9 Ways Looking Ahead Saves Sermon Prep Time

Photo by  Roman Bozhko  on  Unsplash

Photo by Roman Bozhko on Unsplash

When I served as a member of the clergy staff, it wasn't the custom to work together and look ahead to the coming season's sermon texts. We always worked in isolation.

Then, when I was a solo preacher of a congregation, I never seemed to have the time to look ahead: I was consumed with the day-to-day needs of the parish.

To set aside a big chunk of time and work alone on such a big project felt too overwhelming.

And now that my preaching is episodic—as a stint in one congregation, a guest in another, or one-off as supply—it can seem hard to justify the time to look ahead when I don't preach every Sunday.

I see now that all three of those perceptions are not only misguided but actually missed opportunities.

My practices over the last couple years have shown me that engaging with the texts in the company of other clergy always enhances my personal sermon prep.

I've also discovered how valuable it can be to look ahead at the lectionary a season at a time, both for the practical life of the church and for the thematic content of my sermons. 

And when I combine the two practices? Truly powerful things happen.

Here's why setting aside the time to look ahead with colleagues, no matter your preaching context, not only saves time but makes you a better preacher.

1. Inspiration

Working with colleagues to hear their take on the text inspires us with new insights and perspectives. While we might not preach on what grabbed them, hearing from others sparks our imagination with more ideas. Besides, it's more fun!

2. Preparation

Spending time to get a seasonal overview saves us time week-by-week because we already have a sense of the story arc. We aren't starting from scratch each week: the ideas have already had time to percolate.

3. Emerging Themes

With time available to mull over the big picture, themes emerge that wouldn't otherwise. One preacher I know noticed the theme of mental health woven through several texts only after she spent time reading all texts for the upcoming season.

4. Sermon Series

It's easier to see the themes or story arcs that form a series when you've previewed the texts for a season rather than encountering them new week after week. There's a reason novel and movie series are so popular: people want more of a good thing! Sermon series are engaging for many and allow the preacher to go deeper into a single idea.

5. Having a Place to Start

Few things are more daunting to the preacher under deadline than gazing at a blank computer screen. But what if it weren't blank? Planning ahead helps you enter your preaching week "warmed up" to the text rather than encountering it cold. In your planning, you may jot down a few notes or ideas of what grabbed you in your preview. It's not only less daunting but less time-consuming when you've already got your starting point.

6. Communicating with Staff

Looking ahead lets us plan and communicate with others who need to know. Giving plenty of advance notice helps everyone, from parish secretaries to Christian ed teachers, who have more time to do their jobs and relax.

7. Children's or Intergenerational Sermons

Is there a theme you want to focus on with kids? Is there an interactive series to draw together kids and grown-ups? Looking ahead gives time for imagination to sprout.

8. Liturgy Planning

The "Bread of Life" series comes up this summer. With some planning ahead, might bread figure more prominently or differently in the liturgy? When we look ahead, we have enough time to plan and execute any creative interactions with our congregation and the biblical texts.

9. Integration

When we look ahead to the texts we have the chance to let themes and ideas percolate through the whole life of the congregation. Leadership meetings, hymnody, Christian ed., youth gatherings, and outreach projects can play off of and reinforce one another. The entire congregation can move together to live out the scriptures in real life.



If you're interested in participating in a seasonal sermon prep group, we'd love to have you join us at The Collective+ (Plus). 

The Collective+ will meet Tuesday, May 1st, to do our seasonal prep for Trinity Sunday-Proper 15B.

A seasonal planner crafted specifically for preachers (by preachers) with space for notes, scheduling, brainstorming, and reflection will be provided.

Please join us to enrich—and be enriched by—preachers from all over the country so you're better equipped to preach Sunday by Sunday.