By Josh King
When our church shifted to an online only format in March due to COVID-19, I was forced into a situation that required my Sunday sermons to be done by Tuesday afternoon. Prior to that, for the past two decades my sermons were usually finished by Thursday afternoon.
This tightened timeline initially sounds terrifying, but it was beneficial. It forced me to focus and to work hard and has proven beneficial to my ministry rhythms.
As we began to shift back to in-person gatherings and made the decision to broadcast live, I had the option to relax the timeline back to having my sermon prepped by Thursday. But I, along with several of my pastor friends started to ask the question: What if we kept the shorter timeline? What if we forced ourselves to continue preparing our sermons earlier rather than later?
The intent was pious. We wondered aloud among one another about a more disciplined sermon preparation time. A few weeks in and I am back to the “low and slow” approach, as I am calling it. I’m finishing my sermons on Thursday; not from a place of slipping back into an old habit but from a place of conviction.
Let me explain: If you’re familiar with grilling, you’ll agree that it takes some time to grill the perfect dinner. Maybe that same logic can be applied to sermons.
Time to Marinate
If you have prepared years of sermons you know how to functionally put one together. In fact several of my friends can build a sermon with a study Bible and a few hours that would knock your socks off.
But the problem with that is you miss the ownership of the sermon. It doesn’t become part of you the way it does if you spend a lot of time in it. The tweaking and sharpening of phrases and logical thought processes is missed.
Part of what makes a sermon authentic and come alive when it’s delivered is not only the text itself but also the implications of the text that have seeped into and through the deliverer.
Time to Smoke
When I prepare a sermon in a short amount of time I have to cut certain habits out. One of those is my desire to talk the sermon out with others. My wife is phenomenal at this as are many on our church’s staff.
I really enjoy picking up what I am learning and then just talking through the pieces of the story’s arch or the points with them. It helps me fit it all together in a way that others can follow. Like smoke filling a room, the beauty and impact of the text waft through the minds of those close to me.
Without fail, immediately or in a few days, one or more people with whom I’ve discussed some element of a forthcoming sermon will approach me with an insight or perspective that I wasn’t considering. I simply have no time to do that if I rush to finish the sermon in one day.
Time to Sit
When you grill meat there’s a period of time it should sit after removing it from the heat. You can ruin a great steak if you cut it too soon. You can argue this is the case with the sermon as well.
For years, my habit has been to learn the text early in the week, to sketch out the teaching portion of the text and then to wait on the illustrations. Those are the last additions to the manuscript or outline. Why? Because I find them to be powerful when they come from my life in more recent days.
By allowing that passage of Scripture to root deep into my heart and fill the conversations of my closest friends, my eyes are open as I experience life. A conversation, day trip, comical challenge, or even a news piece will highlight an aspect of our fallen nature that this week’s text speaks to.
Discipline is an honor and should be cultivated. The discipline to work through the sermon slowly may prove to be beneficial not only in our own hearts but in the way it is received by the hearts of the people you serve in your church.
JOSH KING (@JoWiKi) is the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas, husband of Jacki, and father of three boys. He’s also a co-host of the EST.church podcast.