Harvey Cedars, New Jersey
For several decades my family spent a week in late August at Harvey Cedars Bible Conference at the New Jersey shore. My wife’s father had been a speaker there almost every summer, and Laura spent several summers there working on staff.
The Bible Conference provided a low-stress schedule, and afternoons were reserved for the beach, which was just a short walk across the street. My family loved the beach. On the other hand, I hate the beach. I have never enjoyed the combination of the sun, sand, lotions, and heat. So I’d stay back in our room and often I would work on my preaching plan for the year.
I know, I know. You’re not supposed to work on your vacation. But those few hours of peace and quiet each day gave me the opportunity to at least draft a preaching plan through the early winter and sometimes longer.
Sometimes I had a special preaching project that I wanted to work on, so on several occasions after my kids were grown I left home on Sunday night, drove three hours to a motel in Hagerstown, and returned home on Thursday. I had three days to focus, generally without interruption.
Other than the fact that it was only three hours away and it had plenty of places to eat, decent prices for hotel rooms, and a small mall to walk through when I wanted a break, there was nothing special about Hagerstown. But I look back on the two or three times I had a personal “retreat” there with appreciation for what I was able to accomplish.
The Italian Restaurant Across the Street
In a typical week, portions of Tuesday and Wednesday would be given to studying the passage I was preaching on Sunday. Thursday was sermon-writing day.
There were times when I did my sermon-writing in my office. But more often than not, Thursday would find me in a corner booth of the Italian restaurant across from our church. Sal, the owner, would drop off a Diet Coke, and he graciously allowed me to work there as long as I wanted. It was pretty quiet at lunch, and there was something about getting out of the office that turned on the creative juices in my mind. I could often accomplish more in two or three hours out of the office if I tried to tough it out in my office. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve heard other pastors say the same thing.
The product of my restaurant writing was by no means the finished product. I would go back to my office and spent the rest of the afternoon on Thursdays writing the first main draft of the sermon. I’d finish that draft, review it as time permitted, and then put it away until Saturday morning. As I’ve said elsewhere, Friday was my day off. While I was doing other things on Friday, the sermon was fresh enough in my mind that often thoughts would come that I’d jot down and integrate into the final draft on Saturday. That final draft occupied my attention for the bulk of the day on Saturday. Then on Sunday morning I would give it one more review, revise what needed to be revised, and then off we would go.
Obviously the final product was more than just a matter of where I studied. It was the result of prayer, study, talking to others, pacing and thinking, reading, more pacing and thinking, and writing. But getting away from my normal working environment was a huge help in the process.
I want to write a couple of posts on sermon planning, and the point of this little field trip is that sometimes, like real estate, your best sermon writing depends on location, location, and location.
I’ll write next week about the specific planning process for both long-term and short-term sermon planning. You can keep up to date with what’s happening on this blog by either subscribing to receive an email of each post or when there is a new post. But in the meantime let me ask you a few questions for your own thought, though feel free to share your answers in the comments section.
- What part of sermon preparation is the most difficult for you? Why do you think that is true?
- What impact do you think it would have on your study if you could get out of the office at least once a week?
- Where could you could go to maximize your ability to focus?
May God bless your ministry this weekend! Thanks for reading, and please feel free to email me or leave a comment!