As a Black person, working alongside a majority white staff at a majority white church with a white supervisor can sometimes be extremely difficult. This can be due to a number of things, including a general lack of awareness about the Black experience in America or neglecting to ask for Black people’s perspectives. There are also personal pressures—the cranking out of excellent work in a season of collective trauma for the Black community can be exhausting.
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
— Philippians 2:3-4 ESV
When we talk about Christian leadership, we look to Jesus, specifically, His example of servant leadership. He did not lord His authority over others; He served, washing feet, feeding the hungry, and healing the sick. We also turn to Paul, who teaches us that Christians ought to “count others more significant” than themselves. Read More
“Dad, what is 365 times 8 times 24?” my oldest son asked from the backseat of our car, about as nonchalantly as if he were asking for the time of day or what was on the menu for dinner.
“I don’t know buddy, let me see,” I replied as I reached for my phone/calculator.
“Looks like 70,080. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, just curious how many minutes I have been alive. Dad, how many minutes have you been alive?”
“Ugh, a lot more, buddy … (punching numbers in the calculator) … looks like 324,120 minutes.”
“Dad! That is a lot of minutes. What are you going to do with the rest of them?”
God, give me the courage to walk through this. Give me the faith to rely on you. I can’t do this on my own. I need you.
Those words appeared in my journal almost eight years ago today. I am also certain I prayed these same words yesterday, as I cried out to God for the umpteenth time during this coronavirus quarantine.
If you are anything like me, you’ve been on more Zoom calls in the past two weeks than in the previous two years. COVID-19 and the social distancing we are all living through has changed the way we work with each other. It has been quite a learning curve for me as I figure out how to keep my staff team of nine people connected, motivated, and encouraged in their work in this season.
Ross Lester, West Congregation Pastor, kindly allowed us to republish his thoughts on how faith can inform our politics. If you enjoy this article, consider joining us to hear from Dr. Russell Moore next month. He will address faith and politics at our seminar on April 16.
I am an exhausted evangelical, and I don’t think I am alone. Between the constantly churning news cycle about the 2020 election, the political feuding on Twitter, Facebook, etc., and conversations participated in or overheard at church, coffee shops, and grocery stores, I am weary. Worn out. Exhausted. But I am not prepared to leave the fold of evangelicalism, because rightly defined it is a camp to which I belong based on creedal beliefs. That is how the group was always defined. It had more to do with doctrine than it did to do with politics. It is morphing into a hot-button, describe-all term for a broad political block that I can’t be part of, but my beliefs are evangelical in nature, and my tribe is with the people who adhere to those beliefs regardless of their political convictions.
I remember having a conversation with a Christian brother who was curious about why I’m so passionate about racial justice and the lack of multi-ethnicity within local churches. At one point in the conversation he asked, “I get as a minority you care about other minorities, but honestly what have people of color contributed to Christianity and theology?”
The question shocked me. After a moment of stunned silence, I said, “Besides the Bible, core theological doctrines, and defending orthodoxy, I’m not sure.”
In many Christian circles, conversations about the sanctity of life wend toward abortion and the pro-life movement. That application of the sanctity of life isn’t wrong. God cares about all life, including the lives of the unborn. It is, however, limited. Sanctity of life refers to more than the unborn. It covers the expanse of human life, from the baby arriving in four months time to the woman with dementia. It concerns men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian, White and Black. Sanctity of life includes every human, because every human receives inherent dignity and worth from being made in the image of God. His image sanctifies life, every heartbreaking and heart-lifting moment of it.
Many leaders, myself included, aspire to follow the philosophy to “work hard and rest well.” Most of us have no problem following the “word hard” part of that statement. Unfortunately, we often find it much harder to “rest well.”
But the holiday season is when work rhythms typically slow down, giving us an opportunity for rest and restoration. In these seasons it is wise to resist filling that time with work and investing it in some downtime.
I don’t know how long it takes to write a sermon. When someone asks, I usually say something like, “Somewhere between 13 and 50 hours.” I mean this sincerely. When I know I have to preach in the next 5 to 10 days, I am always thinking about the sermon. My mind is constantly moving back and forth between the text, possible illustrations, main points, and ways to apply the sermon. Whether I am in a meeting, driving to the office, working out, or doing yard work, the sermon is always in the background of my thoughts. My wife can tell you plenty of humorous stories of catching me talking to myself or mumbling something under my breath on the weeks I am preparing to preach. If you count all of these hours of thinking about the sermon as official “sermon prep,” then the time it takes to write a sermon is very long, indeed.
While I don’t know how long it takes to write a sermon, I do have a pretty good answer for a person who wants to know the process for writing a sermon. I have been in ministry for 19 years, and I estimate that I have preached somewhere around 1600 sermons. Through lots of trial and error, I have found a method of preparation that works for me. Let walk you through a week of sermon prep and describe what I aim to do each day of the preaching week.
What follows is a normal week of sermon preparation where I am preaching the text our preaching team has determined for that particular Sunday. Space will not allow me to go in-depth into the methods I use for researching the text, looking at the original languages, and the particular commentaries or resources I prefer. All I want to show here is what happens each day and the high-level goals I have for each session in the process. In addition to what I describe below, I start and end each session with prayer.
