They want to be teachers of the Law of Moses. But they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they think they do. ~~ I Timothy 1:7
There’s a saying that’s been around since time began, probably, and it goes like this: pastors only work 1 hour a week. I know I’ve said it, although I usually punctuate it with an eye-roll.
When I was meeting with my Pastoral Relations Team recently, we were laughing about this, but then the serious suggestion emerged – people really don’t know what I am doing outside of that very public hour, and it might be interesting for them to get a glimpse.
So, this is the first in a series of newsletter articles that will divulge what I do and why I do it. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to know about the life of a minister, please let me know. Maybe it will turn into an article.
Today’s topic is sermon writing. Perhaps you’ve heard me say how long it takes me to research and write a sermon each week, but if you haven’t, you might be surprised. From start to finish, it takes me, on average, about 20 hours each week.
You might think that’s ridiculous. Or, you might think that’s not nearly enough – ha! I’ve had people say things to me like: “Stop obsessing. Your sermons are always good, so give yourself a break.” While I’m flattered, there’s a reason why my sermons are the way they are – I put in the time.
Toastmasters International, which is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote good communication and public speaking skills, states that you should spend one hour of work for every minute of your talk. This is true, regardless of topic.
But I have felt it extra important when the talk comes from the pulpit and is attempting to reveal the will and the character of God. I don’t want to be the one described in the Scripture above.
So, each week, I attend two hours of Scripture Chat – to listen to you as we all wrestle with the Scripture. Sermons are best when they are written for a specific audience – a specific place and time.
After listening, I pray that the Spirit will guide my thoughts and my research, so that any agenda I may have will be wiped away.
And then I start reading and taking notes. I have five different sets of commentaries in my office, and I read several academic commentaries online. The trick at that point is narrowing down the pages and pages of notes into a sermon that has a beginning, middle and end – and has a point. Each week, I exclude lots of “good stuff” that I would really like to tell you, because I need to focus (and I also shouldn’t hold you hostage)!
This is my process. Some weeks it is easier to carve out the time than others. But, if I were to attempt to skimp on the process, it would not only affect the content of my sermon, it would also affect my delivery.
As always, I welcome your questions, and I appreciate your prayers. It is a joy to be co-ministers with you all.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”
This is the second in my series of articles on “What do pastors do all day, anyway, and why does it matter?” Last month, I told you about my process of sermon writing. This month, I want to talk about visitation.
If you’ve listened to even a handful of my sermons, you know there are some things I tend to repeat over and over again. “Don’t be afraid.” “Love one another.” And, some variation of “we need each other.”
God created us in God’s triune image – to be in community. From the very beginning, God said, “It’s not good for [people] to be alone.” Genesis 2:18.
Community is stressed throughout Scripture, so imagine when that community is taken from you and you are unable to get out and about. There is a profound loneliness and longing for that connection to remain intact.
Dorothy Day, a Catholic journalist and social activist in the late 1900s wrote: “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
Hundreds of studies have shown the effects of loneliness to our health. I read an article yesterday that “now considered as hazardous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, loneliness vastly raises the risks of depression, dementia and early death.”
This coincides with a recent article in the Science section of businessinsider.com entitled, “Loneliness is as Deadly as Smoking”. Wow – that’s provocative! But look at the findings cited in the article:
- Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely. That increased mortality risk is comparable to the increased risk of premature death related to smoking! And it is TWICE as dangerous as premature death linked to obesity.
- Further, social isolation impairs immune function and increases inflammation – these factors can lead to increased risk of arthritis, type II diabetes and heart disease.
- Recent surveys indicate that loneliness has doubled in the last 40 years: in the 1980s, 20 percent of adults said they were lonely. Today that number is 40 percent (as calculated in two independent surveys)!
The article had even more alarming statistics (like how loneliness affects sleep), but I think you get the point. This is one of the reasons we created the monthly Senior Social Events. But, not everyone is able to get out and participate in those.
So, I visit. I sit and I listen and I pray. I provide connection. And I benefit from the relationships that grow and flourish. I learn stuff! But I am just one person – I cannot replace an entire community.
So, I encourage you to join me in visiting. Make some time in your busy schedule to truly connect with someone. It will improve their health and well-being, but it will also improve yours! Because, we are not meant to give up meeting together and encouraging one another. We are not meant to be alone.
In Christ’s Community,