Last Update 11th October, 2016.
Sometimes as preachers we make things really hard for ourselves.
As pastors and church leaders, one task stands above the rest: the preaching. Not the preaching sermons part, but the preparing sermons bit.
If you’re anything like me, by Thursday the upcoming Sunday sermon is looming in your mind.
You put yourself under an enormous of pressure, hiding away in your study for up to twenty hours with the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Just think about it: each and every week you’re expected to step up to the pulpit and deliver messages which are engaging, impactful, inspirational, spiritual and life-applicable all at the same time.
And you prepare alone…
All cooped up by yourself and isolated. I used to prepare my sermons alone.
I would read commentaries, watch sermons on YouTube and research articles, but it was mostly just me, by myself.
Of course God can speak to you as you prepare a sermon alone and He does. I love nothing more than hearing a divine word of God straight from the throne room after an intense time of study and prayer.
I think there’s a time for this but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to prepare sermons alone 52 weeks of the year.
How did we get like this? Maybe it started with Moses; he went up a mountain and heard from God then came down the mountain and preached “This is what God said.”
Since then, we’ve never really changed the model and most preachers feel obligated to study and prepare alone.
If this is you then I have good news: you are not Moses, you’re not an Old Testament prophet.
You don’t have to this – there is a better way…
Planning and preparing sermons as a group improved my preaching significantly.
I saw a huge surge in my preaching as people starting connecting with the messages in a whole new way.
Why do most preachers prepare sermons in solitary confinement?
It’s only preparing sermons that comes under our ‘must go it alone’ category, for everything else we build and collaborate with teams.
So how did we get like this?
1. It’s the only way we saw modeled.
Most of us never thought there was an alternative way to prepare sermons. Maybe you watched on as your pastor studiously preparing his sermon outlines in his office and never questioned it.
2. We think it’s solely the role of the pastor.
It’s the pastor’s job to preach every Sunday right? God can only speak to the leader of the church and anything else would be a dilution of God’s divine sermon preparation process.
3. We want to take all of the credit.
Intentionally or not, sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking if we lock ourselves in our studies for hours then everyone will be in awe at the profound truths God has shared solely with us.
Sharing the responsibility means sharing the credit. If you develop content collectively, others may find out that every insight didn’t originate from you.
4. We think our ideas are the best.
Ever tried working with someone who thinks they know it all?
Ever caught yourself saying, “If you want a job doing, you’re better off doing it yourself.”? Why ask a group of people to give you feedback before you complete your sermon? They haven’t been preaching for years like you have.
Preparing sermons as a team requires some humility on our part.
5. We’ve always done it this way.
Perhaps you prepare alone for no other reason than it is just what you do. If this is how most preachers do it the it can;t really be that bad right?
We all work differently but here’s why I think it’s a whole lot easier, less stressful and more effective to prepare sermons (at least in part) in teams:
Why Preparing Sermons in a Team is a Good Idea
If you prepare your sermons alone week after week, you draw from the same well, and eventually it runs dry.
You start to tell the same stories, use the same examples, select the same Scriptures and teach in the same way.
You alone prepare sermons that you would like on topics that interest you for the benefit of others.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is the standard method of many pastors.
What happens when, week after week, your sermons have been prepared by you sitting in a room with books and a computer?
What happens after years and years of limited input from anyone but you?
There are three primary outcomes of preparing alone:
1. You preach better sermons.
By preparing sermons as a group, your preaching will become richer, deeper and more varied. You no longer have to rely on your experiences or studies to come up with sermon illustrations and stories.
You’ll avoid the danger of just preaching from your favourite Bible verses or themes. You’ll have a much wider pool to fish from.
Not everyone is like you and having the ideas and creativity of different kinds of people means you are far more likely to connect with the different kinds of people in your congregation.
I always learn new ways of seeing things, new angles to approach God’s truth and fresh ideas when I collaborate with people who are not like me.
2. It gives you a safety net.
Preparing alone means we can get lost in our studies without realising it might not make sense to your intended audience.
Preparing sermons in a team means ensuring that your message points and application remain relevant and applicable.
Group preparation protects you from bad ideas.
3. It takes the pressure off.
Though you may still have the final say, preparing sermons as a team means a shared responsibility.
If God can speak to you then surely he can speak to a team.
It’s no longer down to you to come up with fresh and engaging content week after week.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
How To Prepare Sermons as a Team: Unstructured & Structured
Preparing your messages using unstructured collaboration is the more informal approach.
You don’t need necessarily need to have a structured sermon planning team to begin preparing collaboratively; you can start to take steps toward it today.
If you’re like me then you work best when you’re bouncing ideas around with other people.
Think of building your sermon in layers and think about what kind of creative input you can get along the way.
1. Before study begins. Discuss your passage or sermon topic with others. Jot down any ideas generated from your discussions.
2. Once you have begun your study. Take the initial concepts from your study and bounce it around. Have conversations with others to find out what they have learned from the text. Ask what experience or insights they have surrounding your proposed topic.
3. After you have a rough sermon outline. Talk it through with someone and ask for feedback. As you say it out loud, it’ll begin to take shape in your own mind.
4. After preaching, get feedback. Ask people for meaningful feedback and don’t let them off the hook until they tell you something you can improve for next time. If it was good, why? If it was bad, why?
A Structured Team
My preaching has benefited tremendously from this method. My sermon gets a great start as I prepare to meet with the team.
It is solidified in its direction as we think through it together.
And as I study, I bounce ideas around with a lot of people, and it helps me develop a more impacting sermon.
Our preaching team is made up of our pastors who preach in the main services, the service programming coordinator, other staff members and a note keeper. We meet each week to do four things:
1. Pray. The most important part about our team is that we continually pray for our upcoming services, preaching series and sermons to be effective and powerful. We recognize that no amount of collaborative planning can replace God’s movement among his people. So we pray for him to use us.
2. Think and create together. We use the time as an opportunity to bounce ideas around and think together about what kind of teaching content the church needs in the coming weeks/months.
3. Do long-range sermon series planning. We look at the coming months and plan the teaching series we’re going to do. Sometimes this requires a separate meeting to plan further in advance.
4. Do short-term sermon planning. We typically look at three sermons at a time: the upcoming week and the two weeks that follow. On weeks that I preach, I present the basic flow of my content to the rest of the team.
We try to boil down the objective and desired response of the next three sermons. This ensures that our goals for the service align with the thrust of the message. It also gives us something to evaluate the following week to see if we hit our target.
When the meeting is over, collaboration continues throughout the week informally. I also seek input from a variety of different people to make sure that my content makes sense and communicates what I intend.
You may be ready to launch a structured team that meets regularly.
One great place to start is with the people who are already involved in leading your services—maybe your worship leader, another staff member, or a lay person who is invested in your church.
You may be surprised to find that people are willing to contribute if you let them into the mysterious world of sermon prep.
Whether it’s Give it a try. See what happens. You may find that your sermon prep becomes more fun and your sermons become more effective.