How Do I Find Time to Prepare to Preach?
by Alyce M. McKenzie on Thursday, October 20, 2016
I have always thought that I would be a better preacher if I had more time. Maybe an hour to read more deeply. Or even just 20 additional minutes to go over it one more time so my delivery is a little smoother. Apparently, over the years, I’ve expressed my yearning for more time for my sermons a couple of times too often. A few weeks ago at lunch with family after I had preached, I uttered the fateful words: “It would have been better if I had had a little more time.” A loved one who shall remain nameless responded “You say that after every single sermon you preach. Stop whining about time. Just make the best use of the time you have!”
Some things only family members can get away with saying! But you can bet I have stopped saying “If only I had had more time…”
But I still think it. I recently quantified my yearning for more time. I decided that what I really want is an additional two months every year. One month would be called “Suspender” and would come between September and October. The second month would be called “Remember” and would come between November and December.
I would also like an additional 4 hours each day, which adds up to about 60 days each year.
I realize not everyone wants time to slow down or even more time on earth, but I bet most preachers do.
Maybe some of us even have convinced ourselves that we would be better preachers if only we had more time. If only we had more time to read, to think, to take notes, and to practice our performance so we don’t spend our sermon time pacing aimlessly before the congregation, while saying “uh” and “ya know.”
My annoyed relative’s advice was good: Make the best use of the time you have. The only way to make time to prepare to preach is to make time to prepare to preach. This means countering the assumption among many parishioners that preachers just get up and utter profound, coherent, moving messages without any prior thought. The first step in making the most of the time we have is to respect the time it takes to prepare a sermon and to block out time in our calendars that we respect enough to protect. Because if we don’t, no one else will do it for us! I do best if I work first thing in the morning. I recommend that preachers decide on their sermon process and then devote each day to a step in that process. Here is just one possibility.
Monday morning – Mull over the text’s resonance for you/your congregation/cultural context
Tuesday morning – Exegetical research
Wednesday and Thursday – Exegetical research plus related theological, historical, contemporary or literary reading.
Friday – Right brain day. Engage in some non-conceptual activity. It can be anything that allows your right brain to take what may look like time off, but which is really golden time when insights surface and puzzle pieces fit together. I recently discovered two key sermonic insights while procrastinating from sermon preparation – one while I was cleaning a closet and the other while I was waiting in line at the grocery store.
Saturday – Polish your wording and practice your delivery/performance.
This is just one depiction of the flow of a week of sermon preparation. You will shape yours as you see fit, but the key is to make sermon preparation a daily appointment.
Maybe I would be a better preacher if I had more time, but since I don’t, I pledge to make the best use of the time I have. That starts by respecting the time it takes!
Alyce M. McKenzie
Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship
Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor
Director, The Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence