Thursday, September 24, 2009

Preparing a Worship Service

Okay, this is kind of "handy hints from Ms. Kitty" about preparing a worship service, from my ministerial point of view. I have to prepare for our annual Worship Workshop on Saturday and figured it might make a decent blog post.

1. With the Worship Committee, we decide on the year's theme and how we'll approach each month's services; I choose my pulpit dates.
2. I start thinking, collecting bits of pertinent info, quotes, books, ideas; I carry a little notebook with me to write down ideas that come at odd times.
3. The newsletter deadline is during the 3rd week of the month, which means I need to submit titles and blurbs for my two services.
4. Now I'm committed and make a folder for the service and stick any info I've collected inside it.
5. 7-10 days before the service, if possible, I meet with the Worship Leader and we talk about what I'm thinking about for the service. We choose hymns, readings, discuss possible "All Ages" stories, and I make notes about the WL's thoughts on the topic of the sermon, so I can include them as appropriate (with permission, of course).
6. Monday before the upcoming service, I draft the Order of Service, using my notes from the WL conference, and send it to the WL for proofing. Then the O/S goes to our administrator, to the WL, to the musicians and/or accompanist.
7. Wednesday is my day to begin the sermon. I have already been thinking a lot about the topic and how I can make it personal, related to my own experience, because I'm crummy at preaching about things that aren't important in my own life (without making it TOO personal, of course). I think about how I can make it personal to the congregation, without embarrassing or seeming to attack anyone.
8. I make a list of all the things I want to include in the sermon and decide how I will start the sermon, as getting the immediate attention of the congregation is crucial. Usually I start with a story or something that gets people to move from their head to their heart, or startles them a bit.
9. I work on writing the sermon for as long as I can on Wednesday morning, then print what I've got and put it away. I'll take it out later in the day, read it aloud, and start jotting down what might come next, now that I can see the progression I've started.
10. Thursday morning I write until I come to a stopping point and then put it away again, returning to it later in the day to edit out the sloppy parts, reword awkward constructions, and make sure it moves smoothly when it's spoken aloud.
11. By Friday afternoon, I've pretty well got it all down and ready for its final percolation period. So I stow it in its folder and let it be until Saturday afternoon, when I review it, make final corrections, deliver it aloud to my cats, and have a fresh, clean copy ready for Sunday morning.
12. Sunday morning, I deliver it aloud again to the long-suffering but very appreciative cats, and head off to church about 9 for the service at 10.

Bear in mind that my process can be leisurely because I work half-time and preach twice a month, but I developed this process when I was working fulltime in my first parish and usually managed to be finished by Friday morning. I learned in seminary that I'd rather be done early with a project than desperate to finish it by a deadline. I hate feeling pressured by time.

If this is helpful to any budding preachers, I'll be glad. I'd be interested in hearing how others approach service preparation. I'm gifted with a wonderful Worship Committee which really "gets it" about worship. For a small congregation, our worship services are extremely high quality. Almost no duds for the past several years, and that's not because of me---it's because of their commitment.


Mile High Pixie said...

Wow, good practice! I like this explanation, as it shows how much effort really goes into a good sermon. It's not just "open the Bible and preach about whatever page it opens to," but rather a thoughtful process that serves to enlighten, educate, comfort, and maybe even nudge the listeners. Well done!

Diggitt said...

I am now taking David Bumbaugh's preaching class at Meadville Lombard. By Preaching he does not mean the speech-class aspect of it, at least not solely that. At every meeting we four [lucky!!!] students analyze the Sunday services we individually attended and the Wednesday night vespers service here at ML.

So the sermon is only part of the preaching. It's a marvelous class, and I am unbelievably fortunate to have the opportunity to take it with him as prof.

I recently attended a service -- a well-known minister in the northern midwest -- and it was such a disappointment. I had a feeling the minister was totally without inspiration. The starting point was the seven principles, and it didn't get more personal than that until about 15 minutes into the sermon, by which point I was already fighting sleep. Fortunately I attended with a Quaker friend (who, when attending UU services, makes a point of actually listening) who filled me in on what I missed ... which was no more inspiring than what put me to sleep in the first place.

I realize that the preacher cannot always be inspired. But surely there's a perkier starting place than something as static as the seven principles. It's only one step away from being Episcopalians and working from the day's lesson.