One of the greatest challenges to building a lifelong pastoral ministry is to continuously excel in the habits, traits, hard and soft skills necessary to build an effective ministry. An “effective pastoral ministry” is not defined by size or influence, but as faithfully fulfilling the ministry the Lord has called you to and a local church entrusted you to fulfill.
Undoubtedly, the greatest focus of any pastor’s week is preparing for the Sunday morning sermon (or whichever time is your church’s main weekly gathering). No matter what else happens in the week, Sunday is always coming. This blog post proposes four reproducible habits that, if applied, can help towards growing a greater feeling of effectiveness in preparing and ultimately delivering the weekly message.
First, begin your sermon preparation early in the week. Engaging in your sermon preparation early in the week allows time for the text to marinate in your heart and mind. Also tackling the text early removes much of the “Sunday’s coming” pressure permitting a greater ease of thought and concentrated hermeneutic work. Some of my most helpful insights and applications have come during a morning run, or a drive from point A to B simply because time was created early in the week for the text to marinate.
There will always be weeks when a ministry crisis will arise preventing an early start to your sermon preparation. A funeral, a major catastrophe in your church family, a sick child or spouse in your own family can quickly derail even the most scheduled person. A crisis though should be treated just it is—a crisis. An out of the ordinary event. Something unexpected. Too many pastors, though, live in a continual state of crisis. Continuously living in a crisis mode will reduce your impact, and very likely shorten your ministry and your life. Combat the regular stress of sermon preparation by beginning early in your week.
Second, look long by forming some sort of plan for where you are going in the next month, six months, even a year or more. A plan could be a weekly outline of the forty-eight or fifty sermons you will be preaching that next year. A plan could also be a note of some texts and theological issues you want to address. Some pastors look long by adhering to a chapter by chapter, verse by verse exegetical preaching process. They know where they are going because the text determines their next step. Others structure themselves around six, eight, even twelve-week series taking into account major calendar events such as Christmas and Easter. Choosing to look long means creating a plan of where you are heading with your preaching that will help you build reproducible habits increasing your effectiveness.
Third, set a schedule. Setting a schedule to do sermon preparation does not sound glamorous and certainly bucks against the idea that someone can only do creative work only when they are “inspired.” However, waiting to begin the work until you are inspired, or moved will only work until Sunday comes. If we wait until we are inspired to empty the dishwasher it would never be emptied. Some work just has to be scheduled and then worked.
Setting a schedule is a tool that, when regularly applied, can help you be more effective in many endeavors. What matters gets scheduled. Michelangelo, the master artist, is attributed to have said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” As much as you can set your schedule and work.
Finally, relax. Smile. Enjoy the work the Lord has called you to do; that he has entrusted you with. That too is a gift of God (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25). These four habits when reproduced, again and again, can go a long way to build an effective, lifelong preaching ministry.