Is it really possible to have your Sunday sermon ready by Wednesday?
But why would I want to have my sermon ready by Wednesday? Well, there are some huge pastoral benefits.
1. The message has more time to "simmer" during the second half of the week, making Saturday revisions much more effective.
2. It opens up a day for extended prayer, ministry development, pastoral contacts, study, writing, reading, and whatever else it is that we may condiser important but not urgent -- the things that we want to do but never seem to have the time for.
3. Having a message done on Wednesday as principle, provides margin for the unexpected interruptions and emergencies that sometimes arise. If we wait until late in the week to prep the sermon and a pressing need arises, our mental and physical bandwidth gets compromised.
4. Prepping the sermon early in the week demonstrates that you take your calling as a preacher seriously, making priority for that work in your weekly schedule. It is not of fourth or fifth importance in your job desription. it is right at the very top. Therefore, sermon preparation deserves priority status on the calendar.
5. Another benefit of having your Sunday sermon ready on Wednesday is that you are able to take a complete day off without the stress of still needing to finish the message. I have tried every day of the week except Sunday as my "day off." The only day that has worked as a true 24-hour Sabbath from pastoral work is Friday. For me, I am already at work on the next week's sermon on Sunday afternoon. If you are a pastor who takes Monday off and it works for you, great. Don't make any changes. But if you think about the sermon or pastoral issues at all on Monday and are tempted to check email or make a call, then you may want to consider Friday. Furthermore, if you don't start the work week until Tuesday, you may not begin sermon prep until Wednesday or later. It may become the last thing you do before Sunday. And that is "no muy bueno." Why? See the previous points.
So, how do we get our Sunday sermon ready by Wednesday? It is much easier than you think. Yes, you have plenty of time.
Before we consider the how to get this done, let's back up and discuss the topic of scheduling, which really is about time stewardship.
We only have a finite amount of time in this life. When we consider that we spend about 30% of that time asleep, it becomes even more important that we consider how we use the time we have been given by God.
Some of us are naturally wired "schedulers." Some are even time freaks. Others of us are more flexible and not nearly as task oriented as we are experience oriented.
As one of the self-professed time "freaks," I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to structure my schedule in order to be most productive as well as to have time for self-care, family, and friends - a healhty life.
So, when it comes to time stewardship, we need to think ahead. We must plan our calendar before we let someone else plan it for us.
In view of those "big rocks," I have developed a schedule that enables me to get my Sunday sermon ready by Wednesday. This week it was ready by lunch on Tuesday, which is why I have time to write this post.
Here is How to Do It
1. Identity and name your big rocks. Mine are preaching, teaching seminary, developing leaders, writing, discipling younger pastors, and being available to meet with folks in the congregation.
2. Schedule your week with those big rocks in mind. Here is how this plays out for me. I get up at 6:00 a.m. (see the next point for how I do this without snoozing my alarm... ever), shower, get dressed, make coffee, and head downstairs to my home office/study. Monday through Thursday, and most Saturdays, I am there from at least 7:00 a.m. until noon. Five hours of study, reading, message prep, and writing. Every day except my day off (Friday). I do not even take a peek at email or social media util ater 12:00 p.m. I go into my study like it's a nuclear bunker and stay there until noon.
I reserve the lunch hour on Mondays and Wednesdays for "pastoral lunches." Monday afternoon takes place at the church office with staff meeting followed by miscellaneous administrative tasks that include returning email, designing the Sunday service, making pastoral contacts, etc. Some Monday nights I have various ministry meetings.
Since I teach seminary classes on Tuesday nights in Atlanta, I drive down from my home in Dahlonega (just north of ATL in the Applachian foothills) and spend the afternoon on site or at a coffee shop preparing and reviewing class notes.
After my morning study and pastoral lunch on Wednesday I head to the church office for "open office hours," which is a time for folks in the church who want to make an appointment or just drop by to chat, share a need, and/or pray together. I teach a theology course for leaders on Wednesday nights.
Thursday is reserved for an extended time of study, reading, writing, getting a head on sermon prep, seminary prep, and my theology class. I find that Thursdays for me also are a great time for prayer for the special needs in the congregation before I wrap up with returning emails.
