Yesterday we proposed two ways of combining faithful sermon preparation with a busy ministry. Today we’ll look at how prioritizing sermon preparation and planning ahead also help that happy union. 

Faithful sermon preparation in a busy ministry…

3. PRIORITIZES sermon preparation

An old minister who was also a shepherd told me when I entered the ministry, “Feed the sheep and you won’t hear them bleating.” So true! I’ve seen extremely promising ministries ruined because the pastor did everything but feed the sheep. It doesn’t matter how many people you visit, how much you evangelize, how popular you are with the young folks, if you don’t feed the sheep, they are going to start bleating.

The opposite is true too; a church can get through many problems and troubles if the sheep are kept full and satisfied.

We must prioritize sermon preparation. If we do nothing else well, we have to do this well. If we do nothing else in a week, we must do this. Nothing must get in the way of sermon prep time. OK, we won’t have the ideal schedules we all thought we would have in Seminary, but we must still schedule our week to make sure that we have our sermons ready for our sheep.

  • They should be scheduled times. As fixed as a doctor’s appointment. Everything else is worked around sermon prep.
  • They should be regular times – in the same place in our calendars each week – so that our brain is in the groove and knows what to expect when the starting blocks appear.
  • They should be large sections of time – a minimum of 3 hours at a time.
  • They should be the best times in our week – our high performance times.
  • They should be uninterrupted times – we tell our families and our elders, maybe even our congregation, that these times are virtually sacrosanct. We get our phone on voicemail and shut off all digital distractions.

Faithful sermon preparation will never happen without faithful time management. It will amaze you how much you can get done in regular, concentrated times of study.

4. PLANS ahead

I rarely preached series of consecutive expository sermons. Maybe two in my whole ministry. I much preferred to preach texts that caught my attention or that met a particular pressing need at the time. However, that didn’t mean that I sat down on Friday or Saturday and started looking for a text. No, I was looking all through the week, looking for a text that struck me in my own reading, family worship, in visiting a home, in my reading of Christian books, or something that spoke to a local or national issue. Sometimes I would gather 10 or more texts like that in the course of the week and I’d only need three. Some of the others would be used in later weeks and some never became sermons at all.

My point is, I was planning ahead and not just waiting until the moment I needed to start writing a sermon. I wouldn’t just write down a text though; I would often write down my initial thoughts or even a skeleton outline. Often I came to prepare a sermon and nothing had really impacted me that week. But I had dozens and dozens of previous texts, thoughts, and outlines stored up that I often plundered.

You probably are not quite so free-spirited as I was and am. Most American pastors are preaching at least one series of consecutive expository sermons. In some cases two or three at the same time. I’m sure many of you plan ahead your series, even months in advance. That will certainly help you save time with weekly text selection. But you can also be planning a bit more by reading ahead, studying difficult passages before they drown you the week you have to preach them.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever had was from an older pastor who told me to preserve the fruits of your study. I’ve used various systems to build up a database of information on various theological issues and subjects so that when I come to preach on a text that touches on say fellowship, or adoption, or the atonement, I already have a list of articles, quotations, etc., that I can quickly access without searching theological tomes for them. Although the cataloguing takes time, it saves so much time in sermon prep.

As much of my reading is done online now, I use to bookmark Internet articles with keywords and highlighted phrases.

Next time we’ll look at establishing exegetical routines and at a pragmatic use of biblical languages.

  • Sebastian Cortez

    Hey Bro.
    I just wanted to say “Thank you” for this article. I really enjoyed the first section that dealt with prioritizing the sermon prep. I am currently in a church planting season, and it seems that everything pulls you away from the sermon prep, and when the delivery of the sermon comes, I, and I have to say the sheep, never really seemed satisfied.

    A friend of mine (he sent me this article, his name is Erick Cobb) really began to encourage me to spend more time prepping. I have taken his encouragement that last three weeks, and I have to say that I feel a radical difference in my delivery. Even if that means that I am only adding three or four more hours a week to my studies. Our church has also noticed the difference, and they have been all the more encouraging.

    How much time do you spend on sermon prep, and why do you think that amount of time is necessary? I once heard, and I am not sure if it is true or not, but that people like John MacArthur spend forty hours a week in study. Is that necessary? Preferred?

    Thanks again bro.

    Sabo Cortez

    • David Murray

      Thanks Sebastian. Glad you found this helpful and especially delighted to read of how the Lord has been helping you in preaching. Sermon prep time for me averages out about 7 hours probably. It used to be longer but obviously as you study more through the years, there’s less you have to study for each sermon.

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  • Jake

    Dr. Murray

    “…if you don’t feed the sheep, they are going to start bleating.”

    In some cases, “You’re not feeding the sheep” becomes the slogan of those who wish the pastor to move on. Doesn’t a faithful pastor “lead his sheep” into the pasture where he watches them eat for a good part of the day? The “… keeping full and satisfied…” happens throughout the week for the sheep as they feed personally on the Word they have been led to through the preaching.

    I know that this may be semantics by sadly sometimes all to real… ruining promising ministries.

  • billy white

    i have your book on kindle and i enjoy your teachings. i almost feel guilty about preaching individual verses for sermons, but i enjoy that the most and feel like that msy be my niech(spell). Do you recommend that i pursue that method, i.e., textual sermons. if so, how would i shake off the feeling of guilt? keep up the good work. billy white