Why Sermon Preparation is Not Devotional Time

Every Monday morning, I swivel in my desk chair—praying, pondering. Yellow legal pads fill with chicken scratch in a language only I understand. About fifty Mondays a year, around 3:00 p.m., I start to wonder if I’ll have anything worthwhile to say the following Sunday. The other two Mondays I’m on vacation.

I know it’s the Holy Spirit, but many weeks it feels like sheer luck. My sermon comes together and cogent points begin to form. I’ve heard of some pastors using their sermon preparation as a devotional time. For me, that could never happen. I sweat too much when I write sermons. I’d get dehydrated.

Sermon preparation is not—and should not—be used as devotion time. Sermon writing is devotional to an extent. Both involve prayer. Both elevate Scripture. Both require the work of the Holy Spirit. But they are different.

The purposes are different. Sermons are public. Devotional times are personal. The purpose of a sermon is to reveal the mysteries of God to the bride of Christ at a specific point in time. The purpose of a devotional time is to spur individual growth over time. There is overlap between them, no doubt. But the sermon is more acute in power, while the devotional is more longitudinal in power.

The processes are different. It’s not that sermon writing is a cold, mechanical process, and devotional times are warm, fluid interactions with God. The fruit of sermon writing can be similar to your devotion. However, the process of writing a sermon is—and should be—different than the process of having a devotional time. Sermons have a deadline. Devotionals are ongoing. Sermons have a weekly resolution. Devotionals require a lifetime of consistency.

The audiences are different. A sermon is meant for the entire church. In most cases, sermons are meant for a broad audience—the five-year-old and the eighty-five-year-old. Five generations may listen to a sermon together in the same room. A devotional time, however, is exclusive to the individual. In order to separate the two, I make sure my devotional focus is different than the sermon series I am preaching.

Your sermons should not act as a devotional time. It’s tempting. I spend ten to twenty hours per week writing and preparing sermons. Is that enough to grow in Christ? I’m sure it is. But figuring out the path of least resistance is not the calling of a Christian. Is having two separate times efficient? No. But efficiency is not the primary calling of a pastor.

Posted on November 10, 2021

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Thanks Sam.Me personally i found having a job as a security guard gave me enough daily dramas that i can use as sermons .i would recommend for most pastors to have at least 1 day a fortnight working in a stressfull job to experience God in an occupation where you are no longer in charge.Hope this helps

  • Don Davies says on

    This really shows how much time and devotion it takes for pastors to prepare their sermons. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve really depended on spiritual readings such as this and the sermons on faith from Keion, https://www.keionhenderson.com/sermons/ our local pastor here in Houston. I have survived this pandemic because of these readings on God’s love and faith and I can never express how thankful I truly am.

  • 1. One group of people are way ahead in their Bible knowledge relative to that of others. To them you’ll be teaching the equivalent of college students basic math, addition and subtraction. These folks will be tuned out.

    2. Since I believe the church is the Body of Christ, and Israel is the Bride of Christ, I will disagree with many of your sermons.
    I will refuse to see Revelation as a message for the Body of Christ, but for pretribulation Jewish saints. So your sermons will clash with my convictions. I will tune out.

    3. Sermons preached by the same pastor do not allow us to hear through the experiential lenses of others. The four writers of the Gosepls saw the truth of Christ through different lens. Matthews was interested in Christ’s Kingship. Mark saw Christ as the perfect servant. Luke saw Christ as the compassionate man, especially towards the outcast. John focused on Christ’s divinity.

    4. Sermons impart academic knowledge. We’ve replaced the fellowship and breaking of bread with academic lessons that don’t change people’s lives. If they did, we’d see the Body of Christ as growing and maturing. We know that is not happening.

