I was reminded this week – thanks to somebody who tagged me in a tweet about it – that not everybody works the way I do. The tweet in question was this:
They have finished their stuff for September (kudos, by the way!) whilst I am just finishing writing up the last of my sermons for November. That is true. You might think that makes me some sort of machine… And you’d be right. I am, of course, utterly awesome.
At least, that would be true if the only measure of being a good pastor is that you have written your sermons months in advance, which it isn’t. Not only is it not the sole measure, it is neither a good nor appropriate measure of that question. Nor is it even a good measure of best working practice. It is merely my working practice. Which is fine but not mandatory. It works for me, but it doesn’t mean it would work for anyone else.
Whenever this question of how you prep your sermons comes up, and someone hears how I do it, the reaction is almost always the same. It is, interestingly, the same reaction my wife gets with colleagues or around new people who discover she doesn’t really drink alcohol. First, there is the immediate shock of, ‘you do what now?!’ Followed up by the inevitable gabbled excuses about why they either couldn’t do that, it’s a real issue for them or they struggle working that way. Just as with my wife who doesn’t drink – not for any reasons of principle, she mainly doesn’t like it and therefore doesn’t feel the need – my working practice isn’t a judgement on anybody else’s working practice. But in both our cases, merely being different to the person in front of us seems to create some sort of guilty response in the other person who desperately seeks to justify themselves, as if they’ve been caught out in something, we have any authority over what they do or (if we’re being frank) we care that they do things differently to us.
I think a lot of it comes back to the problem many of us have, that I seem to mention with troubling frequency these days, with Christian freedom. Even on something as indifferent as the way you prepare your sermon, we seem to have an inbuilt bias to there being a particular way to do it, which if it isn’t my way, is definitely the wrong way. That soon becomes close to an unbiblical way. And so, when faced with someone who does something differently to you, immediately leads to a reaction that seeks to justify its own way of doing things.
But, I’ll be honest, I don’t really care how you prep your sermons. If you can’t get the energy up unless you have a deadline, and you find starting on Friday the best way to produce your best efforts, then go for it. If you find that prepping months in advance means your sermons tend to be better, then do that. If, like most pastors, you are trying to balance dozens of things at once, then work out the best way to prep your sermons so that you can do the other things you need to do as well. For me, for a whole host of reasons, that means prepping my sermons months ahead and giving myself the wiggle room to do everything else as a result. For you, it might be different. And that, my friends, is absolutely okay. You don’t need to justify it to me. That is between you, the Lord and your church.
The Bible simply doesn’t tell us exactly how, or on what schedule, to produce our sermons. We now that Sunday is coming and we are to devote ourselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the public reading of scripture. Whether that means you are the one to preach every week or not isn’t in the text. Whether, when you are the one to preach, you have to do it extemporaneously (a la the Brethren), from notes prepared a few days ahead or those done months ahead is entirely up to whatever works for you. Whether you preach from notes or without them, again, not something the Bible insists upon. No doubt, some theological considerations will drive how you do it a little. But a significant element of it will be driven by personality, circumstances and what tends to make for the best quality.
But at the end of the day, you don’t need to justify your working practice to anyone else. You do whatever works for you. You make sure what you’re doing, so far as you judge it, is right before the Lord and you answer to your church if and when they deem anything you’re doing a problem. But barring the Lord telling you in scripture it is wrong, and your church having any problem with it, prepare in the way that works best for you.
My way is not necessarily the right way. It is just the best way for me. If you have a better way for you, then have it. Knowing what I do – how and why I do it – shouldn’t mean you need to justify what you do to me. It isn’t a judgement on anyone else, just a statement of what works for me. And if not for you, you have the Christian liberty to do differently.