Thursday night is date night with my wife. Has been for most of our 27+ years of marriage and has served to be a crown of joy to a long week of pastoral ministry that breaks on Friday but picks back up on Saturday morning, when I get up early again to review and tweak the Sunday message. Since I write my messages word for word, the editing process of the manuscript gets fine tooth combed during this read through on Saturday morning. My goal is to be done by noon so that I can spend the rest of the day doing yardwork, household chores, watching football, and hanging with the family. I find that the Saturday morning work means that I get my Saturday nights back, too.
Sundays begin at 6:00 a.m., as usual. I typically take a couple of hours to read through the sermon several times in order to really own it and have it be super fresh before preaching.
Every other Sunday, my wife and I attend a home fellowship group. However, I may be leading our college fellowship this year. Not 100% sure at this point. Still making plans.
3. Download and use the Alarmy app. Not many apps hae changed my life. This one has, and it is free. For years, I have struggled with my snooze button. Unless I had a morning appointment, I may hit the snooze button 2, 3, 7 or more times. I would lose count. Seriously. But the Alarmy app has a no snooze function, as well as a "challenge" that must be accomplished before the alarm will disarm. For me, that challenge is to take a photo of my bathroom sink. When the alarm goes off (and it has awesome wake tones), I grab my phone, get up, walk into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and take a photo of my sink. Boom! I'm up and it is game on at 6:00 a.m. I haven't missed a morning yet.
Seriously, download and use the Alarmy app. Do it now.
4. Be disciplined with the plan. Practice time stewardship integrity by sticking to your plan. By the way, I have an aversion to the word "discipline." It just sounds so law oriented. Kind of unfriendly. But it really isn't. After all, the words disciple and discipine are related, right?
As the most basic level, discipleship is simply orienting your life around a person and discipline is orienting your life around a purpose. Understanding discipline this way, we can see how it actually can be a means of grace, helping us walk in the pastoral path Jesus has laid out for us, enabling us to steward our time faithfully unto the fulfillment of our pastoral call.
You are going to feel the itch to check your email. Don't do it. Not until noon. You are going to be tempted to use the snooze function on Alarmy. Don't do it. Believe me. Discipline is not constraining. It is liberating, allowing you to focus on what is important rather than what feels urgent (but isn't as important).
One insightful reader asked, "Doesn't a Saturday morning revision mean that I still ruminate on the message during my day off on Friday?"
What I have learned is that by having the sermon pretty much done by midweek and ready for the Saturday revision, I am free to totally let it go on Friday. I do not look at it or even think about the sermon on Friday. One reason why I work so hard to get it done midweek is because when I didn't have it ready by my day off, I did ruminate on it (thus, undermining my day off). Ideally, the sermon should be ready for preaching on Wednesday. That ready.
The Saturday review then becomes a compulsion for those who just NEED to tweak it as a form of preacher OCD. But I really don’t think about it on Friday. I don’t do email, phone, texting, or social media on Friday. And man, I love Friday! A work hard, rest well thing.
You may wonder, "Then what does McKay do on Fridays/his day off?"
It is the one day I sleep in. No "alarmy." I enjoy coffee with my wife mid-morning. I may run errands with her just to be together. May take my kids hiking or go out solo. We play board games and yard games like corn hole. My son and I enjoy fishing and Friday evening is "family movie night" at our house. We set up a theater in the den. No time to really think about the sermon if I wanted to. 🙂
I really believe that if you follow this approach, at least in principle (to the degree it fits your unique pastoral wiring), you not only will have your Sunday sermon ready by Wednesday, but you will feel less pressure and experience more joy in the rest of your life and ministry.
If you are ready, it is time to take next steps. So, go back to the "Here is How to Do It" section and imlplement the process:
- Identity and name your big rocks.
- Schedule your week with those big rocks in mind.
- Download and use the Alarmy app.
- Be disciplined with the plan.
I'd love to know what you think and receive your suggestions on time stewardship! Feel free to post in the comments below.
If you are a youn(er) pastor/leader, you may be interested in learning more about the Timothy Fellowship, a mentoring ministry to help young pastors abide in Jesus by tethering all of life and ministry to the cross.