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.

One Step Closer

SteppingForward2Sometimes taking one step forward can make a huge difference.  Instead of remaining at arms length, one step can cross numerous boundaries of personal space and move you into a zone of great importance – this is true in romance, in fighting, in conversation, and in preaching.

Beginning preachers, and some that have preached for years, tend to preach their message at arms length. Some do so by some sort of conviction, others more unawares.  They study and prepare, but it is all about the notes.  From the Bible to the notes to the people.  Arms length. Somehow there is a nervousness about this thing out there called the message.  The preacher is anxious about saying the right words and that anxiety sometimes shows.  Even without showing overtly, it does leave the message somewhat flat, just about the words.

But one step forward can make such a difference.  If the entire process of Bible study, message preparation and delivery can all be brought inside the personal space, the preaching is very different.  Instead of something the preacher is straining to not forget, now the message comes from the heart.  Instead of preaching being truth preached by a personality (often a stilted personality trying to remember the message), now the message can be truth through personality.  Instead of a message being handled at arms length from the Bible text to the listeners, via the notes of the preacher, now the message comes through the preacher with the force of the life transforming power of the Word – clear and unhindered.

I am not really writing about notes.  More about whether the Bible is a curiosity and data source, a professional tool, or a personal treasure from a God who moves intimately into our personal space to wreck our self-absorbed worlds, bring about massive transformation and a deep intimacy.  I am suggesting our message preparation should be a unique experience for each of us, rather than following the checklist of someone else’s model.  I am saying that our delivery should come from the totality of a gripped heart and life in transformation, rather than being a mere transfer of information from notes to listeners.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how one message can be preached at arms length, while another comes through the heart of the preacher.  Yet as a listener it is usually not so hard to tell the difference.