My Sermon Prep Takes Months

One pastor said it took him about 30 hours each week to prepare a sermon. Another pastor thought he could do it in about 6-8 hours. For me, it takes months. Let me explain.

Like any pastor in a small church, I wear many hats. And I don’t have a full time secretary to “protect” my study time. That means I can’t guarantee that every week will allow me large periods of uninterrupted study time. I also like to take time to think on a text before I preach it. So here is how I handle this.

I usually take a day or two in the summer to plan the preaching schedule for the year. I prefer preaching through a book of the Bible, though I usually do plan in a topical series or two. I try to get the general theme and purpose of the book I’ll be preaching out of. I take time to figure out how the book breaks down to preaching sections and even try to get the main theme or point of each preaching text. Then I slot these into my calendar. When I preach topical, I still want each sermon to be based on one key text, so I try to get those figured out and slotted on the calendar. I might work through the fall sermons even a bit more than the ones from January and on as I will try to take another day later on to flesh those out.

When I come to the beginning of the series, I again take some extended time to work on the whole book. I want to be clear on the main theme and how that fits each of the preaching sections. At this point I may even adjust some of the passages depending on how things fit with the theme and the calendar. I like to give people a good introduction so they know where we are going as we journey through the next sermon series.

I take Mondays off, so Tuesday is the start of my weekly sermon planning.

-Tuesday: research the text, check out commentaries, even begin thinking of possible illustrations, keep eyes open for illustrations that come up in the news or in my reading, etc.

-Wednesday: work through the material again in order to come up with the main “big idea”, develop a preaching outline

-Thursday: begin developing the sermon, I generally write out the whole sermon.

-Friday: finish up the sermon, build my power point presentation as I generally like to use it because I know how much of a visual person I am.

-Saturday: all through the process, including Saturday, the sermon is “percolating” in my mind.

-Sunday: I’m up and at the church early so I can preach the sermon out loud, it’s interesting how different things sounds sometimes when I preach it out loud compared to reading it on paper. This is when I make any final adjustments and pray over the sermon and the service.

And then, because it’s been on my mind all week, I’m able to leave my notes from time to time and not just read them. I know my content very well. In this way I work on the sermon a little at a time and can generally fit it around all the other meetings and interruptions that come up.

And so, my sermon planning actually occurs over months, not just the week before that Sunday.

Hope your sermon planning goes well!

Pastoral Longevity #2: Know Your Fit

I only lasted 3 years at the first rural church I pastored.

It wasn’t my choice, I was asked to leave – fired. Interestingly, I was let go for three reasons; all of which I had clearly stated in my initial interview when I was hired, weren’t things they should expect from me. They asked me about three items when they hired me and I said that wasn’t me. They still hired me and then three years later fired me. I forget two of the items, but one was regarding working with the youth. I had been a youth pastor and told them I would not be working with the youth as that was not the right fit for me. They had a good team working with the youth so it wasn’t an issue. When they needed youth workers they thought I was just supposed to step in.

My consolation during this time was that I had been clear about what I could provide and when they fired me because I couldn’t provide what they wanted I wasn’t overly discouraged because I had been clear about who I was and what I could provide.

Knowing who you are and what you can do may not make it possible for you to stay at the same church for a long time, but it can definitely help.

>If you are from the city and don’t like small town living, then don’t go to a rural place. You will not last very long.

>If the church is mostly seniors and you have a hard time relating to seniors, think twice about taking the position.

>If you are not gifted in music but are expected to provide music, you might want to hesitate to take the position. On the other hand, if you are very musical and that is a big part of your life, you might not want to take the position if they tell you they don’t want you doing music because they have enough musicians.

>If your heart is toward outreach and community involvement, make sure the church understands that and welcomes that. If you don’t, you may be in a place where they expect you to be in the office or visiting church people all the time. Make sure you are clear about that to begin with.

>If you are committed to home-schooling but your church has a negative attitude toward that, you might want to be clear on how your actions as a family will play into your long term ministry.

>If you have no administrative gifts and they have no plan on providing you a secretary, then be clear about that upfront. Don’t say yes to the position if it will be an ongoing frustration in this way.

