Every preacher is different. But every preacher should have a routine leading up to the preaching event. A habitual Sunday morning routine helps remove anxiety, prevent additional distractions, and adds confidence. Having a routine on Sunday morning is like a ritual you perform to be mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically prepared when its time to open your Bible before your congregation. In addition, getting up early and accomplishing things helps you both feel and be successful. Tim Ferris, who has interviewed hundreds about their morning routines, writes: “if you win the morning, you win the day.” (Tools of Titans – “5 Morning Rituals that Help Me Win the Day”)
You have to find what works for you, your preference, and your schedule. It took me at least 10 years to discover the need for a routine and what works best for me. I challenge you to implement a habitual, Sunday AM, preaching preparation habit. See how it will prepare you for the day and release you from unnecessary anxiety leading up to sermon time.
My Sunday morning routine looks like this:
1. Wake Up Before Anyone Else.
Currently, I live in a home with my wife, 3 children (ages 11, 10, and 9), and a dog. It is extremely difficult for me to focus and concentrate when any of them are awake and stirring around. Likewise, as you will see below, for me to get through my routine before driving to the church campus I have to start early. Every Sunday morning, my alarm clock goes off at 4 AM. This gives me plenty of time and a bit of a buffer in case I run into any snags in the manuscript that need adjustment. This goes without saying, but this part of my routine also requires going to bed at a decent hour on Saturday night. If I am up late on Saturday and up at 4 AM on Sunday, by mid-morning I am not at my best.
As I walk to from my bedroom to the coffee pot to the desk I ask the Lord to help me. Help me be protected from the evil one. Help me take in the truths that are to be preached so I can recall them adequately. Help me bring all the parts of the sermon together in a coherent way. Help me apply the truths of the text to my own heart. Help me have joy in pastoring and preaching throughout the morning. Help me to focus. Help me to have the energy needed for the tasks at hand. I have preached pastorally for 16 years now. He has answered every single week.
3. Read Over the Manuscript.
When I sit down at my desk and turn on my computer, I slowly read through the manuscript I have prepared during the week. I don’t try to memorize every word, of course, but I do make sure I know the primary truths I want to communicate and how I want to communicate them.
4. Make Last Minute Edits.
As I read through the manuscript, I often find there are extra and unnecessary parts of the sermon that need to be cut. Almost always, less is more. In other words, if I can make a point that sticks in 500 words, why try to say it in 1,000? I want to make the sermon as tight as possible, trimming the fat and leaving the “good but not best” parts on the cutting room floor. There are some Sunday morning’s where I make additions. If there is an illustration I have thought of over the weekend or a quote I have come across, I will add it to the manuscript. As I read through the sermon, I am letting it get into me AND I am thinking through how best to present it.
5. Prepare for Delivery.
After I have read through the manuscript and edited for presentation, I write down key points and verse references on sticky notes and stick them in my Bible. I try to include anything I will need to help me recall the primary truths I want communicated. I attempt this without looking at the manuscript to test myself and see how much I already know. Once I have the sticky notes strategically “stuck” in my Bible, I save the manuscript and turn off my computer.
6. Ensure the Sermon is Internalized.
Before I drive to the office, I go for a 3 mile walk. I mentally and verbally review the sermon without my Bible and without notes. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, it helps ensure that I have internalized the message. If I can recall the main ideas without looking at anything, I feel confident I am ready to communicate the material to the congregation. Second, verbalizing things out loud gives me an idea of the flow of the sermon. I have learned that just because something looks good on paper does not mean it will communicate well to an audience. For me, preaching the sermon while taking a walk is critical. It enables me to work out kinks in the flow and gives me the confidence needed to be ready when the preaching moment comes.
There are four additional times of prayer leading up to the sermon. First, I usually am “finished” internalizing the sermon before my 3 mile walk is complete. I use the remaining time to pray. Second, I have a 20-minute drive to my office. With worship music playing, I pray for help for the day. Third, a couple of staff guys and I pray together when we arrive at the office. One of the things we always pray for is that the truth(s) of Scripture would accomplish what is intended. Fourth, of course, I pray publicly after the passage to be preached is publicly read. I am still learning this, but sermons land flat and miss the target when God is not depended on to deliver what only He can do.
8. Discern the Mood of the Congregation.
The final thing I aim to do every Sunday is get out of my office 30 minutes prior to the start of the service. I want to visit and talk and hear from the congregation. I want to shake hands and hug necks and ask how they are doing. I want to meet new people and encourage volunteers. This piece of my routine is imperative for preparation. It allows me to gauge the mood of those who are there. Some Sundays, everyone seems happy and excited. Other Sundays, everyone is tired. Still others, if their team lost the big game the night before, emotions are . . . interesting. Of course this doesn’t guarantee pure discernment. But it does help get a real good feel on the emotional state of the people.
This is my current Sunday morning routine. I hope some of these pointers help you. But at the end of the day, I encourage you to find a routine that works best for you. What are some helpful pointers you have learned?