I recently became the lead pastor of my church, which means I’m now responsible to preach at least 40 times a year. I’ve taught in a lot of youth and children’s ministry settings, but the weekly sermon takes more out of me. At the same time, other demands, like urgent pastoral care cases and administrative leadership, have been added to my plate. How would you recommend I go about getting a handle on my preaching preparation?
Jimmy, first off, congratulations on being honored with the new role you have been appointed to. As you are feeling, there is a burden of responsibility that comes with that role that is different from other ministry loads you have carried previously.
First, there is the load of responsibility. You now feel the enormity of being the senior human leader in the church who speaks week in and week out to deliver the Word of God. Anyone who takes this seriously finds it daunting.
Second, there is the organizational responsibility. Ministry includes a seemingly never-ending list of administrative duties: meetings, policies, procedures, phone calls, emails, meetings, planning, budgeting, etc. Most preachers I know do not excel in these areas. They are “prophets” who preach and teach, and/or “priests” who provide counsel and care. They are not “kings” who organize and administrate. (You can read more here on the concept of prophet, priest and king in leadership.)
I was speaking to the head of an organization that does employment searches for churches, and he said that the demand for executive pastors has exploded in recent years for this very reason—to free up the preacher/leader/pastor with someone who complements them rather than competes with them. If you want more information on executive pastor roles and responsibilities, Sutton Turner (executive pastor at Mars Hill Church) has written many blogs and a book to help.
Third, there is the relational responsibility. Now that you are up front often, more people than ever will feel close to you, want to get time with you, and take time and energy from you. As a pastor, this is part of what we do, because we love the people. But you also have limits in time and energy.
This is where a robust small-group structure that is sermon-based is beneficial. Other leaders who are gifted and able to meet with and invest in people are also a big help. In my experience and research, once a church gets beyond 80 people, even the hardest-working and most loving pastor is simply out of hours in the day to meet with and love all the people.
Fourth, there is the preaching responsibility. There is nothing like preaching. As a non-Christian student body president in high school, I often spoke to groups of a thousand or more. I also got my bachelor’s degree in speech and often spoke to crowds. Like you, I cut my teeth teaching in a college ministry for a few years before I began preaching every week. These early experiences did not take the energy out of me like preaching.
No form of speaking I have ever done has taken my energy like preaching. An old seminary professor who trained a lot of preachers once said that an hour of preaching was akin to eight hours of other work insofar as how much energy it cost.
If you are privileged to preach more than one sermon each week, that will help you improve as a preacher, but it can also be doubly exhausting. At my peak, I think I was preaching six sermons per Sunday, nearly every Sunday of the year, for over an hour each time. On Monday I felt like I had been hit by a truck. As the months wore on, I felt equally terrible on Tuesday and Wednesday.
There are a lot of things I can do for eight or nine hours a day, but I found out the hard way that preaching is not one of them. Preaching requires a day or two of message preparation for most preachers. Those who memorize or manuscript often require longer. Preaching also requires the messenger to prepare spiritually, as we have to repent of our own sin, get alone with God, check our hearts and invite the Holy Spirit to make us students before we are teachers.
Preaching expends a great deal of energy emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. Once the preaching is done and the adrenaline wears off, most preachers hit the proverbial wall physically and emotionally. I’ve heard it said that Monday is the most common day that a pastor resigns, often because of the depression that sets in after they have poured themselves out on Sunday.
With all of that in mind, here are a few practical tips:
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SOURCE: Sermon Central
Pastor Mark Driscoll is the Preaching and Speaking pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He is one of the world’s most downloaded and quoted pastors. His audience—fans and critics alike—spans the theological and cultural left and right. Follow his updates at twitter.com/pastorMark.