where love is alive 

When I was just starting out in ministry, my dad showed me a system for filing sermons that served him well. It involved using two sets of note cards: The first set was for filing sermons by the scripture passage of each message.  There was a card for every book in the Bible.  The other set was for filing the sermons by topic.  Each subject was recorded on a separate card. Over the years, the list of “subjects” has grown to 309!

The “card method” worked for a few years until I got my first computer.  I then created digital files for each book of the Bible and for each subject. Later, when Microsoft Office came about, I converted all these digital files into Excel spreadsheets. Every Sunday or Monday I collect my most recent sermon material, staple it all together, write the next number on the top right margin, and place it in a hanging file folder in my desk drawer. Once a folder contains 25 sermons, I move it into my file cabinet and start a new folder.

I recently filed the 2500th sermon in my collection. (And these do not include the weekly Bible studies I share on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday nights.) This milestone makes me ponder some of the dynamics of the preaching ministry.

Most novice preachers wonder how pastors keep coming up with sermons to share week after week. Frankly, it is one of the most foreboding parts of this calling. Now that I am a more seasoned minister, I can say is that, like most challenges, it gets a bit easier the more you do it. Before you realize it, you have a file cabinet with 2500 sermons!

One would be hard pressed to find another vocation requiring an individual to prepare and present as many fresh messages as is expected of a pastor.  Over the years, educators can repeat lectures to individual classes of students. And while politicians can have many speaking engagements, they often have paid writers to compose their “stump speeches.”

The Lord did not give me the ability to compose sermons “off the cuff.”  I have often said that if I ever step into the pulpit and announce that God had led me just moments before to change my sermon, everyone should sit up and pay attention.  It definitely would take an act of God to take me away from my prepared message!  Therefore, I am keen on preparation.

People commonly ask how long it takes me to prepare a sermon. Because I have a sermon plan, I enter the week with at least a core idea of the sermon topic and text. Eight to ten hours in any given week goes into research, writing, and editing the content. A couple of hours more are used to prepare outlines for distribution and slides for the media presentation. Finally, I rise extra early on Sunday mornings to think deliberately through the message several times.

While pastoring is far more than preaching, the preparation and delivery of sermons is my primary task. In the process, I learn something from every sermon I prepare. And I earnestly believe there is something worthwhile to share with the congregation. I am humbled and appreciative that people give their valuable time to listen. On to Sermon # 2501!                                              -Jay

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