In a recent article in Leadership magazine, three preachers are interviewed on their preaching preparation. What struck me was their weekly schedule. All of them spend a great deal of time reading and writing out their sermons the week before the Sunday they are scheduled to deliver it. Bryan Lorritts does research up to Wednesday night. On Thursday he fills in his outline and writes a rough draft. Friday morning is when he writes his final draft. Saturday night he reads his manuscript three times. Sunday morning he rises at 3.30 to pray, read over his manuscript, and rehearse it.
Joshua Harris devotes most of Thursday, Friday and Saturday to preparation. On Friday he nails down a basic outline. On Saturday he types up a full manuscript and usually wraps up by late Saturday evening.
Such last-minute preparation would cause me extreme anxiety. I like to have my messages prepared two weeks before they are due. On Tuesday week before the Sunday it is needed I write my first draft. The following day I revise it, and do a second draft. I then let it sit and marinate in my mind, heart and spirit until the following Tuesday. Then I complete a final draft, and give it to my secretary to proof. After any corrections, it is copied for general use (it is available in the Chapel narthex for any to pick up either before or after worship), posted to the website, and emailed to a listserve which goes out on the internet. All this is done on the Friday before it is delivered on Sunday. I look it over on the Saturday but don’t worry about it on Saturday night – I like to sleep well! On Sunday morning I read it over again, and pray for any additional application I should use.
Since I usually preach in series I am thinking ahead all the time, and seeking for guidance as to what I should be doing. Having the sermon in hand a week before it is needed also frees me up to respond to pastoral needs, emergencies, and meetings as they arise, without feeling pressured for time. Weddings, funerals, and hospital visits need to be planned for as well as sermon preparation. I have learned over the years that over-preparation can be as dangerous as under-preparation. There is a need to finish the preparation, and leave it alone rather than be tempted to tinker with it ad nauseam.
Perhaps my earliest experience of writing for a deadline has proved invaluable to me over the years. After I graduated from the University of Canterbury, I returned home to teach school for six months before sailing off to England for my graduate theological work. The local newspaper, the Hokitika Guardian, asked me to write the leading editorial article Monday through Saturday. I came home from teaching school each afternoon and sat down and wrote the editorial for the following day’s edition. Every day I would have to write a final draft and submit it for publication. Every word I wrote would be read by the local population. I cannot remember being intimidated by the expectations. I succeeded my high school English teacher in the job. I had just graduated with a double major in English and History, so I must have thought I was up to it. When you are that young you think you can do anything! I still have the cuttings of those leading articles. They are amusing to read. The topics varied from comments on the weather to Elizabeth Taylor getting divorced from Eddie Fisher. The news in 1964 seems so tame compared with today. But it wasn’t to those living at that time.
We are all writing for a deadline. Every day we are writing for our final examination. We are accountable for every word spoken, every deed done or left undone. This is why it is so essential to know our examiner, to know his expectations and the help he can give us to fulfill them. In the end, he is the only one who counts. We write, live and preach for him as our audience: to the glory of God. That is the best preparation.