I plan lots of time at the beginning of my week to study and write my message but inevitably something arises leadership-wise that causes me to take the time I planned for sermon development and devote it to some other worthy cause.
Why do I keep doing that? Let me pull the lid off this thing and examine it.
The Cause of Procrastination
First, I think I do this because writing sermons is tough work.
It is grueling. Sermon crafting is like having a baby – some come out with one push, others come out breach. Having a baby 48 times a year is tough. Sermon writing is just tough work. To do it well you have to be disciplined and sit at that desk whether or not the inspiration comes.
Second, I think I postpone sermon writing because I like to gravitate to something that is more fun to me – leadership challenges.
Leadership challenges energize me. They are reflexive. Leadership comes naturally to me. I know I have the gift of teaching, but it ranks second in my gift mix. Having the gift of leadership and teaching is a wonderfully troublesome combination.
Third, I am plagued sometimes by the question, “What’s the use?”
I can’t remember how many times I’ve spent myself in the pursuit of a well-envisioned message only to have this pervasive feeling while writing it that “This doesn’t matter.” Afterwards I never think that, only before. Why? Maybe Satan. Maybe it’s just a legitimate question. I know that sermonizing, as Eugene Peterson puts it, is a “Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” It’s the continual application of water on rock that wears it down. It is the continual drops in a cave that creates a beautiful stalagmite. It is the strokes of a master sculptor that eventually reveals the hidden potential in a rock. However, it’s the fatigue experienced in the arm between each blow that tempts me to stop short before God is done working in the life of my congregation (and myself).
Fourth, I am moved by sudden flashes of inspiration.
This is a good thing. I can write some of my best sermons in 4 hours. I can write some of my worst sermons in 25 hours. I am a communicator that is moved by inspiration. If it doesn’t move me I don’t want to share it. That’s good and bad. Good because I don’t want to go public with something that isn’t authentic; bad because I have to preach every Sunday.
The Solution to Procrastination
There’s the oft-told story of the writer talking to another writer who says, “I only write when I’m inspired.” To which the other writer replies, “Me too. I can only write when I’m inspired. Fortunately inspiration strikes every morning at 8am when I force myself to sit down to write.”
There’s not a Senior Pastor out there who doesn’t grasp the simplicity, but seemingly out-of-reach possibility of making that (a consistent, inviolable sermon writing routine) a reality. I know, I’m one of them. That’s especially true for my friends who are in smaller churches and they’re it.
But I’m trying, hard, to make sermon writing the first and most important thing I get done every week.
Yet I believe and I tell Senior Pastors that I coach that the most important reason why we procrastinate in sermon writing is we don’t have margin in our schedules, and because we’re good at preaching, we’ll do it at the last minute.
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And that, my friends, is the core issue for my struggles, and quite possibly yours.
Let me share something I did recently that really helped me.
Putting Margin In Your Schedule
Recently I asked two people on our staff to do a complete top-to-bottom audit of my life and to-do list and help me create a manageable schedule for my life built around my top priorities.
Here’s how we did it:
1. Data Dump
First, we went off to a room and I listed out the 50 million things that sit on my to-do list staring at me each week. They asked questions. We looked at my past year’s calendar. I talked. We wrote. Finally after one hour we got every single thing that I touch on a regular basis down onto that whiteboard. The board was filled.
2. Pick Five
Second, I told my friends that I can only realistically focus on five priorities, and asked what they thought those should be. We then each took turns going to the board and listing what we thought I should focus on that (1) only I could do and (2) would exponentially move CCV forward as a church.
Collectively we agreed on these five priorities:
- Staff Leadership
- High Capacity Leader/Donor Evangelism/Leadership Development
- Personal Care And Development
3. Place Your Top Five Priorities Into Your Calendar
Now, if you’re asking why in the world I needed two other guys I trust to help make that list, you are correct, I could have generated that list on my own.
The real value of this exercise was what they forced me to do next.
They made me go day by day, hour by hour, and figure out what priority would be done when and actually put the appointments into my Outlook calendar. When we were done every hour was accounted for.
Have you ever done this?
That was helpful, but that wasn’t the most important step.
4. Put 5-8 Buffer Hours In Your Schedule Every Week
Yes, I’m suggesting you take a half-day to a full work day’s of hours and spread them across your finely orchestrated schedule just because.
Just because what?
Just because you’re going to have a funeral.
Or a wedding.
Or a family crisis.
Or you’ll get sick.
Or a whole myriad of issues that happen every week to foil our well-laid plans.
I’m finding that this, besides writing well in advance, is the key to not procrastinating.
Procrastination happens because I don’t make room for surprises. Since I don’t have room for surprises, and these “surprises” still have to get done, I put off the only thing I have to do that’s under my control – writing messages.
The key is to plan for surprises.
I’m finding that helps.
Senior Pastors – what have you learned that has helped you not procrastinate on sermon writing?