Seven months ago, when I became a pastor, I suddenly switched from preaching once a month to three times a week. I suddenly switched from having several weeks to prepare one sermon, to having just a few days to prepare three. And it was rough for awhile. I was in the habit of writing out my sermons word for word.
I got into this habit due to my seminary education. I realized just how important the sermon is. It’s not merely a chance for the preacher to get up and ramble for a little while on how we need to be better Christians. It’s an opportunity to teach and explain the Word of God. Paul gave Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus, the following instructions:
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4:2
And to most effectively maximize the time allotted for God’s Word to fulfill these objectives, a full manuscript is extremely useful.
But it’s also extremely time consuming. While this forced me to think through every word ahead of time, it often took 20 hours or more to prepare a single sermon. And although I’ve read that pastors who spend that much time in sermon preparation have effective ministries, it seems silly to spend so much time on a single sermon that last less than an hour.
Fortunately, I’m learning that I don’t have to write a full manuscript for every sermon anymore, though it might still be helpful sometimes when addressing sensitive issues. I’m learning that I can normally preach from a good one page detailed outline. This cuts down on preparation time significantly.
I’d like to get to the point that I don’t need an outline at all. I’d like to get to the point that I know the sermon text so well (from many hours of study) that I’m able by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to stand up and passionately correct, rebuke, and encourage from God’s Word, with great patience and careful instruction. I’m not there yet, but by God’s grace I hope to be there within the next few years. No manuscript. No outline. Just preaching from God’s Word…what a concept!