You might recall the Jeff Foxworthy comedy routine: “You might be a redneck if . . .” He would draw out much laughter with his stereotypical characterizations. Well, I would like to do a spin-off from Mr. Foxworthy’s routine by declaring: “You might be preacher if . . .” I am sure that there are many who would attempt to supply a punch line: “You might be a preacher, if you feel the allure of any bookstore that crosses your path.” “You might be a preacher, if you are asked to lead in prayer in any social gathering that you attend.” “You might be a preacher, if you wince at the expression ‘ministerially speaking.’” “You might be a preacher if you have heard: ‘Preachers make too much money and they only work one day week.’” Okay. You get it.
Now let me offer a realistic one-liner: “You might be a preacher, if you are infected with sermonitis.” You might be wondering, “What is sermonitis?” It is an annoying-but completely safe-condition-that affects most preachers. The one prevailing symptom? We are in constant sermon preparation mode. This chronic “malady” drives us to scan our horizon constantly for sermon illustrations, sermon thoughts, sermon titles, or sermon ideas of any kind.
Because we know that “Sunday’s comin,” we can never be healed completely. Vacations and time-away might keep this condition in check temporarily, but we relapse as soon as we re-enter the weekly rhythm of ongoing preparation. So what should we do? Accept it, and make the best of it? Maybe there’s a way to transform this malady so that will glorify the Lord (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Here are some simple steps, which will allow you to do more than cope; these actions will enable you to take advantage of this condition in order to enhance your preaching and enrich your listeners.
Plan your preaching
Since you will always be on the look-out for sermon ideas, etc., why not nuance those moments by having some way to categorize your thoughts? For example, if you anticipate preaching through the book of James, you know that you will be dealing with sermons on wisdom, trials, temptation, faith, etc. This awareness will sharpen your thoughts and add efficiency to your recording of sermon impressions. I know that there are proponents and opponents of sermon planning. Spurgeon once wrote, “Many eminent divines have delivered valuable courses of sermons on prearranged topics, but we are not eminent, and must counsel others like ourselves to be cautious how they act. . . . Pre-arranged discourses are a mistake, are never more than an apparent benefit, and generally a real mischief” [C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2011), 105-06]. On other hand, Winston Pearce maintains that there “is a desperate need for a plan for all ministers to have some guidance in what they will preach to their people from week to week and from year to year. . . . For the preacher to have no plan is to leave him to follow his own inclinations” [J. Winston Pearce, Planning Your Preaching (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1967), 2]. While you may not be an advocate of preaching-planning, do you preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible? Then let the upcoming themes of that particular book guide you in recording your sermon impressions.
Record Your Sermon Impressions
With the technology available today, this can be as simple as using the Notes or Voice Memos feature on your smart-phone or a notebook to record your impressions and thoughts. Don’t trust your memory; it will forsake you. If these are unavailable in the moment of the thought or impression, then record your thoughts as soon as you can. One night, the Lord gave me in a dream an outstanding outline for an upcoming sermon (this rarely happens). I awoke and wanted to record the outline. I did not, however, want to turn on a light and risk difficulty in going back to sleep. I felt around until I found a pad and pen. I did not need a light to record my thoughts on the paper; I can write in the dark. I finished the outline and returned to bed. In the morning, I remembered the outline and found the pad. I saw, to my horror, a blank page since the (unused) pen did not work. I found a working pen and, thankfully, I was able to remember the outline, which was used in a later sermon. To practice what I preach, I have since recorded my thoughts about that incident; it serves as a good illustration of how the prince of darkness attempts to record our sins against us, but in the light of Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness, the page is clean and our record clear (Colossians 2:13-15).
Remember that sermon ideas can come in the most unexpected moments
Paul admonished Timothy to “Be watchful in all things” (2 Tim. 4:5). Surely this can be applied to sermonic watchfulness. I remember filling my car up with gas one time when I looked on the gas pump to see these words emblazoned: “Life happens between fill-ups.” I immediately took note as to how that’s exactly what happens in life as believers. We assemble on the Lord’s Day to be “filled-up” with Scriptural truth and then life happens during the week. I have used that sermon illustration repeatedly. I am thankful for its truth. It would have been lost, if it had not been placed in reserve for future use.
Sermon thoughts and ideas will come, but blessed is the preacher who watches and prepares himself. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour when they come!