You need to be clear about what your passions, gifts, and skills are. You need to do your best to assess what the community and church are like to see if the fit looks right. And don’t just trust the conversations you have with the search committee or elders board. Look broader. Ask if you can see their old minutes or records. Ask about what they spend their money on and what kind of activities they regularly plan. Find out what the previous pastor was like. And see how the previous pastor’s personality and abilities affects the discussion of what they are looking for now. Are they looking for someone exactly like that? Are they looking for someone who is opposite the previous pastor?

I have been at Bow River Alliance Church for about 5 years now. That’s not longevity yet. But one thing that has made it easier for me here is that right from the beginning there was a clear understanding that the church wanted someone who would be involved in the community and I was looking for a church that would give me opportunity to do that.

I like planning special church events that we can invite friends too. The church seems to like those as well. I like trying new and different things. The church is willing to do unorthodox things. For example – we do a Father’s Day Race Day on Fathers Day Sunday. We set up tables in the sanctuary and have the kids with their Dads – or Moms, or Grandpas – work on building a little craft car. After the service we have lunch and race the cars for a trophy!

But make sure you fit before you agree to take on a position at a new church. Things tend to go smoother that way.

Create a Plan for your Time

Do you have a plan as to how you use your time?

Most of us in rural ministry function without a staff. Some, like me, have part time help with a specific area. I have a part time youth pastor and a part time secretary. We have a number of very willing and able volunteers. And I have a great Elders Board to work with, but the reality is that much of what happens in our church depends on my leadership and input.

You know how that works, right?

So how do you plan your day and your week, your month and your year?

THE BIG PICTURE:

About twice a year I take a day or so to plan the year. I like doing this in June so I am prepared when September hits.

I plan most of the sermons for the year. I try to do series from a book of the Bible most of the time, but there are times that I specifically follow a theme for a few weeks. For example -I’m doing a four week series on prayer beginning on Family Day. We’ll have a special day to invite friends to church and then let them know they can join us for the next four weeks for a marriage series. I plan the whole year, even getting a brief them in place for each Sunday, if possible. It’s good to have a general idea when you will be on holidays or needing a guest speaker.

I plan when to do our Big Days. We have four Big Days throughout the year which are a special “bring-a-friend” Sundays. We do a Fall Kickoff time day at the end of September. Last year we made it into a Chili Cook – off and had 12 or 13 entries. We do a Family Day Celebration in February. We do an Easter Eggstravaganza on Easter Sunday, and we do a Church service as part of the annual Aggie Days weekend.

I plan when to do special ceremonies. I plan when to promote and do Baptism, Child Dedications, and Membership Sundays.

BREAKING IT DOWN:

As we work our way through the year I will look at each month and week at a time.

I usually work with our Secretary to do a monthly calendar. This gets information out to people, but also means I have to have more details figured out at least a month in advance. This also helps me to recognize when to begin promoting our events.

WEEKLY:

I begin my week on Tuesday, after a day off on Monday. I usually take some of the morning to evaluate the weekend and think through if there is any followup needed with people or with things that happened.

Tuesday is also when I figure out my events of the week: what appointments do I have, what meetings do I need to prepare for, and what is the theme and Scripture of next week’s sermon. Everybody probably has their own preferred method of planning your day, but I always keep a running list, even prioritized as order of importance for the week. Each day I begin the day with reworking and updating my schedule with anything new that has come up.

Rural ministry usually means that much of what happens falls into the lap of the pastor, but if we are organized and intentional with our days and week, we can make sure we still follow through on what needs to be done.

I have found that being intentional helps me to accomplish more and gives me ways to fill my days with meaningful work. I also feel less overwhelmed if I plan ahead and then break things down week by week.

I hope you are enjoying your ministry and not feeling overwhelmed.

May God do great things through you.

Take Initiative!

Rural Ministry is often lonely. Not just lonely because you don’t have someone to work alongside of but lonely in figuring out what should happen next for your church. There are times that I have longingly dreamed of having a team to plan with and set vision with. Don’t misunderstand – I have a great Elders Board and they are willing to do planning and dreaming with me. The problem is that this is not their first priority. They have their own job and their own family.

So as the pastor, I have to find ways of taking initiative on what I do with my time and how I give leadership and direction to the church.

The easy thing is to do only what is required. I preach each Sunday and make sure there is a good service planned. I visit some people. And then what?

As the pastor, it is my duty to look ahead, to recognize areas in my church or in my community that things are not as good as they could be.

