January 26, 2024

A Penny For Your Thoughts: 5 Tips On Taking the Stress Out of Sermon Writing

It can be difficult balancing the responsibilities of a personal life and a life in ministry –– learning to be present while also preparing a God-inspired sermon that impacts the congregation by the beginning of every week. In today’s blog, I’ll be going over five helpful tips pastors can use to relieve some of the stress of sermon writing, allowing pastors the ability to be more present in everyday life.

Noah Cecil

Have you ever had so much on your mind that mid-way through a conversation, you realize you have no idea what the person in front of you just said?

It can be easy to get lost in our thoughts, whether we’re making mental checklists, anticipating something exciting or daunting, or looking for the solution to a problem. Playing a mental game of chess with preoccupying thoughts can get the best of us, especially when we’re faced with high-stake jobs or responsibilities. 

When it comes to leading a church, pastors have a whole list of responsibilities that could leave them feeling preoccupied and not fully present. Between the duties of church administration, ministering to faculty and congregants, and of course writing weekly sermons, it can be easy for pastors to fall into this headspace.

It can be difficult balancing the responsibilities of a personal life and a life in ministry –– learning to be present while also preparing a God-inspired sermon that impacts the congregation by the beginning of every week. 

In today’s blog, I’ll be going over five helpful tips pastors can use to relieve some of the stress of sermon writing, allowing pastors the ability to be more present in everyday life. 

A Healthy Pastor Is An Effective Pastor

While many pastors do an extraordinary job of maintaining church duties, relationships, biblical studies, and spending time with God in prayer and meditation, pastors are (of course) still capable of experiencing burnout and stress. 

According to pastor Steve Dunmire of ministry organization Seedbed: “Regardless of how much time they may spend in formal sermon preparation, the sermon seems to always be in the back of the pastor’s mind.” Dunmire finds in a short survey, sampling 36 pastors across the United States and Canada, that “the time [pastors] spend reading books, reading scripture, praying, socializing, and even just pondering the sermon while doing other things may be an equally important facet of sermon preparation.” A common theme between the survey answers, Dunmire points out, is ”the sermon ‘lives in [the pastors’] head[s] all week long.’” 

The responsibility of a pastor can be a hard job to manage. It’s not easy maintaining a life at home, or outside of full time ministry, while also making sense of global events, our life experiences, teaching sound doctrine, glorifying God, and fitting it all into a connecting weekly sermon.

How Much Time Do Pastors Typically Put Into Preparing a Sermon?

While every pastor is different when it comes to how long it takes/how much time is put into creating weekly sermons, a 2008 Lifeway Research study finds that the “average U.S. Protestant pastor spends almost 14 hours each week in preparation for their Sunday message.” 

The number of sermon preparation hours seems to fluctuate based on who you ask. In an informal survey conducted by seasoned minister and CEO of Church Answers, Thom S. Rainer finds that:

  • The median for sermon preparation time is 13 hours –– meaning half of the survey respondents answered that prep time is under 13 hours, while the other half answered that it’s over 13 hours. 
  • Additionally, the survey shows that “70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.”
  • Some pastors expressed it to be difficult “finding consistent and uninterrupted sermon preparation time.”
  • Overall, “many of the pastors” expressed frustration over not having more time to prepare sermons. 

From the results of his survey, Steve Dunmire quotes the laments of a surveyed pastor: “‘As a solo pastor, [...] I wish I had more time to devote to sermon prep, but there are so many other responsibilities.” While some pastors might feel that they could use more time preparing for a sermon, Dunmire points out that: “Others, however, said they have made the intentional decision to limit sermon preparation time because they feel called primarily to the task of equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4).”

5 Tips For Easing the Sermon Writing Process

Whether a pastor finds themselves wishing they had more time to work on a sermon, or are trying to cut down on sermon preparation time to focus on other roles of ministry –– here are five tips to help ease the sermon preparation process. 

Tip 1: Journaling or Keeping Notes for Sermon Ideas

Because most pastors are actively thinking of sermons, cultivating research and ideas from what they take in on a daily basis, pastors should have a place to write down and record their ideas. 

Journaling blog String & Space makes two great points about the benefits of journaling:

  1. Writing our thoughts down is the same as “decluttering”: “When we declutter, whether it's our brains or our desks, we become productive.”
  2. Writing allows us to “organize our thoughts”: developing consistency in writing our thoughts down “will train our brains to be clearer, more concise, disciplined and logical.” 

This step is simple and easy to put into use. Pastors can purchase a physical journal, notebook, use the “notes” app on their phone, or any kind of writing software on the computer to write down thoughts and ideas throughout the day. By doing this, pastors can have ideas to build off of, stay inspired, and use journaling to help dump and organize thoughts.

Tip 2: Plan Out Sermons in Advance

Planning out sermons in advance is a helpful way for pastors to know what track they’re on in the writing process from week to week, rather than scrambling for ideas. 

Ultimately pastors should allow God to take them in a different direction if feeling called to, but having an outline for topics, sermon series, and potential Bible verses or stories is a good way of staying organized and ready for sermon writing. 

Pastors can do this by keeping a calendar, planning weeks ahead on sermons, and thinking ahead on how the sermons might even correlate to each other. This way pastors can have a head start on developing an impactful message and slowly building the message in multiple sermons, if needed. 

Tip 3: Write Sermons Collaboratively 

Pastors can work with associate pastors, fellow pastors in their community, or get input from fellow church leaders, to split up the work and collaboratively write sermons together. This not only frees up the pastor's time, but is a good opportunity to offer different perspectives and raise up leaders in the church. 

While collaborative sermons seem like something that would require a big church team, this isn’t always the case. The church I currently attend is considerably smaller than some of the churches I’ve been part of, and operates mostly on volunteers. Even in this case, my pastor typically has assistance from the worship pastor, and about two to three associate pastors when it comes to writing the weekly sermons. It may not be an immediate resource for every church, but it is attainable.

According to church resource Growchurch: “Writing sermons as a team means it’s a shared responsibility. There’s no longer the pressure on you to come up with fresh and original sermons week after week and you can still have the final say.”

Tip 4: Planning a Designated Day and Time to Write

Understandably, a pastor's schedule can change on a weekly basis. Coordinating the moving parts of ministry and personal time can make for an ever-evolving schedule, complicating time for a set writing schedule. 

In spite of this difficulty, it helps to establish at least one day of the week to commit to sermon writing. This day doesn’t necessarily have to be the same every week, but by choosing a dedicated day, the pastor can put most of their focus into a specific time of writing rather than thinking about it all week. 

Chris Colvin of church leadership resource Influence, urges pastors that: “No matter how much time you decide to spend on weekly sermon prep, put it on your calendar. By marking out a specific time and place, you’re prioritizing one of the most important parts of your ministry.”

Tip 5: Implement Sermon Writing Tools

A helpful way of cutting down sermon preparation time is taking advantage of online applications. Pastors now have access to sermon preparation tools, which allow pastors the resource for assisted sermon building.

These tools help streamline the sermon preparation process by generating sermon outlines, helping create character studies with ease, conducting research for relevant Bible verses, and contextualizing stories of the Bible with modern-day examples. 

De-Stress and Be Blessed

Pastors play an important role in the church and are expected to juggle many responsibilities. While many pastors have the gift to meet the needs of the church, it can leave a lot on the mind throughout the week. By practicing these five helpful tips, pastors can begin to stress less when it comes to sermon preparation.

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