and to theological content. The greatest examples of older preachers have always been refreshingly aware, rather than defensively resistant, to a changing context.

9.    Discriminate feedback. People will praise any public speaker. Just as people automatically encourage a young preacher, so the polite thing to do is thank an older preacher. Don’t maintain a ministry on a diet of ambiguous politeness.  Get genuine and honest feedback.

10.    Past ministry glories don’t shine from your face, but a close walk with Jesus does.  There are lots of older preachers feeling frustrated as their energy and opportunities for ministry fade.  The few who love Jesus more than ever are one of God’s greatest gifts to the church.

Biggest Mistakes Preachers Make – pt 4

Slip2This is a series of big adjustments rather than fine tweaks.  We’ve thought about content and audience, but here is another big issue:

Mistake 4 – Starting Too Late

There is all sorts of mythology around about the hundreds of hours some preachers invest into a single sermon, and even about some who only prepare minimally.  Perhaps the bigger issue is not simply the total time invested, but the spread of the time invested.  Here is a simple and healthy guideline:

Before God, give as many hours as you can, over as long a period as you can, to prepare the best sermon you can.

1. Before God … that is, you answer to Him.  Don’t make decisions based on what others think (although people telling you your sermon seemed unprepared is a red flag to take onboard!)  Our ministry is ultimately a stewardship and God knows the balance that makes sense for us.  I could sacrifice the health of my marriage, my family, and other aspects of church life, as well as personal health and hygiene in order to give every conceivable moment to preparing a sermon.  I doubt God would be impressed.  It is before God that we make the value judgments on time.  Equally, if emergencies crowd lots of allotted preparation time, or if we step in at the last minute, then God knows that.  So before God…

2. Give as many hours as you can … that is, it takes time to do the work of preparing to preach.  It takes time to study a passage.  It takes time to properly pray for the people.  It takes time to wrestle with the wording of the main idea.  It takes time to thrash out the best sermon strategy.  It takes time to work out the best support material.  It takes time to get past logjams in our preparation.  It takes time to preach a message through out loud and make adjustments.  It takes time.  Wider reading, targeted reading, related research.  It takes time.  Don’t try to impress people by minimalist preparation.  And don’t appease your own conscience in some twisted way by giving minimal time and then saying you did the best you could.

3. Over as long a period as you can … here is the crux of the matter for this post.  If you start on Friday or Saturday, you might be able to technically do what is necessary, but only just, and probably not at all.  That is, only just in terms of reading, study and research.  Having longer allows you to stew on research, ask others and develop ideas in conversation, read commentaries and articles in a more considered way.  And secondly, you probably can’t do what is necessary at all in the sense of letting the passage do its work in your heart and life.  Deep appreciation of a biblical passage on a Saturday night may lead to a special moment of worship, but it doesn’t forge true conviction in the inner matrix of your heart and soul.

There are benefits to planning series months ahead to allow for drip feed study, prayer and research.  There are benefits to starting 10 days before a Sunday, rather than 5 days before on the Tuesday.  Starting unnecessarily late may be undermining the potential for God to work in you, and through you.