Monday – Kick Off (1-2 sessions)
Monday is the lightest day in terms of preparation. My only goal on Monday is to read the text as many times as possible and make a few notes. I generally do this in two 45-minute sessions on Monday, one in the morning and one in the mid-afternoon. That’s it. Again, I am likely thinking about the text on the way home in the car, listening to podcasts with an eye toward the sermon, and maybe even doing some open-air preaching in my office, but as far as actual study, I am just reading the text.
Tuesday – Heavy Lifting (3-4 sessions)
Tuesday is the heavy lifting day. My goal on this day is the research the text as in-depth as possible. This involves doing word studies, looking at the original languages, reading commentaries and background material, and doing what is called exegesis. Exegesis is the process of seeking to understand, to the best of my ability, what the original author meant when he wrote the text. I am not looking to understand what the text means to us today and how we can apply it to our lives. Rather, I am only wanting to understand what the original author, such as Paul or Matthew, meant when they wrote a particular passage. Once I feel like I have accomplished this, I will write one or two sentences that summarize what the text meant. Most often, this takes me three or four 50-60 minute sessions.
Wednesday – Outline and Introduction (3-4 sessions)
Wednesday is outline and introduction day. Once I have established the meaning of the text and worked through the author’s flow of thought, I then write down what the main point of the sermon (MPS). The MPS takes the original author’s meaning and applies it to today. It takes what was written and intended in the past and seeks to bridge the gap into the present. Once I’ve established this, I make an outline where each of the 3 or 4 points further explains and serves the main point. For example, recently I preached from Matthew 5:6-8. The MPS of that text was: The church must understand the wrong way to pray in order to learn the right way to pray. With my outline I showed three wrong ways to pray:
- Avoidance of Prayer
- Appearance Prayer
- Performance Prayer
My intent with each of these points was to establish the claim of the MPS. This work is done on Wednesday in 3 or 4 50-60 minute sessions.
The final session of the day, usually in the afternoon, I will begin writing the sermon by trying to nail down an introduction. My introductions have two simple goals: where and why. I want to establish where we are going in the sermon, and I want to show why it’s important that we go there. Pretty simple. This might involve an illustration, a personal story, or some need or issue in our lives, or in the world, that demands a response. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said the introduction should be like a doctor diagnosing a patient. Before the doctor can cure the patient, he must know what his problem is! Introductions of sermons show the problem and establish why a person should listen to what the preacher has to say.
Thursday – Rough Draft
The goal for Thursday is simple: Get a rough draft done. This might take me 2 hours or 7 hours. I never really know. Sermons tend to have a mind of their own! I simply write until I am done. Now, you might be asking, what does a “done” rough draft look like? For me, it’s two things: balance and word count. I want each outline point to have balance and symmetry. I don’t want to write 1000 words for 2 of the points and 300 words for the other point. I like for each point to carry roughly the same amount of weight in the sermon. Second, because I have preached for almost two decades, I know the correlation between the length of my notes and the length of my sermon. Yes, we preachers do take sermon length into account! My goal is to preach somewhere around 36-42 minutes. Anything longer feels like too much. Anything shorter feels like I’ve left too many things unsaid and you as the hearer didn’t really get their money’s worth that week! This length requires my notes to be somewhere around 3300-3500 words. I stay pretty close to my notes when I preach and rarely deviate. So, the goal for Thursday is to complete a balanced rough draft of 3300 or so words. Once I am done, I send my draft to other members of our preaching team for review and await their verdict.
Friday – Sabbath
Friday is my sabbath. I try to get as far away from the sermon as possible. I don’t want to think about it, talk about it, or look at it in any form. There was a time when I would use Friday’s for sermon prep, but those days are long gone. I’d rather work as hard as I can to make the Thursday deadline, and then be able to relax and rest before Sunday.
Saturday – Edits and Memorization (2 sessions)
Saturday involves two main sessions: final edits and memorization. I wake up early on Saturday and work through any feedback I’ve received from our preacher team and bring the sermon to its final form. This might take me 15 minutes or 2 hours depending on how much I need to change.
Later in the evening I’ll begin the process of memorization. This typically involves reading the entire sermon 6-8 times. I’ll also make notes in the margins where I want to emphasize something or potentially mention another passage of Scripture that hits me as I visualize preaching the sermon. Usually these changes are minimal. I am mainly attempting to make the sermon as “preachable” as possible. Once I feel like I have memorized the sermon I put it away for the night and try to get some rest.
Sunday – Pray and Preach!
While I try to make prayer a priority all throughout the writing and planning process, I spend the most focused time in prayer for the sermon on Sunday morning. I wake up early, read through the sermon one last time, and then I pray for our church, for any unbelievers or seekers who may be present, and for my own heart to love and believe what I am preaching. At this point in the process, I have done all I can do. I then attempt to preach with as much zeal and conviction I as can, and trust that the Lord will attend to the preaching of His Word, and that it will accomplish all that He intends.