Rhythms and Checkpoints in Your Sermon Prep: The Why and How

Your preaching context is different than mine. You have challenges I don’t have and I have challenges you don’t have. This is why it’s important to develop rhythms and checkpoints in your sermon prep. Sure, it’s valuable to hear how other people prepare their sermons, but the most important thing is to develop your own process that fits your present context.

Rhythms and Checkpoints in Your Sermon Prep- The Why and How

No doubt, there have been times that you have read an article here at RP or somewhere else and thought, that won’t work for me! There’s no way around this being the case unless we were to have a 1 on 1 conversation about your context and processes. But what rhythms and checkpoints can do is to give you a framework to maximize your time so you can make your sermon prep more efficient.

Rhythms and Checkpoints in Your Sermon Prep

Let’s look at a simple process that can help you develop some rhythms and checkpoints in your sermon prep.

Take an Inventory

What does a typical week, month, and year include for you? How many sermons? How many sermon series? How many Bible studies? How many leadership meetings? How much vacation time do you get? How many additional Sundays are you allowed to get guest speakers or other staff to preach? What else?

List it all out.

Organize Your Inventory

In a year, how many sermons will you preach?

In a year, how many Bible studies will you teach?

…how many leadership meetings?

…how many weeks will you have that other people can preach without you needing to be gone?

…how many weeks will you be gone on vacation?

It’s important to organize this all in a yearly format first so we can have the broadest picture of workload as possible.

Maximize Weeks Others Are Preaching While You’re Not Away on Vacation

These weeks can be game changers for you if you approach them intentionally.

Now, you may be saying that you don’t have any of these weeks built into your calendar. To that, I want to encourage you to bring this to your next elder/leadership meeting and request a few of these weeks.

Here’s what these weeks will look like:

We’re going to take the number of sermon series you have scheduled in the next calendar year and divide that number by the number of weeks you are allowed to have someone else preach on Sunday while you’re not away on vacation.

That number will give you your goal for that week.

So, let’s say that in the next calendar year, you plan on preaching 8 sermon series. You have a basic idea of what each of them will be, but we’re going to take a significantly deeper step in your sermon series prep. So 8 sermon series and, let’s say, you have 4 weeks of non-preaching working weeks.

In this scenario, your number is 2. But 2 what? I’m glad you asked…

Your non-preaching working weeks are going to be utilized for future sermon series prep.

If you haven’t identified the big idea already for the sermon series you are going to be preparing, you’ll want to start there. Then…

During these weeks, you’re going to have already ordered any relevant books for study and you’re going to split your week up in a way that you are able to do some good exegesis for the Bible passages you’ll be preaching on within the series you are preparing for.

Once you have done your preliminary exegesis, you’ll want to identify the key pieces to each message within the series. These consist of:

If you have time, find some possible illustrations for each message as well.

Then, rinse and repeat for each series you need to do for that week.

What this will do is allow you to have a starting point for each week of prep that isn’t beginning at ground zero, but is already off the ground and ascending to where you need to go.

So, go and request a handful or even more of these weeks so you can not only become more efficient throughout the year but so that you can also be unhurried in praying through and crafting each sermon series your church goes through each year.

Identify Your “Up” Times and “Down” Times

Some people are most productive in the morning and others are most productive in the afternoon. What time of day are you most fresh in thought and energy?

Whatever your answer is will determine when you’re going to design your weekly rhythm of sermon prep.

If you’re most fresh in thought and energy in the mornings, do everything you can to move meetings, checking email, and doing counseling sessions to the afternoon. If you’re able to get to the office earlier than is required, do it.

If you’re most fresh in thought and energy in the afternoons, adjust accordingly.

This is your rhythm.

Identify Your Process

Begin at the end. What pieces need to be done for you to preach your best on Sunday?

For me, I have these key pieces I need to complete (starting with the last and going backward):

  • Preaching notes – I explain what I mean in this post and you can even get the template I use to preach with my iPad Mini
  • Presentation slides – I use Keynote to create them and keep them quite simple (Scripture and main point, occasionally some additional pictures to add humor)
  • Sermon manuscript – I write out a manuscript between 2,500 and 3,500 words (here’s why I do a manuscript)
  • Sermon outline and notes – I utilize the Sticky Sermons Notebook for this (doing this allows my writing time to be substantially less because I already know the shape of the message before I begin the manuscript)

Those are my key pieces. What are yours?

Once you’ve listed them out, what days do each of those pieces need to be done in order for your week to be as close to ideal as possible?

Write those days down with the pieces next to the day. These are your checkpoints.

Congratulations, you just created a sermon prep process!

Put it All Together

All that is left is to put all these pieces together.

Write it all out on a new sheet of paper or in a new document in Evernote, Word, Pages, or whatever else.

Put your non-preaching work weeks in your calendar once they are scheduled and set a reminder to order relevant books in anticipation of those weeks at least ten days prior.

Move as many meetings to the opposite time of day you’re doing sermon prep.

Give the rhythm a few weeks and adjust if needed.

Work toward your checkpoints and adjust your weekly timeline if needed.

Be Ready to Be Flexible

Ministry is different every week. Be flexible and always be prayerful.

Here’s what you and I both know: God always does His thing.

Praise Him that He allows us to be a part of what He is doing in the lives of those around us!

Have anything to add?

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Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Spiritual Development Pastor at a fast growing church in Batavia, Ohio, called The Crossing. Among the many things he does at The Crossing, serving on the teaching team is one of them. He also writes at BrandonKelley.org. You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.