I’ve given this a lot of thought, and have also enlisted a few friends to assist. Here are the results, ways in which the minister can abbreviate the time he spends preparing sermons for God’s people.
In the secular world, this is called plagiarism. But we pastors know “God richly gives us all good things to share” or something like that. Fortunately, your people don’t read other preachers’ sermon books anyway, so they’ll never know. (Disadvantage: if the written sermon bombed, chances are yours will, too.)
Everyone knows repetition is a proven learning technique. Warning: do not call these sermons ‘repeats’ or ‘re-runs.’ “Previously preached’ is also verboten. If you have to put a label on them, try ‘Back by popular demand.’ It sounds better.(Disadvantage: some little sister in the church writes in the margins of her Bible every time you have preached a particular text, so you’ll need to vary your Scripture even if it’s the same sermon.)
Tell a story out of your childhood and turn it into a microcosm of the universe, or at least of the gospel. Didn’t Phillips Brooks call preaching ‘truth through personality’? The advantages are that you are the authority on yourself, no one can contradict you, and very little study time is required. (Disadvantage: if nothing dramatic has happened to you, this can get boring quickly.)
Our Lord said people prefer old wine to the new (Luke 5:39). So, with that great insight in mind, choose a well-loved subject, reinforce it with three obvious points–preferably all starting with the letter ‘P’–and then belabor the obvious.
An example of this could be a sermon on the Second Coming of Christ. Your points could be the PROPHECY of His coming (when), the PURPOSE of His coming (why), and the PEOPLE of His coming (whom).
The good thing about this approach is if you need to stretch out the sermon, your concordance has lots more ‘P’ words. Think how exciting your message becomes as you touch on the PROOF, the PRECEPT, the PREPARATION, the PRICE, the PROCEDURE, the PROFIT, the POSSIBILITIES, the POWER, the PLAN, the PLACE, the PATIENCE, and the PARADISE of His return. Any preacher worth his salt could wax eloquent for hours on these without a moment’s advance notice. (Disadvantage: you’ll probably want to leave out some of the good thoughts you had on this sermon, otherwise it can last till…well, until the Lord comes back.)
As you know, a concordance gives you a word and tells you where to find it in Scripture. But, if you have an aversion to actually studying for your sermons, you can use it as a book of magic. Look up a word and find at least three usages throughout Scripture that work for you. Let each reference suggest one main point of the sermon.
Then, go cut the grass while your subconscious reflects on how to make a sermon out of that odd collection of Scriptures. (Disadvantage: you have to own a concordance. Oh, and know how to read.)
Find some preacher no one has ever heard of who streams his sermons and is glad to share them. Your people will never be the wiser. (Disadvantage: in the time it takes to learn someone else’s sermon, you could be working on one of your own.)
Make it a point not to do any preparation until Saturday night, then begin to panic. Some people work best under a deadline, and you might as well be one of those. Besides, it’s great for your prayer life. (Disadvantage: sometimes the Holy Spirit refuses to be manipulated and chooses not to cooperate.)
Skip the word study. No one in your congregation knows Hebrew or Greek anyway, so they’ll never be the wiser. (Disadvantage: God knows.)
If you preach a long series of sermons on the same general topic, you can spend half of each sermon time recapping the previous messages. Very little time is left for you to get to the new stuff. (Disadvantage: this is a proven congregation killer unless it’s done well.)
Ask a pastor friend what he’s preaching next Sunday and get him to practice on you. He’ll appreciate the audience and the rehearsal will do him good. Your congregation can’t be in two places at once, so they’ll never know you both preached the same thing. (Disadvantage: be careful to adapt the stories to your own situation. Borrowing is one thing; outright lying is something else.)
By turning your imagination loose, you can make biblical events come alive. Teach the people not to be bound by only what Scripture says happened in an incident. The advantage is that little study is necessary other than briefly rereading the text just before the service. This allows the inspiration of the moment to energize your message. (Disadvantage: if your imagination doesn’t show up today, you could be in big trouble. Also, you’re in trouble if your congregation has more than a few mature, discerning members who insist on being fed the Word.)
No one can be fresh every Sunday. Even (fill in the blank here with your favorite celebrity preachers) has their off-Sundays. Give yourself freedom to be human and deliver a poor sermon occasionally. (Disadvantage: you can’t do this more than once a quarter or the deacons will get suspicious.)
Shorten the song service to give preaching the central place it deserves. This will allow you time to chase a few more rabbits. (Disadvantage: know how to return to your home base when chasing rabbits. Some preachers have taken trails so deep into valleys so remote, they were never seen again.)
By preaching against sin (pronounced with two syllables: see’-in), you can do about anything you please. And, so long as you are condemning the wickedness of the modern age, most of your people will think you are preaching the word. This may be the easiest of all methods for avoiding study, since you already know so much about sin. If you need additional material, the television will be glad to cooperate. (Disadvantage: certain elements of the congregation get high off juicy stories of sin, so be careful here.)
By telling stories of “what happened to me this week,” you will hold your audience spell-bound. This is especially effective if you relate the conversations which took place in a counseling situation in your office this very week. People will sit on the edge of their pews trying to figure out who you’re talking about. (Disadvantage: you lose a lot of church members this way. Of course, it balances out in that your counseling load drops quickly and permanently.)
Didn’t our Lord tell us not to plan in advance what to say, but promised that the Holy Spirit would provide? (Matthew 10) Although He was speaking of believers on trial for their faith we all know nothing can be a greater trial than having to dig out a fresh sermon from Heaven every week. By walking into the pulpit unprepared, you give the Spirit a fresh slate on which to write His message. (Disadvantage: He has been known to leave the preacher who tries this hanging in the wind.)
If you use the first 16 methods of sermon preparation, we can guarantee that you will:
a) be terminated.
b) have a lot of short-term pastorates.
c) eventually be out of the ministry altogether.
In this case, your sermon preparation time will be cut to the bare minimum. And after all, that’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?
Oh, one more…
As a hurricane approached, Pastor Mike had evacuated with his wife and a few friends to a town some miles away. It being a weekend, Mike looked forward to attending someone else’s church and hearing a fresh sermon. As they gathered in the sanctuary that Sunday morning, the pastor looked out at his small crowd and said, “I don’t think we’ll have church this morning,” and dismissed.
There were some mighty unhappy guests there that morning. I’m not sure Pastor Mike has forgiven that guy yet.
Some pastors look for ways to skip preaching altogether. They are quick to replace the sermon with a visiting choir, a drama group, or a patriotic event. In my youth, I recall times when our pastor would recognize a visiting preacher in the congregation, then badger him from the pulpit to come up and bring the sermon that day. Even the kids (like me) could tell our pastor was unprepared and glad for someone else to fill in for him.
Tongue in cheek. Mostly.
Some of the above was meant to be in jest as we ribbed the man of God. But the point was made, I hope.
The bottom line: Let the pastor go back to Bethel and make sure of his calling. If he is convinced God has called him to preach the Gospel, let him make this priority one! And if he decides otherwise, the honorable thing would be to resign and find honest work.