In the church – is there something lacking in meeting the needs of people in the church? Is there an aspect of discipleship that needs improving? Do I need to begin a men’s ministry? Right now I’m working on having the whole church focus on Prayer for three weeks in January. I’m asking all our Care Groups to study the same book on prayers from the Bible and will be preaching on a prayer from the Bible at the same time. I’m trying to give leadership on helping us to be more of a praying church.

In the community – is there a need that we as a church could realistically meet? Should we set up a Food Bank ministry? Should we provide a service in the community? One of the things we have done for the last couple of years is an Easter Eggstravaganza at our Community Hall. We put on a great breakfast, an Easter Service, and an Easter Egg Hunt. We do things to make it an exciting morning. It gives us opportunity to connect with many more people than if we had something at our church. Our church can only handle about 110 people. We had 250 at the last Easter event.

I hope that you are not just “coasting” along doing the bare minimum, but are asking God to give you a sense of what He is wanting you and your church to step into.

Take the initiative! God has called you to lead – so lead well.

The Pastor: Servant or King?

I had the privilege of spending two weeks in Zambia a few weeks back. I was there celebrating my sister’s wedding!

While there I was impressed with the reverence and respect with which the average person treats their pastors. I know that some churches still seem to show respect for their pastors but not to the extent I saw in Zambia. No one calls their pastor by their first name. It is always Pastor So and So.

After the wedding, while pictures were being taken, it was hot. Some people had already found a place to buy a Coke when the pastor noticed and asked where we got them. We just pointed to the nearby bar. Later we were told that we probably should have gotten one for him and not just sent him on his way as that would have shown more respect.

While the reverence was there, I didn’t really see the pastors taking advantage of people, until I went to one of the larger charismatic churches in Lusaka. During the singing I noticed that there were some special chairs in the middle of the front row. They looked like thrones! They were similiar to “wingback” living room chairs – I think that is the correct term. These were for the Rev. Dr. Bishop So and So and his wife Prophetess So and So. In front of them was a glass coffee table, complete with flowers in a vase, a pitcher of ice water, and glasses. There were some chairs next to theirs, not anywhere as nice yet much better than the blue folding chairs the rest of us sat in. I was amazed – even appalled at the sight. Did this pastor think he was a king?

During my sister’s wedding the pastor made a comment about having the right to marry them based on that fact that he was “ordained by God”. That phrase caught my attention. We may talk about being ordained by our church or by our denomination but I don’t very often hear pastors saying they were ordained by God! But I like that. That means we should be much less concerned about the respect or lack of respect we get from people and much more concerned about how well we are serving the one who has called us and ordained us for the pastoral role!

Pastor: Servant, not King!

A Rural Church is Calling – or is that you God?

“I don’t care what you call me as long as you don’t call me late for supper.” What a groaner!

I want to address the topic of calling, not someone calling your name but being called by God for His purposes. Often in religious circles we talk about someone being “called” to the ministry. We say they have received a special call to serve God as a pastor or missionary full time. But let’s leave that aspect for just a moment.

I believe we need to see that God calls each one of us. He calls us into a relationship with Him. He is the creator of the world, but He created it for the purpose of having a relationship with people. We read in Genesis chapter 3 that God came and walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. God is calling out to you to respond to His invitation to a relationship with Him. God is not an absentee Creator or a Judging grandfather. “God is love” we are told in 1 John 4:8. Love is about relationship and caring. God is calling you to that relationship. How have you responded?

God also calls people to service, to serve Him in some way in this world. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Our whole life should be about serving and honoring God. If you are a welder, do it for the glory of God. If you are a nurse, do it for the glory of God. If you are a mother, do it for the glory of God. And realize that whatever you do, it finds value as we do it for God. Don’t ever think that only things done at church or under the mission of the church are God-honoring! You can honor God by doing your best.

And yes, there are some who feel the “special” call of becoming a minister or pastor serving God through their church work. That doesn’t mean they are more important or closer to God. It just means that God has entrusted that role to them in similar fashion as He has entrusted the role of lawyer or business woman or janitor to you.

Here’s a question: Could it be that God might be calling you to serve in a small rural church?

I believe that God has called me to serve in a rural church. I’m not saying that God won’t move me on to something else, but right now I can see myself serving in a small church for a long time. I believe God has not just called me to be a pastor, but specifically called me to be a pastor of a small rural church. The rural church deserves pastors who are not just putting in time till they get something better. The rural church needs pastors who are there because they want to be and who feel called there by the God who loves the people of the little places just as much as the people of the big cities.

