The Bi-vocational Pastor's Calling In Revitalization.
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15
My dad used to call me the king of procrastination growing up. I would wait until the last minute to get things done. In one way, it helped prepare me to be a bi-vocational small-town pastor. Working to put food on the table lessens the amount of time you have to prepare for sermons, Bible study, and other things you do in a small-town church. Sometimes those things leave you with little time to prepare and work on sermons as much as you want.
Understand, if I was the king of procrastination, my dad was the king of the exegetical study. I remember one Sunday school class where we spent two months on one verse in the Bible. His associate pastor had to call the tap out for the group so we could move on. But the foundation for my love of exegetical preaching comes from my dad's discipleship and mentorship.
Add OCD to the mix, and you can understand why I sometimes struggle in my station, as I want to spend more than 4-8 hours a week preparing a message. There are times that I listen or watch a sermon I just preached and remembered points I forgot to add that I had thought of during the week.
Over the last 17 months, as the global pandemic hit, I finally had the opportunity to work on my master's degree, and through the practicums, I began to develop a few modes to get those points down. Because I'm a substitute teacher, I have to be ready to help the students in class, so having my laptop with me is and isn't an option. I cannot write and work on my sermon in school.
What I learned was a two-fold approach.
1. I bring my iPad to get into my Logos and begin prep on the sermon when I have a free period. It may not sound like much, but you would be surprised how much you can get done in a short time.
2. Invest in buying a Leuchtturm 1917 Softcover Composition B5 Notebook, that's a lot to say, but I love these after being introduced to them through the Doctrine and Devotion Podcast. You have a few pages to create a glossary, map, chapters section. Because these 7" x10" notebooks have numbered pages and two-page marker ribbons, they are game-changing.
3. Begin by writing down the text you plan to preach; this will allow you to mark it up to your heart's desire and help you visually wrestle with the text. On the preceding pages, what I do and what I have seen several friends do is write what they understand from their hermeneutical study, making diving into commentaries easier. You may find yourself picking up things that the commentaries agree with the points you wrote down. Don't get too cocky, and don't get lazy that you won't look at commentaries. They are valuable tools we need, and we should always look into them.
4. You now have two choices, preach from the notebook or write/outline your sermon into your word processor and preach.
Why I began to do this
My context is unique in some ways. I serve in a town that is both a time capsule and a growing region. The town of Sutton has about 9500 people, but all around us, there are 105,000 souls in need of Christ in the towns that touch Sutton. So for me, I need to be figuring out how we are going to get into the community, what we need to do to exegete the community, and what areas are in need. I get this in my job, but that is only in one town next to my church.
Being able to spend time planning out my sermon and a strategy to reach the lost also gives me time to spend with my wife and even the people within the church as I shepherd them and be a friend to them. New England is a region with a sizeable Catholic population, and the priest is usually not seen as being the guy you friend.
In small-town revitalization, there are things you do that you may not do in the city. In towns, there is the community, and my wife and I have been slowly working into that. We are known, my wife has a strong presence on the town social media, and I have found out over the last several months that because of COVID. Forced churches online, the town cable began to play ours and several churches on the local access channel. Yes, that is a popular thing in small towns, so people know me by face, plus I'm a big guy, so I am hard to miss.
The key is to use your time to your advantage. Use it wisely to prepare the best sermon you can, but please make sure you also use the time to reach your community.