Contemplation in Sermon Preparation

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The Bible is called many things: the inspired Word of God, the living word, the good news. It is set apart from other forms of literature because God has used it to speak to us throughout the ages. And because it is different from other literature, the way we approach sermon preparation is also different.

If we were writing a term paper for a class, using a Biblical text, we would do many of the same things we do when preparing to write our sermons:

1. We would read the text several times and note any questions that arise, patterns that we notice and where it falls in relationship to other texts.

2. We would research the details of the life of the writer and the historical context of the text.

3. We would trace key words back to their Greek and Hebrew meanings and nuance.

4. We would consult experts using commentaries, books and on-line resources.

5. We would take copious notes and try to find patterns, themes and new insights into the meaning of the text.

If we were simply writing a paper, rather than preaching, we might be ready to begin writing at that point. But because we are preaching the inspired and living word of God, we must add a step that literary scholars do not include as they prepare: prayer and contemplation.

In our busy lives, when Sundays seem to come faster and faster as the weeks roll by and, with all the sermon helps available to us, we might be tempted to say a quick prayer as we begin our preparation time and then get down to business. But if we truly want to preach the words that God is asking us to speak, contemplation must be part our sermon preparation times.

The contemplation I am inviting us to include does not need to be a time where we lock ourselves into a room, light and candle and hum. It can be much more simple and down to earth. Contemplation time can be a hike, a good cup of coffee, or a warm shower.

There are three things that should be included in your contemplative time:

1. It should begin with prayer and the text. Read the text several times and then ask God to open your mind, heart and soul and to hear God’s voice.

2. It should be an unplugged time of silence. Interruptions, song lyrics, and text messages will prevent you from being still long enough to really listen.

3. It should be done more than once for each sermon. This means that as you prepare your sermon, you need to give yourself enough time to be able to do the preparation work and to contemplate as long as it takes, and as many times as it takes, to hear God. As you spend time in contemplation, topics, questions and insights will arise that will need additional research. As a result, you will end up researching and then contemplating, then researching again and contemplating again until you know that you have what you need to say.

4. It needs to be a time to trust God. Sometimes, when we are preparing and nothing is coming to mind, in those times when God seems to be silent, we need to trust that God’s time is not our time. If we truly ask, we will receive. Part of the contemplative prayer time is letting go of the deadline and trusting that God will speak through the Bible and give us words to preach when we the time is right.

The Bible is the living word of God, it is truly alive with good news! I pray that making room for contemplation, as part of your preparation time, will help you to listen, hear and share all that God is speaking through your text.

Leanne Hadley is dedicated to helping the Church better the ministries we offer to children and families. More about Leanne’s ministry can be found on her website: leanne-hadley.com or on FB at: Leanne cares about kids.

Image attribution: Monkey Business Images, Ltd. / Thinkstock

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Leanne Hadley is an ordained elder in the UMC and has a DMin in the spirituality of children. She has dedicated her entire career to working with and studying the spiritual lives of children. Her work experience includes working as a chaplain, directing a migrant ministry summer program, Minister to Children and Families, and Founder of First Steps Spirituality Center. She is passionate about strengthening congregations by helping them understand the spiritual lives of children and deepen and expand the ministries they offer to children and families.

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