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Five keys to reducing the stress around sermon preparation


A Festival of Homiletics webinar urges preachers to let go of what doesn’t matter

November 5, 2020

In what can be the steep learning curve of creating meaningful online worship services, what pastor or worship leader would look askance at tips on making sermon preparation and preaching less stressful?

The Rev. Dr. Raquel S. Lettsome

That was the job recently for the Rev. Dr. Raquel S. Lettsome, preacher, teacher and the founder of RSL Ministries. Lettsome offered a free workshop as part of the Festival of Homiletics, held online this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. She called her workshop “Less Stressful Preaching and Preparation: How to Reset our Preaching During a Pandemic.”

“I want us to get to the place of freeing ourselves. Now’s a good time to let go of things that aren’t working,” she said. “We don’t have to do everything like we did before. … What are the changes that you’ve dreamed of and prayed for? Begin to incorporate some of them.”

Use this time of pandemic to reset your expectations, she urged preachers. “Do not create a Frankenstein you will eventually have to kill,” she said. “Who or what will be your center? I hope it’s God.”

Lettsome, who is also an author and lecturer, had five keys for preachers interested in reducing their stress level around preparing for and delivering the sermon:

  • Only a Word will Preaching from God’s Word ought to be cognizant of what’s going on in the world, but “it’s not trendy, light and trite,” she said. “Preach — do not perform. Focus on proclaiming who God is in the midst of what we are going through.” Preachers ought to consider, “What change of perspective am I inviting them to? Is the way I proclaimed before the best way to proclaim right now?” Lettsome said more and more, she gets the feeling “I need to simplify and connect.” Sermon preparation ought to include time to listen, she said. “Learn from others, but don’t be too caught up” in what they have to say, she said. The bottom line: “Serve your people effectively.”
  • Preaching must sustain pulpit and Lettsome told the story of home-schooling her children. “What we are doing has to work for everybody,” she said. “It can’t be all about you. I’m not doing all the work, and I’m not going to be stressed out while you’re chilling or belly-aching.” At ages 6 and 10, her children understood what their mother was telling them. “All of us need to come out of this (pandemic) intact,” Lettsome told webinar participants. “Is what we are doing sustainable, not just for the quarantine but for later? You cannot keep the pew alive at the expense of the preacher, and you cannot keep the institution alive at the expense of the people or the preacher. If we really care for ourselves and our people, we can figure out the institutional stuff.”
  • Focus on what matters — the biblical passage, the people and how they might change their Refrain from being a know-it-all, Lettsome advised. “It’s OK to acknowledge pain and confusion” that come with the pandemic, she said. “Remind people they aren’t alone.”
  • It doesn’t have to take so much — digitally, liturgically and homiletically, she said. “Simplicity has so much power,” Lettsome said. Keep numbers — clicks, viewers and offering — in their proper place. “We are not hirelings,” she said. “We are shepherds.” She advised preachers to keep their focus on non-numeric wins, including anecdotal evidence that online worship is nourishing to
  • It doesn’t have to take so Lettsome’s time-trimming strategies, some of them available on her website, fall under the acronym SEAT, for Savor, Exegete, Ask others and Tie it together.

Preachers do well to deal with their egos, she said. “Who do we think we are? How do we want to appear?” It’s also healthy to identify the differences between what preachers need and what they think their hearers need, she said.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus:  Reducing Stress Around Sermon Preparation

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Manuel Silva-Esterrich, Office of the General Assembly
T. Clark Simmons, Board of Pensions

Let us pray:

Gracious, caregiving God, help us to be ready to care for each other through all the chapters of life. May we see your face in those for whom we care. Help us to remember to care for ourselves, trusting that your grace will guide us. Amen.