Team Sermon Building

Several people wanted to know how we could only spend a few hours a week on Sunday service preparation. This is a perfectly reasonable question.

The first thing you must understand, is that there are 4 ministers and 1 Religious Educator working on this, along with the occasional music director. So, none of us are working on these services alone.

It also means that if I run across a particularly juicy illustration or anecdote that would work better in a colleague’s sermon than the one I happen to be working on, she gets it. Note– that if you adapt this model to where you are preaching to different audiences (i.e., it isn’t the same church– you can each use the juicy illustration).

Back in the day– when I was preparing sermons all by myself– it could take anywhere between 12 and 20 hours each week just to get everything ready for a single Sunday:

  • sermon title
  • sermon blurb (for newsletter)
  • hymns
  • readings
  • call to worship
  • prayer or meditation
  • Children’s time
  • special music
  • special liturgical element
  • Order of Service graphics
  • Order of Service worksheet
  • integrating music with words
  • Consultation with other Sunday Service participants (musicians, choir director, liturgist)
  • Etcetera.

So, as a team, we get all these things done, but we spend about 3 hours per week each week over a 6 week (42 days) period (working on more than one sermon at a time) to get that done. The Creative Team meets every Tuesday for 2 hours to “discuss & decide” everything related to the services.

Here’s our process.

We already know we are doing 3-4 sermons on a theme. The themes for the regular program year (September through May) are jointly selected by the ministers by May of the previous program year– often earlier than that. Just for kicks, here’s our current set of themes:

    1. Isolation v Intimacy
    2. Stagnation v Generativity
    3. Gluttony v Temperance
    4. Envy v Kindness
    5. Sloth v Diligence
    6. Greed v Charity
    7. Lust v Chastity
    8. Wrath v Patience
    9. Pride v Humility

Remember– When we work on services, we work on 3-4 at a time– the whole series.

First week: we each do Initial Research (ITR). This means we look for book reviews, blog posts, TED talks, colleague recommendations, magazine articles, online videos, anything that relates to the theme. Each of us spends about 3 hours during the course of a typical week doing that ITR. We post our research in a cloud based project management system called TeamworkPM by a Friday afternoon, so we can read each other’s work over the weekend.

2nd week: Meeting of Assignment. Based on what we’ve found, we assign further reading to get the juicy bits– now we’re looking for actual material to use in sermons. Our ITR is going to suggest an arc. But we also ask ourselves: What is a uniquely UU viewpoint on this particular topic? We begin to get ideas about what the sermons are likely to be about and who is likely to do them at which location. Assignments for further research our handed out here. Begin research & writing (3 hours).

3rd week: more research & writing (3 hours). Hymn / music  suggestions

4th week: Building the Arc, Part 1. Here’s where we “build the arc” of the sermon series. How shall we approach this? There are lots of ways–

  • personal / family & tribe / church / world
  • past / present / future
  • direct experience / words & deeds & world religions / humanism & science / interdependent web
  • psychological / sociological / radical / reverse radical
  • fears / tears / outrage / saying the other side / light of hope
  • and many more

And obviously you can play with the order of things and mix & match, depending on the circumstances.  This week we frequently get everything we need: hymns, graphics, music, titles & blurbs. Also, we often have a sermon outline by this point, certainly by the following week.

5th week: Building the Arc, Part 2. If we need it, or for further refinement. Many times we’re done with everything but the individual sermon outlines.

6th week: Sermon Prep and Review. The first preacher in the series posts an outline and draft of their sermon. Remember– they’ve gotten a lot of help from other people’s research. We all critique the sermon– ask questions about clarity, suggest a better order of sermon ‘moves,’ that kind of thing. Even the senior minister (me) gets critiqued. We finally settle on our Big Idea (an upgrade replacement to the idea of ‘Children’s Time’ AKA ‘Time of All Ages.’

And by the end of that 6th week, the 1st sermon in the series gets delivered at the Museum District campus.

Frequently, this means that a sermon is basically done the Tuesday before the Sunday of first delivery. And, it usually means colleagues– given our critique process– have made the sermon better than it would otherwise have been.

It makes the ‘arc of the series’ much more coherent.

Given the abundance of research material we’ve gathered– and not all of which we’ve used we now have plenty of material for an ADULT RE SERIES– that runs concurrently with the sermon series. Talk about value added!

For those of you who like spreadsheets, below  is a version of what we do.

Undoubtedly there will be more questions. Put them in the replies below, and I’ll try to answer them in future posts.

In the meantime– if you’re a solo minister (as the vast majority of UU ministers are), can you begin to see the advantages to a team approach?

What if you put together a team of 3-4 colleagues, agreed to monthly themes, then meet (physically or virtually) to accomplish the same purpose? I guarantee you, that you and 3 colleagues could start with the same sermon outline and wind up a week later with different, personalized sermons that benefited from your research collaboration. Plus your preaching skills would increase since you’d have more time to practice delivery (if you chose to do that).  Frankly, I think it would be fun to run a ‘boot camp’ for people who are interested in getting this going, but timing would be tricky.

12/15/2013 Sunday
12/16/2013 Monday Greed versus Charity
12/17/2013 Tuesday Do initial research ITR, 3h prep
12/18/2013 Wednesday
12/19/2013 Thursday
12/20/2013 Friday Post  ITR, each minister
12/21/2013 Saturday Read colleagues ITR
12/22/2013 Sunday
12/23/2013 Monday
12/24/2013 Tuesday Meeting of Assignment, 45m
12/25/2013 Wednesday Research & Writing (RW), 6h prep
12/26/2013 Thursday
12/27/2013 Friday
12/28/2013 Saturday
12/29/2013 Sunday
12/30/2013 Monday
12/31/2013 Tuesday
1/1/2014 Wednesday
1/2/2014 Thursday
1/3/2014 Friday Post  RW, each minister
1/4/2014 Saturday Read colleagues RW
1/5/2014 Sunday
1/6/2014 Monday
1/7/2014 Tuesday Building the Arc, Part 1, 45m
1/8/2014 Wednesday
1/9/2014 Thursday
1/10/2014 Friday
1/11/2014 Saturday
1/12/2014 Sunday
1/13/2014 Monday
1/14/2014 Tuesday Building the Arc, Part 2, 45m
1/15/2014 Wednesday Write & Prep 1st Themed Sermon, 5h+ sermon outline, sermon draft, Sunday worksheet
1/16/2014 Thursday
1/17/2014 Friday
1/18/2014 Saturday
1/19/2014 Sunday Read colleagues Sermon Draft
1/20/2014 Monday
1/21/2014 Tuesday Sermon Review, 30m
1/22/2014 Wednesday Final draft, rehearse, polish, 2h
1/23/2014 Thursday
1/24/2014 Friday
1/25/2014 Saturday
1/26/2014 Sunday Sermon 1: Greed versus Charity

2 thoughts on “Team Sermon Building

  1. The communication arts are trending toward group collaboration. For example, from the credits of a video we learn the names of all the people who contributed their individual expertise. The days of the “lone wolf” artist / writer / minister holed up a garret composing their masterpiece is giving way to the collaborative artist who works with a high performing team.

Comments are closed.