Are you called to pastor a rural church? Just maybe that is God calling!

 

Behind Every Successful Small Church Pastor is an Incredible Pastor’s Wife

It’s pretty hard to be a good small church pastor without the full support and involvement of your wife. My ministry as a pastor would not be what it is except for my wife.

Yes, Lynnette plays the piano, but not all the time. We do have others who play and lead music. No, she doesn’t lead the Women’s Ministry and doesn’t even attend the Ladies Bible Study. Yes, she is involved in teaching the children in Children’s Church just about every Sunday. She also presently leads our Tuesday morning Moms and Tots program. And beyond the programs, she does a lot of ministry by connecting with ladies and by caring for those who need some love. She loves taking meals to people who need some encouragement. And her involvements have changed depending on which church we were in and what was happening there or even on the ages of our kids and what they were involved in. But that’s not even really what is most important to me.

All of the above things contribute to the work of the church, but what I find most valuable is her willingness to listen to me and to give me good input and feedback. I can share my frustrations with her and know she will listen. I work through alot of my thinking and ideas by bouncing them off her before I ever talk with my elders or other leaders about them.

So why am I saying this? Because I think that we need to be very careful not to do what most churches do… fail to recognize how valuable your wife is to your church -and most importantly to you as the pastor.

Take time to appreciate her. Tell her how much you value her support and input. Celebrate things with her. Give her freedom to say “no” when things get to be too much. I know I need to do that more for Lynnette.

Treat her as a partner in ministry. Don’t be scared to talk about what happened in your day and who you talked to. Let her in on the conversations you have been having and the dreams you hold for your church and yourself personally. Take time to listen to her ideas and to her dreams for the church.

I really hope you have a wife who sees how valuable her support is. There are pastors – even good ones, who are no longer serving in a church because of their wife. I hope your experience really is one of mutual partnership in ministry where you both feel called and both are concerned about your community and your church! And as you include your wife, also protect her and her time. Hopefully you will both have a long and joy-filled ministry together!

Change Something as Soon as You Arrive

“I’m not changing anything for a year” said the new pastor.

He was going with the advice that I have heard too. The old wisdom says don’t change anything until you have been around for at least one year. Some of the reasons are that you need to get to know people and need to build up a repoir or gain the respect of your new congregation.

Here’s my thoughts on that. Change something as soon as you can. People will allow you to do a few things they don’t like when you first show up. If you wait too long they will wonder why you didn’t make the change when you saw the need. Don’t just randomly change something. Don’t change something just to make changes, but make changes as you see the need.

If you are new, you are bringing new eyes to the church. You are bringing your experience and new ideas that the church may not have seen before. As you enter into your new role you will quickly make assessments about things you think could be better to accomplish what you believe needs to happen in the church and the community.

If you wait, there is a danger that you will miss some of the opportunities to make a few changes and quickly gain momentum while people are still excited about having a new pastor and leader in place. I don’t mean you make huge changes, those take total buy in of your leaders. What you do is change little things that will give momentum to the bigger changes down the road.

Change something as soon as you see the need and can do the change justice.

Taking A Break is Not a Sign of Weakness

Being a pastor is a full time job. Sometimes it is more than a full time job. And we need to know when we need to slow down and take time for a break and to re-energize.

It’s very important to take a day off. You need one day each week at least. And you should try to be consistent about that day. Make it a day that’s away from all the activities of the church. I don’t even answer the phone on Mondays, my day off, unless absolute necessary. The answering machine can screen the calls. Take time to slow down. Read a book -that has nothing to do with work. Watch a movie. Take your wife on a date.

Sometimes it doesn’t work though. This next Monday I have to do a funeral. It’s Valentines day and I’m doing a funeral. I think my wife and I will be able to fit in an early Valentines lunch, but then it’s off to work. That happens, but then look for a way to make up that time somewhere else.

I’ve had just about every night busy along with two full Saturdays this last while. I’m hoping to find a bit of time somewhere but its hard. It’s okay if you don’t go into the office every day. Sometimes you need to take the time to care for yourself because no one else will.

So my encouragement is to respect your own needs for a little time to care for your own health and take a break when necessary.

All In A Day’s Work

Ever wonder what the life of a solo pastor is like?

