Before I give you some advice on how to make that happen, we first have to understand why we procrastinate on sermon writing.
In 1957, British author C. Northcote Parkinson published a series of essays titled Parkinson’s Law or The Pursuit of Progress. One of the chapters in that book was devoted to what he called “comitology”—a term he coined to describe the process by which a committee could, over time, block people from working effectively to accomplish their most important tasks.
Parkinson’s observations were popularized in the adage: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
“Parkinson’s law” is a principle that few senior pastors understand.
When senior pastors give themselves an entire week to complete a sermon, they find out, miraculously, that Parkinson’s law takes over and it takes an entire week to complete that sermon. Coincidence? Not according to Parkinson.
Speaking in The 4-Hour Workweek about how business leaders can turn their understanding of Parkinson’s law into a competitive advantage, Tim Ferris writes,
“Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials.
If I give you a week to complete the same task, it’s six days of making a mountain out of a molehill. If I give you two months, God forbid, it becomes a mental monster. The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus.
This presents a very curious phenomenon. There are two synergistic approaches for increasing productivity that are inversions of one another:
1.) Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time. (80/20)
2.) Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important. (Parkinson’s Law).
The best solution is to use both together: Identify the few critical tasks that contribute most to income and schedule them with very short and clear deadlines.” (1)
The Power of Tight Deadlines
Did you catch what Ferris said? “The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus.”
Parkinson and Ferris may not be senior pastors, but they have certainly articulated the single most helpful sermon preparation principle you’ll hear in 2017.
The way to write more powerful sermons, and invest in your mental and emotional well-being in the process, is to give yourself an extremely short window in which to complete your message.
The reality is most senior pastors already write their sermons in an extremely short time-frame. It’s called “Saturday.”
All I’m going to do is show you how to take that mad flurry of writing activity that you already do every week and move it to first thing Monday morning.
1. Decide to Finish Your Sermon on Monday
You must first decide TODAY that you are going to be a writer of sermons and not just a speaker of sermons. In his brilliant book Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield said, “The sure sign of an amateur is he has a million plans and they all start tomorrow.” (2)
You know you’ve decided when you’ve changed your environment. You know you’ve decided when you’ve permanently cancelled standing Monday appointments and blocked off your entire day because you’re going to keep a weekly appointment with yourself. You know you’ve decided when you put your phone into airplane mode, created an office in your basement, or have taken over some remote cubicle on the third floor of a musty public library where no-one can find you.
Listen to the advice the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke gave to an aspiring young writer in Letters to a Young Poet (in fact, I would encourage you to insert the word “preach” every time you read the word “write”):