Expanding Preparation

January 29, 2010

I’m preaching twice on Sunday, but one sermon has been previously prepared.

You would think that sermon prep should take much less time with one, rather than two, sermons. But what I’ve found is that preparation for sermons expands to fill the time.

It’s a strange phenomenon. On weeks when I’m preparing less, I take almost as long to prepare.

Am I the only one?



  1. You are not alone. I am ever learning! Especially sharing the same sermon to some of the members who were in the previous service. Additional point or a different application from the same passage would suffice. I am still too young in this to give counsel. I am learning! The IDEA blog on Jan 26,2010 was key too in assisting me!

  2. No, you are not. For the time being I am now just teaching an Adult Bible Class and I find it takes as much or more time to prepare this lesson than when I was teaching an adult class and preaching twice on Sundays. The time is expanding for me as I am now more thorough, digging deeper, thinking and meditating more.

  3. Your not alone Colin – In my experience God gives us a word in the time that we have got! His timing is never late but always the perfect time!

  4. There is always more that can be done in sermon prep. New passages can be studied for comparison. Another commentary can be read. More sermons preached by others on the text can be consulted. Additional background material can be found. Extra words can be studied in detail. We trim off things because of time. Give the time, add the extra items back in.

  5. Right now I am preaching the same message in a different church every Sunday. There is always room for improvement, tweaking, reorganizing, honing an illustration, trying to find the best way to make the message hit home, etc. Additionally, I find that I still have to spend a lot of time to get my heart prepared to carry the burden of that message.

  6. That’s interesting Gary. In what context are you having to preach the same sermon?…. Does it ever get mechanical?

    • We are missionaries back in the States, visiting our supporting churches and sharing about our work in the Republic of Vanuatu. Before going out the first time (to Africa, back then), we preached in 155 different churches in 1981-1982! Some of my colleagues rotate different missions sermons, but illustrations have always been my weak point. It is much easier for me just to preach the text. So I pray that the Lord will give me a sermon for the churches with appropriate illustrations, and each time back in the States, I have felt that He has done so.

      Pastoral preaching is a bit different. You are building on a foundation, and you have a relationship with the same congregation. I only have one chance every five, ten or fifteen or more years (depending on pastoral changes, invitations and various factors) to connect with supporting churches. The sermon does evolve but the essence is the same.

      At any point, it can become mechanical. Certain lines have been said so many times that I can become like a tape recorder playing them back. I dread that and guard against it. I ask the Lord for a fresh anointing each time and for rapport with the people and I am careful to remain “present” as I deliver the message. Furthermore, it is not memorized as such. I know the main points that I want to make and where I am going, but time constraints force me to modify the message.

      Last Sunday morning I was in a church that had two morning services. The pastor had been a young man in the church that I pastored here in the States 30 years ago, so I felt a strong rapport with him and his introduction established a good rapport with the congregation. But the time constraints of the first service meant that I had to omit a much of my material. In the second service, I had the freedom to preach and did so for 50 minutes (!). A few weeks ago we had a service where I was to have a small 10 minute “window” which the pastor increased to 20 minutes just before he introduced me. After my wife’s brief summary of our ministry, I preached my message in 16 minutes. Obviously much was omitted, but that also means that I have to be thinking on my feet and asking the Lord to help me deliver the essential. So while I am preaching the same message, it may be greatly modified depending on the circumstances.

      Regardless of how well the sermon is prepared, I also have to be well prepared and depending on the Lord’s gracious presence and not the sermon or my ability (putting “confidence in the flesh”).

      I much prefer preaching consecutively through a book, to the same congregation. Preaching through books has been a great blessing to me personally, and I love to see what it does for the congregation. But for now, I’m in Matthew 24:1-14!

  7. Hi Colin,

    It is very likely that I’m a far greater sinner than everybody else but I put this phenomenum down to my ungodliness.

    There is always more I can do to work on a sermon. However, I know when I’ve spent enough time and have worked hard enough. At that point I should be out telling people about Jesus, meeting 1-2-1, praying for people …

    For me this is procrastination, plain and simple. I find it sooo much easier to sit listening to Tim Keller or reading another commentary than dealing with real people who talk back. But that is just me.

  8. John,

    I hear where you’re coming from. There’s a battle with our own sinful nature that lies beneath the surface of this discussion. We can certainly prepare sermons selfishly, and be slothful by not leaving the study to meet with people. Surely too, our imbalance between the Word and prayer (much more weight, for most pastors, on the former) is a problem.

    • Amen and Amen.

      When was the last time your prayer life expanded to fill the time?

      I can’t ever remember a week in pastoral ministry when that happened.

  9. I’m like Gary, preaching the same sermon at three different services in the same church, 9:00am, 10:30am and 6:30pm. There is almost no overlap between congregation members and so the whole church hears the same word Sunday by Sunday. I shorten my 9:00am, cutting out illustrations or whole points. The mood of each service differs due to liturgical style and content (9:00am said communion BCP, 10:30 contemporary worship, 6:30pm organist plays hymns) and so I find my preaching style alters to suit the setting.

    My struggle is with being dyslexic in word ministry. I need to spend quite a bit of time on extra processes in sermon prep.

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