  • Grant Galloway says on

    Well, I agree with the part about the sermon NOT being devotional time. But after years of preaching, I personally am done with sermons. There are numerous reasons why but the primary one is they are time-consuming to develop and I don’t see the effectiveness. This is why I began to look at the Greek and historical records and why the Ekklesia shifted into the “Church” with the decline in Kingdom advancement as demonstrated by the lack of Cultural impact. Sermonizing places people in a passive mode and a Beta state of mind much like watching TV does. Can we be real here? I hope so.
    Are we honest? Can we get rid of the traditions of men and the doctrines of men? Can we sacrifice Sacred Cows for what Jesus set into motion and Paul suffered for? Paul engaged people in dialogue. Peter on the day of Pentecost actually dialogues with those who questioned what was going on. He answered their questions and refuted their mocking comments. Well, that wouldn’t sit well in the church we have today. I’m not angry or being dismissive. But we need to engage people the passivity in the pew leads to passivity in the culture. https://www.newtestamentpattern.net/christian-articles/the-monologue-culture/part-7_the-origins-of-church-sermons/

    • Yep, I’ve often felt that the single best thing a church could do would be to ‘lose’ the sermon part. Preaching is proclaiming the Gospel to those who haven’t heard. Teaching on the other hand… is equipping the saints, this is the primary task of the church for the believers. Paul in I Cor 14 talks about what we should do when we come together… and somewhere I missed the part about preaching when we meet together. In fact, it describes precisely what Grant is talking about, interactive and spontaneous teaching, admonishing, worship, praise and prophesy (from everyone btw).

      We’ve found it convenient to try to combine the preaching and teaching in one 45-90 minute go. Our time together should be well spent. Preaching in the hope that a few outsiders might be among us seems to be a poor use of our time together. That outsiders may be among us is true, but that’s more likely as a result of our preaching outside the meeting together. Meanwhile, we preach to a small percentage of those gathered and short change those who need teaching and encouraging and the opportunity to move in their gifting. Move aside from monopolizing the disciples time during the time they come together. You will find that passion, commitment and amazement will push out the lethargy and passivity very quickly. Sunday’s will begin to bring the unexpected and folks won’t want to miss out on it

    • Well, I find it fascinating that the revivals recorded in the Bible occurred when Scripture was either taught or preached. Revivals in Josiah’s time, Ezra’s time, etc. Also the preaching in Acts by Peter resulted in a great conversion. The Bible speaks about God’s Word being sharp and powerful. So not getting something out of a Biblical message may say more about the hearer than they would want to communicate. Again, the Bible speaks of those who won’t/can’t hear.

  • Victor Close says on

    I’m a Sunday school teacher for the adults. What I do works for me. I’ve spent more time praying and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bring the lesson that God wants to bring, than any amount of time I’ve spent in devotions. My time of fellowship is deeper and greater than any other time of the week as I listen to the Spirit of God unfold His mysteries to me. I believe that when you have a specific goal for the time you spend in fellowship with God your devotion will be much more productive for you and will glorify God greater than showing up at a set time to work through a prayer list or wait upon the Lord for guidance when you don’t have something specific that you’re wanting guidance on. The problem isn’t having a special time for devotions apart from a time of study but a lack of expectancy on our part that God will show up for either time. I mean, if you’re gonna pick apples you should bring a bag and a ladder.

  • Frank Johnson says on

    Thank you for these helpful and enlightening insights.

  • Kevin Baker says on

    Can your devotional times spill over into your sermon prep time? I have a hard time separating the two. I have my devotional at home early in the morning. My sermon prep time is usually at the office. But I seem to always be aware of the passages used in my quiet time and the passages I am studying to preach from.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Absolutely! They can overlap and spill into each other. By separating the location of each, it seems as if you are striking a good balance.

  • Agreed. Yet our devotional time should bring our scriptural reflection and personal meditation to our sermon preparation, since i am part of the audience i preach to. My homiletics teacher shared, the sermon should lead to the “textasy”, that is the coming together of the text of my life (including devotional time), along with the text of the lives i’m preaching to, with the text of scripture. So, while they are necessarily separate efforts, they are effectual in feeding each other causing growth for both and overriding whatever perception or perspective of inefficiency they may seem as separate disciplines.