Sermon prep, itinerant ministry and time management

On Sunday, I preached two sermons in a small Baptist church in Orillia, Ontario. In all honesty, they were probably B- (or, worst case, C+) sermons: faithful, reasonably coherent, but not brilliant. The evening message, especially so. There were some places where the evening service message could benefit from some additional clarity and precision. (I was preaching from Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, and I don’t think enough of my thought process made it into my message as would have been beneficial.)

Because of my various responsibilities—full time employment, family, writing and so on—even with good time management, I often am working up to what’s closer to the last minute than I’m comfortable doing. To some degree, this is my own fault. It’s also one of the difficulties of itinerant ministry. Sermon prep has to fit around the rest of life, in a different way than I suspect it would even for the bi-vocational pastor (bi-vocational friends, feel free to correct me on this point). This doesn’t mean cutting corners, but it does mean the 25-40 hours of prep some folks put in isn’t an option.

At best, it’s more like 15. And when I have two messages to prepare, that same amount of time has to be used for both.

Which is a bit nutty, I know. Not impossible, but definitely challenging.

This is not me griping, and I hope it doesn’t sound that way. I am very thankful for the ministry opportunities available to me, and for the patience of congregations like this one who seem to enjoy having me there (I’m back there this weekend, which will be my third in a row and sixth time overall). But one of the things I’m increasingly finding myself challenged by is how to manage my time more effectively,1 especially with school coming up. What I know this means for me is there are going to have to be more opportunities I say no to, and probably even more of my current responsibilities I’m going to have to reevaluate.

But am I alone in feeling crunched like this?

Bivocational preachers, how do you manage your time? Fellow itinerant preachers, how do you navigate these time management issues?

Photo credit: the tartanpodcast via photopin cc

  1. And for those tempted to mention it, Matt Perman’s book is on my nightstand, it’s on the pile. ↩︎

3 thoughts on “Sermon prep, itinerant ministry and time management”

  1. I can’t speak for the bi-vocational, and I’m not really itinerant either. But I do speak semi-regularly at our church (about once ever 4-6 weeks), alongside other church responsibilities, family, and a full-time job.

    I certainly haven’t got the balance right yet. For me, though, I think the following aspects are key:
    1. Ensuring that I remain personally “soaked” in Scripture (as per Michael’s point)
    2. Starting a lot earlier than many “full-time” preachers do – I’ll probably start the prep for my next sermon within a few days of delivering the previous, giving me 4-6 weeks of “rumination”.
    3. Making use of any space I can to turn my thoughts towards the Scripture I will be preaching on – usually this means things like when I’m taking a shower, or when I’m cycling to work. It’s not the same as dedicated “study” time, but it means I can put in an extra 30-60 minutes of thought, at least 5 days a week, which adds up.

    Things I haven’t yet got sorted:
    1. Too often I spend too little time at the beginning in Scripture, and too much time inside my own head.
    2. I need to get my initial manuscript down earlier for better editing.
    3. Related to (2), I need to craft much better conclusions, rather than just bullet-pointing them in the last 24 hours before delivery (which happens more often than I’d care to admit).
    4. I need to spend more time in prayer, both for my preaching, but also for the congregation.

  2. This isn’t a simple issue of being an itinerant preacher, but I think somewhat present for all pastors regardless of the time allotted for ministry. In a normal week (I’m a full-time student pastor), I seldom get more than about 5-6 hours to put into a sermon (unless I happen to be preaching a Sunday Morning). I spend a lot of time trying to connect with people, figure out event planning, attending student-things (games, plays, other events) to show support and build relationships, go through staff meetings and try to engage a whole church approach, plan curriculum for non-sermon discipleship classes, develop teachers, and also take some time to read your (and others’) blog.

    In all of this, the greatest advise I’ve ever heard regarding preaching is this: “You don’t develop a sermon and deliver that, you develop the preacher, and deliver that.” People don’t need polished sermons, that need men who have been shaped by the word of God, submitted to his purpose, and struggling with sin (as opposed to surrendering to it) who can stand before them and proclaim that the gospel is enough, God is trustworthy and faithful, and their lives are purposeful when yielded to His plan.

    Be encouraged and carry on fighting the good fight!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top