Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sermon Prep

This is an excerpt from the book "Killing Cockroaches" by Tony Morgan. This particular portion was written by David Foster, and is important reminder to me about the amount of time I down preparing my sermons. At times I can feel a little guilty for how much time I dedicate to sermon prep. This helped me. I thought I would give it to you in full, and provide some commentary through it of my own thoughts.  My comments will all be in orange.  Enjoy!

My "killing cockroaches" story has to do with the issue of preparation. (If you want to know about the "killing cockroaches" comments are about, you'll have to read the book!) My life's calling as a writer and a speaker means I live in a world of words and ideas. This requires lots and lots of time in research and preparation in how to communicate your idea effectively.

I operate on one key principle-great speaking comes from the overflow of preparation. Before you can move others, you must first be moved. And that requires many hours of concentrated time, being still in one place thinking great thoughts! (Okay, maybe not all great.  But thoughts anyway!)

Sounds simple-except when you realize that year after year the number one fear people have is speaking before a crowd. For me, the fear of speaking in front of a crowd isn't so great as it is speaking before a crowd unprepared. (Believe it or not, this is one of my most frequent "nightmares" - standing before a congregation unprepared.  I know that sounds crazy, but I literally have bad dreams about not being ready to preach when it comes time to do so.) Therefore, I must spend hours and hours alone in my office in front of a computer, reading, studying, cross-referencing, researching, looking for illustrations, adding, deleting--all pointing toward one particular moment in which I will speak or write. I was taught that you need one hour of preparation for every minute you speak. That means if you speak for forty minutes, you prepare forty hours. (I actually prepare half of that.  I average one hour of preparation time for every two minutes hours I preach.  I preach around 35-40 minutes, and spend 14-15 hours preparing) 

Now here's my problem. I'm a guy of action and I live in a world of buzzers, bells, chimes, and alarms. They exist for one real reason-to get me moving! I like them because I love doing things. I live to be involved in conversations. When things are going on, I want to know about them. I want to do things that have an immediate payoff. But here's my dilemma: I get more immediate gratification "chasing the cockroaches" of my everyday interest or distraction. Hurry makes it easier to justify not preparing. (I know a lot of preachers who are so "busy" they don't spend the time they need to on the essentials, yet this was exactly the danger which caused the apostles in Acts to avoid doing work others could do.)

The truth is, preparation is hard, lonely work. It takes terrible inner discipline. It requires as much discipline to sit down, study and prepare as it does to be actively attending meetings or dashing off to lunch, all of which feed the need for immediate gratification. So a lot of guys like me who speak for God week after week, year in and year out, face the urge to procrastinate on preparation because we want to be the guys who do a lot of really important stuff with our time. Then we cheat on our preparation time and justify it by tending to all the small emergencies around us that make us feel significant.

If I'm going to be great at what I alone can do for my movement, I must guard my prayer and preparation time like money in the bank. Too many are in the habit of "winging it," thinking other people won't notice. But they do. (Yes, they do) We diminish our effectiveness by chasing a thousand little distractions. And who pays the price? The people craving an inspiring, insightful, and transformational message. So rather than preaching with power and conviction, we end up just recounting our "cockroach killing" stories, hoping our lame excuses will make up for our chronic neglect of doing the one thing only we could have done the past six days - prepare! (This is the challenge for myself an other pastors.  By not spending enough time preparing, I'm actually shortchanging the people I'm supposed to be serving.)

Who among us hasn't been on the receiving end of a boring speaker who was too busy chasing the urgent to invest the time to be interesting. (I hope none of you are thinking about me right now...though I've delivered my share of boring sermons.) Talent can only take you so far. Preparation is what separates a good speaker from the truly great ones. Let other people out all the little fires and chase the little foxes. If you are going to slay giants on Sunday, you must resist against the forces that distract, dissipate, and disappoint.

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