Here’s a look into my day today. While it may not be an example of my usual day, it’s definitely not unusual to have a day like this, but let me tell you about the variety of what was asked of me today. Here’s a rough idea of my schedule.

I got to the church a little before 9:00 when I usually start. I made a pot of coffee as I routinely do. Then I tried to do a quick assessment of what I needed to do today and checked my emails.

9:30 Ladies arrive at church for Moms and Tots program my wife leads. I talked with them briefly. One lady asked for a book for the Good $ense Budget Course I’m leading on Saturday. They definitely want to come. I showed her the pre-work they needed to do. She said she’d pay me on Thursday at Care Group. I lead the group that meets at her house.

9:40 Got a phone call from the editor of the community newsletter our Agricultural Society runs. I’m the president of the Ag Society. His wife, one of the ladies at the Moms and Tots program was there with her van. The February newsletters were in her van. Could I please get them to the mail so people would get their copy today. I put them in my van.

9:45 Got a call from a lady on our Ag Society Board letting me know that a sample of some community flags we had been working on was ready. I agreed to quickly come check it out.

9:50 Removed a car seat from our van that belonged to one of the Moms and Tots as Lynnette, my wife, had picked her and her two kids up in the morning.

9:55 Checked out new flag. Looks good.

10:05 Left for a meeting with the chiropractor to deal with a sore back. In the conversation the doctor asked if I was coming to the Lions dinner tonight. I’m a member of the Carseland Lions. I explained I wouldn’t be there as I had a memorial service tonight.

10:25 The chiropractor’s receptionist asked if I did Marriage counseling. She explained her kids needed help and she thought they wouldn’t go to her pastor but she thought I was down to earth and “wouldn’t just read Scripture to them”.

10:35 Grabbed a coffee and donut at Tim Hortons.

11:00 Back at the church meeting with Lana, a lady who is willing to help my plan our Family Day Celebration at the church. Discussed a few ideas and she said she would do a craft.

11:30 People began arriving to help set up the fellowship hall for the family supper being put on for the family who was having the memorial tonight. Helped out a bit with that.

11:40 The Ag Treasurer stopped by to have me sign a cheque.

11:45 Stopped at the Post Office to mail the newsletters.

12:00 Dropped off a couple of copies of the newsletters at a local coffeeshop. They had some suggestions for the Ag Society about flower pots for Communities in Bloom for the summer.

12:10 Back at the church to help finish setting up for the supper.

12:30 Home for a quick bowl of soup and then race off to the Cemetery for the placing of the urn for the family whose memorial it was.

2:00 Urn placing Ceremony

2:45 Stopped at Tim Horton’s to have a “date” with Lynnette.

3:30 Heading for home.

4:05 Lynnette dropped me at the church so I could finish the sermon for the memorial. I had some thoughts on changing what I had prepared earlier.

Our Facilities guy was in the kitchen. The pipes had frozen again. He was trying to thaw them out.

4:10 Answered some emails.

4:15 Answered a phone call regarding Ag issues about the Rec Centre and the fact that the Curling Club was going to have an oyster fry, but weren’t supposed to use the fryer and grill in the kitchen. Solved some issues and got things going.

4:30 Worked on sermon.

5:05 Finished sermon and greeted families coming to supper. Had to help set up mics and stands for two guys doing a couple of songs.

5:20 Discovered the doorknob on the front door wasn’t working. Had to find a screw driver to take the doorknob apart. Manage to fix it by just wiggling things around and replacing the doorknob.

5:30 Supper

6:30 Helped music team set up for service.

7:00 Memorial Service. It was for a one year Anniversary of a man who committed suicide and the family thought this might help them heal more. It was a good service and well attended by family, church members and community members.

8:00 Chatted with people after the service.

8:15 A man whom I had never met was introduced to me. His mom is in the hospital in Strathmore. She’s probably not coming home. Could I please go visit her tomorrow? And I heard his story of four heart surgeries in about 6 months or less.

8:40 Helped clean up from the supper.

9:10 Facilities guy asked if, in the morning, I could unplug the heater that was being used to thaw out the frozen drain pipes.

9:30 Home. Loaded the dishwasher with dishes we had loaned for the supper.

9:45 Played a round of Risk on the computer.

10:00 Told you my story.

And I’m sure I missed a few things.

The life of a solo pastor is definitely not boring.