Some of us have manageable and set routines for the week which includes sermon prep.
Most of us don’t.
Many of us make a weekly plan for our sermon prep that is quickly derailed by:
- a pastoral emergency
- a dental appointment
- parish computer failure
- an upsetting meeting with a colleague
- a regional church meeting (It’s the only time everyone can get together.)
- a child is sick at home
- a funeral homily that needs to be prepared instead
- a roof leak
- a thousand interruptions
- Need I go on?
These are all important and necessary, which points to the reality of the preaching life:
Preaching is made more difficult by competing priorities.
Sermon prep can and ought to be a feast of communion with God. It should be a time of creativity and joyful preparation to proclaim Good News.
And yet in reality, the “feast” becomes a “movable feast.” It gets moved around and squeezed between every other competing good until it’s no longer a rich communion but leftover stale bread. Sermon prep becomes:
- A chore
- A source of stress
- A thief of our personal and sabbath time
All because of competing goods.
What’s a preacher to do?
Once the boundary of your sermon prep time has been breached, give yourself armfuls and buckets and truck-loads of self-compassion.
We often move our sermon prep around with an outer demeanor of the non-anxious presence.
On the phone, you say calmly if hesitatingly, “Umm…yeah. I can make the meeting at that time. I’ll have to shuffle things around a bit, but I can be there.”
In the meantime, your stomach is doing a back flip because what’s getting “shuffled around” is your sermon prep. And you know a sermon will not magically appear without investing the time to prepare. Which means you will have to find that time elsewhere—more often than not, in your personal time.
When you hang up the phone, it would help to:
- say out loud that what you do day in and day out is really hard
- say out loud that you’re doing the best you can
- say these words out loud as if you were talking to someone you love who’s having a hard time.
- place your hands on your cheeks as you would a child, or give yourself a hug
Actually saying the words out loud is really important. When you do, you:
- hear your tone of voice
- hear a voice of compassion
- hear a voice of kindness, and respect for what you’re trying to do
When we say the words in our head, we miss out on that tone, a tone that we deserve to hear.
Touch is just as important. To connect with ourselves physically, using the same loving respect we treat our friend, spouse, or child with, reinforces the message.
Talking to ourselves and giving ourselves loving gestures can feel a bit odd, but it really works.
There’s all kinds of research to show that it makes a huge difference according to self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff’s. She has lots more where they came from at self-compassion.org. Check her out.
The next time you have competing ministry goods and you set your sermon prep aside for the moment, treat yourself with the kindness Jesus would give you.
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What are your challenges with sermon prep? I’d like to know. I’m here to help you “Be Good News to Preach Good News.”