I Preach Pulpit Supply, and This is How I Do Sermon Prep
I preach fairly regularly, but I am not a pastor (of a church). I do pastor, however, on a very temporary basis, as I am at a church for usually a couple of weeks at a time. This month, July of 2018, I am actually preaching all five Sundays at the same church, which is kind of nice so I can do consecutive passages. I have had a few friends as me how I do my sermon preparation. The reasoning behind the question is that I have a family, a wife and four children, ages 9, 7, 3, and 1. I also have a very full-time job working as a house parent (meaning that my wife and I also house ten young people, second through fifth grade, in our home from Sunday night to Friday night almost every week of the year (minus holidays and a few weeks off in summer). Their question is more when do I have time to do sermon prep, to which I answer that I do it whenever I can. And then how do I do it in small spurts, like I do? That is easy: the grace of God.
In preparing for pulpit supply, the first thing I do is find out when and where I am going. Our Association’s Director of Missions (DOM) is very good about getting pulpit supply scheduled early. So, once I find out where I am going and for how many weeks, I begin to pray about selecting a text. Right away. Once I have selected a text, I immediately begin sermon preparation, even if the assignment is weeks away. Why? When you have a family and a full-time job, you never know when you’ll have time. Though, there is one thing I heard on a podcast recently, from Doctrine and Devotion, is that God will use whatever you have, so if something comes up and you don’t have as much time to do sermon prep, God will still use it.
Once I have the text selected, I read over the text and the surrounding chapters. If it’s a short book, like one of the epistles in the New Testament or something like Ruth or Jonah from the Old Testament, I’ll read the entire book. If it’s from a longer book, if I have time, I’ll try and read through the entire book before I preach. And, from this point, I would guess it’s like most anyone’s sermon preparation, depending on preaching style. Breaking down points, word studies, background reading, etc.
I generally begin with breaking the passage into sections, usually three, of the main points in the text. If there’s not three points, or more than three, I adjust accordingly. And rom there, I build an outline that ever expands with each pass over of the text. I add comments, notes, support text references, and the such.
I could go on and on, but I think it would become relatively boring if I did. So, I’m going to skip to the end. Generally, my thesis statement and my points of application are the last things that I come up with. And then, it’s usually after I’ve practiced preaching through the text at least once, usually twice. The realization of the thesis and application often come out of the blue, despite the fact that they are right there in the text, staring back at me as I read the Word of God.
Once I have all my notes and outline together, I change the view of my document to landscape and two-columns. I print, cut, hole-punch, and put into my little preaching binder. I then put the name of the church on the top of the first page along with the date I am preaching that sermon there. Why? Because I keep all my notes in a binder, paper clipped separately. It’s my emergency notes book, in case something comes up and I am called last-minute to preach. I have a store of sermons to preach from, and I know whether or not I’ve preached it at that particular place.
There is one last piece of advice I have for those doing pulpit supply: Semper Gumby. Always Flexible. Why flexible? Well, let me tell you a little story. Just last week, I emailed the church I was going to preach at this past Sunday, July 1st, that I was going to preach from Jonah 1:1-16. I got a text from our DOM a short while later saying that the last guy who did pulpit supply there just finishing preaching through Jonah, and that I’d have to preach from somewhere else. This was on Thursday, June 28th. I had to start over. But remember, however much time you have to prepare is how much time God wants you to prepare and He will use what you have. I thought my sermon delivery was not up to par this past Sunday, but I was wrong. It was exactly what the people needed to hear and be encouraged by.
The one thing that is the most constant part of every step of sermon preparation, from the beginning all the way through delivery, is prayer. We need to bathe our preparation in prayer, not that our will be done or our words be said, but that the Lords will and words are ever-present in what is proclaimed from the pulpit on Sundays, whether you are filling as pulpit supply or you are the lead/preaching pastor of the church.
Semper Gumby, my friends, Semper Gumby.