I know what it’s like to preach week after week, year after year.
It’s exhilarating–and exhausting.
It’s satisfying–and terrifying.
It’s fun–and a grind.
So as we walk through one of the busiest times in our year, here are three ways I found to make preaching easier.
- Plan ahead. I’ve talked before about the value I found in lectionary preaching. However you choose the text, I strongly suggest you do at least some minimal planning ahead. It took me years, but I finally got to the point where I was laying out a plan for three months at a time. I didn’t make detailed plans, but I knew where I was headed. It made preaching so much easier. I did use the lectionary, but I often looked for a sequence of texts in one Bible book. That way the study each week built on the week before. In addition, when you have a plan, you can look for supporting material over the weeks in advance. Online tools like Evernote or Pocket can help keep track of this.
In addition, when you work in advance, you can put your unconscious to work with no extra effort. I always tried to mostly finish my sermon at least a couple of days in advance. Then when I went back to it, it had magically improved, or I could quickly see how to fix it. (I got this idea from Kenneth Atchity, A Writer’s Time.)
- Know your purpose. For each sermon, write one sentence about where you want people to be by the end.
“I want them to understand grace more fully.”
“I want them to reflect on their possessions in the light of their faith.”
“I want them to see their work as vocation.”
Then you can assess all the ideas you have accumulated and see whether they fit or not. It’s better to toss out an irrelevant story and have a shorter, more powerful sermon that matches your purpose. This simplifies your preparation because you have a way to evaluate all the ideas that come your way.
- Let go of the outcome. This may sound like it contradicts #2, but trust me, it’s helpful. One of the biggest shifts I made in my own preaching was to move away from trying to change people with my preaching. I wanted to get as clear as I could about what I thought was important, and put it out in as compelling a way as possible. I wanted to do so with language and ideas that they could understand. And then I worked to let it go. Walter Brueggemann has a brilliant essay called “The Preacher, the Text and the People” where he talks about the triangle between these three. He says preachers put themselves on the side of the text against the people. Instead, he recommends you stand with the people and allow the text to address both of you. When you approach preaching this way, you are able to trust God to use the biblical text to touch people’s hearts. It’s not all up to you. I found this a tremendous relief. I simply had to do the best I was able, and let God do the heavy lifting. This doesn’t make preaching easy–of course we still work hard to reflect thoughtfully on the text and shape a relevant and engaging message. But we don’t have to work miracles.
Preaching is never going to be easy. It shouldn’t be easy. You are standing before God’s people interpreting the Scripture and calling them to live it out more fully. However, if you use these ideas in ways that work for you, it will be easier week by week and year by year.
What about you? What ways have you found to make the routine of preaching easier (or at least workable) for you? Comment below and let me know.