Everywhere I go, I hear that song playing. It’s on TV, radio, at ball games, in convenient stores—all over.
It’s gotten stuck in my head. So I started thinking on the title and reflecting on past experiences and conversations.
I started thinking about how many pastors stay up late Saturday night working on their Sunday morning message, hoping to get “lucky.” Hoping they will deliver and come through with excellence. Friends, it doesn’t work like that.
I used to serve on a church staff with a senior pastor who would come in and change his message every single Sunday morning. He’d switch points, whole slides for the presentation software, music. He killed our creative flow. We had an entire worship and creative staff dedicated to creating amazing worship experiences, and they were constantly handicapped by last-minute changes.
Hear my heart. I worked with another pastor who planned a year out. He was awesome. But on the rare occasion that he would come to the team and say God had laid something new and fresh on his heart, we would move heaven and earth to accommodate and support him.
Two times that stick out in my head over the years were the Sunday after 9/11 and the Sunday after we had the devastating tornado here in Joplin, Mo. Other than tragedies like that, it was extremely rare for a pastor to change his message or turn in his manuscript/outline late.
You see, we live in a day and age where collaboration is key. We plan thematic service experiences and coordinate the songs and key moments in the service to highlight the topic of the day. We try to find the felt need and really drive the point home.
I remember about seven years ago, I wrote an article for REV magazine entitled “No More Lone Ranger.” It was about putting together a creative planning team and the need for collaboration and synergy from senior pastors and worship leaders. The hard truth is, dear friend, that if you’re up all night hoping to get lucky, you’re not at your best, and neither is your team.
So if you will, allow me to help give you some ideas to remedy the situation. And yes, I understand that many pastors are bi-vocational, volunteer or part-time. This applies to you too.
First, take two weeks off. You read that right. Take two weeks off, and have a guest speaker preach. Or play a video of a message you want your people to hear. During this time off, get away on a mini-retreat, or at least move outside and get to an atmosphere that inspires creativity. If you can, invite someone from your team to join you on this retreat or time outside—maybe a worship leader, maybe someone creative in your church, maybe a lost friend.
Go away with these people and plan and dream. Think series, not messages. If you are planning week to week with stand-alone messages, you’ll never create momentum. You’ll fry your brain, exhaust all your creativity, and you won’t engage your people. Plan series that last three, four, five or even six weeks.
You can pick a book of the Bible that you’d like to dive deeper into, or you can go topical and do a finance series or a marriage series. On this two weeks off from preaching, get a dry erase board and write down a calendar of the next three to six months. Put together several series that will cover that time period. Once you have your series laid out for the next several months, you’re ready to dive in and start building the series.
Tip: If you’re doing a four-week series, for example, you want to really hit a home run on week four and have it be the climax that you’ve been building up to. Use weeks 1-3 to develop the theme or topic, and then build up to a huge finish where you have a strong presentation of the gospel and ask your people for a response.
So, take week one of your two weeks off to storyboard and write out series ideas and plan big-picture stuff with your creative team or at least your worship leader. Take week two to start writing messages. Get away each day (Monday through Friday) and start cranking out the message for your first series.
Don’t miss this. Once you’re finished writing your message, forward it on to your creative team or worship leader. Let them in on what you’re speaking on. The fruit of this discipline is amazing. If you let a creative person know where you’re headed and what the felt need of the day is, they can plan an amazing service around that.
One thing that many pastors do is give their worship leader or creative team the following: a message title, key Scripture text and a summary of the message, including the felt need. If you can at least give them that (where you’re going), they can get started planning.
Finally, enjoy your Saturday. Rest. Relax. Spend time with your family. I understand that you’ll probably look over your notes and practice your message a couple of times, but don’t still be working on it and crafting it on Saturday. Leave those days behind, my friend, and you might just get lucky!
Greg Atkinson is the campus pastor at Forest Park Carthage, a multisite church with 5,000 members based in Joplin, Mo. He has started businesses, including the worship resource website WorshipHouse Media (where he served as director), a social media marketing company and his own consulting firm. As a consultant, Greg has worked with some of the largest and fastest-growing churches across the United States. His latest project is his new e-book, Church Leadership 101, which has been downloaded by more than 16,000 church leaders around the world.