The greatest ministry responsibility of a pastor’s life is noted in Acts 6: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
Yet, the time spent in prayer and study for messages is probably a pastor’s greatest challenge as well. There are just so many pastoral responsibilities that arise during a given week that time for sermon preparation must be guarded…and maximized.
Below are five tips that I hope will be a help to you in making your study time more productive for your congregation.
1. Set two times aside annually to develop a preaching calendar. Twice a year, I block off a full week (or as much of it as I can) for prayer and planning of upcoming sermon series. I spend time seeking God’s face, praying for the needs of our church family, and filtering through the ideas I’ve previously jotted down regarding upcoming preaching series. My goal is to leave this week with series titles (or a book of the Bible) assigned to each of our three main service times for the upcoming months. I also place a text on the calendar for each service. Having a definite passage and topic already determined gives me a tremendous head start on my weekly sermon preparation—not to mention the benefit to our church family of having prayerfully-developed series, rather than ad hoc messages from week to week.
2. Give your morning office time to God. I block off no less than three full mornings per week (and often four) for dedicated sermon preparation. My brain is quicker in the morning, and since I believe that the greatest way I can serve our church family is with biblically-saturated, thoroughly-developed, prayerfully-planned sermons, sermon preparation gets my sharpest hours of the day.
3. Preselect 3–5 commentaries for your study. It can be easy to stall in sermon preparation by over-studying or reading so much that you loose the productivity of your study. I recommend choosing a few commentaries (with authors who take a literal-historical approach to Scripture) that you readily reference, but not doing an exhaustive study on every cross reference you’ll use.
4. File illustrations constantly. Find a few church members who like to read and email you illustrations. Highlight illustrations you read in other books, and add to your collection. Develop a repository of categorized illustrations so you have them readily available to add to a sermon. (Ministry127.com has an entire section of the site devoted to illustrations.)
5. Block distractions. Do not bring your phone into your study. Turn email off, and if possible, disconnect from the Internet as well. Obviously, you need to be reachable in case of an emergency, but fully connected is different than reachable.
There are many ways you will serve individual members or groups within your church family throughout the week. But the greatest way you serve your church as a whole is to walk with God personally and faithfully deliver His Word from the pulpit.
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.—2 Timothy 4:2