I have not read a John Grisham novel in years. But my wife is currently reading The Confession. She had it lying around, open to chapter 11. So I read the following:
In a normal week, Reverend Schroeder would spend most of Tuesday afternoon locked in his office with the phones on hold as he searched for his next sermon’s topic. He looked at current events, thought about the needs of his flock; prayed a lot, and, if nothing happened, would go to the files and look at old sermons. When the idea finally hit, he would write a quick outline and then begin the full text. At that point, the pressure was off, and he could practice and rehearse until Sunday. Few things felt worse, though, than waking up on Wednesday morning with no idea what he would say on Sunday.
Sadly, this is probably the process for many pastors. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. When I first felt the inward call to ministry, I thought this was what would happen. I was uncertain if I’d be able to come up with something every week. I’m glad I never really tried it this way.
We can sometimes fall into the mistaken notion that the Spirit can only lead us one week at a time. I preach through books of the Bible, so my planning looks very different. I will pray and consider the needs of the congregation when I choose a new book to study. What God wants to tell them is important, but I’m handling it in bigger chunks. I think I’m less prone to be drawn to my hobby horses, felt needs or current events.
I’m convinced that they need the whole counsel of God, and it should be done systematically. We teach them how to study the Scriptures in context when we do this. Many Christians don’t know how to systematically study the Scriptures in context because their pastor is jumping all over the Bible week to week under the guise of being led by the Spirit who gave us whole books not snippets.
So after I’ve identified the book to work through I’m praying about how to break it up into manageable texts. In the historical books I’ll take whole stories or parts of longer stories. If we are in an epistle, I try to find thought units even while recognizing the larger context. I tend to work out the sermon schedule for months at a time. This helps the worship team to plan a meaningful service that connects with the sermon text and the likely main idea.
So, during the week I’m praying for the Spirit to illuminate the text and help me to apply it to the needs of the congregation. My time is spent on exegesis, not trying to figure out what text to preach. I suspect the pastor will not feel as much pressure and be better prepared on Sunday. The flock will be better fed and better prepared to feed themselves.
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