Yesterday I mentioned Robinson’s advice on moving from a five-day to a ten-day cycle simply by shifting the initial exegetical work back to the previous Thursday. I know that in my own experience most weeks are not consistent and so I have to be flexible on my preparation schedule (even if I have my own ideal). But I suspect that even many who have a standard weekly schedule still have to flex more than they would like. So what kinds of time go into a sermon preparation phase?
1. Blocks of concentration – Good sermons don’t get crafted in snatches between emails. Having significant blocks of concentration time is critical and need to be carved out of normal life. This can mean taking deliberate steps: turning off the phone, moving away from the computer or turning off the email notification, perhaps leaving the office and finding a “study” zone that allows for concentration. When we moved I left behind my favourite wooded area where I used to sit in the car and work without phone signal, but gained access to a church building that is quiet at key times.
2. Chunks of process progression – Some things don’t require being “in the zone,” but are needed to move the process forward. Perhaps researching a specific issue for an illustration, or chasing a quoted passage to gain familiarity. The key thing here is to know what needs to be done, and to have some days in which to get these chunks of work done. It doesn’t matter that it is only three times twenty minutes worth of work, if you are already at Saturday afternoon, these will get squeezed out.
3. Brief and extended moments for contemplation – Focused and planned prayer time is important. Taking prayer time when available also counts. Praying through a message in the car is better use of time than hearing the same cycle of news and chat on the car radio. I wouldn’t want to rely on car time for prayer. That makes it sound unimportant. But I wouldn’t want to be without those “non-traditional” times either. These times to think and pray are cumulative and valuable.
4. Focused prayer time – So as well as fitting in prayer and spilling out prayer as you soak in a message and anticipate preaching it, it is also worth scheduling and planning real prayer time. I like to spend some time praying in the church, focusing in on the people I associate with certain seats. Some like to pray and walk, others have a prayer closet. I don’t think God minds where.
5. Pre-delivery time – I value that time the night before and the morning of preaching to be able to run through the message. This is why I can’t just preach from old notes as if it were fresh. At this stage the work is done, but it is amazing how much can be improved when hearing the message through your own ears.
All of this time takes, well, it takes time. Hence starting the process earlier always allows opportunity for both the planned blocks and the smaller pieces in the whole puzzle to come together.