Why Sermon Preparation is Not Devotional Time

Sam Rainer

July 23, 2017


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 given moment. 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 have 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. For example, right now I’m reading through Judges in my personal study and preaching through the Psalms in my sermons.

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.


4 comments on “Why Sermon Preparation is Not Devotional Time”

  1. Adam says:

    Ok appreciate this. I must admit, I have difficulty with this because I prepare 3 sermons/lessons a week most weeks and also am working on a theological degree. I often feel like I can’t digest but so much and separate the two.

  2. Tom Fox says:

    We shouldn’t separate things that don’t need to be separated. Both sermon prep and preaching the sermon are acts of devotion. The former is done privately, the latter publicly. The private is for the public. Devotional times are done in private but prepare us for public times. If preparation of sermons does not stoke one’s fire devotionally, the sermon is not going to help people or the preacher. It becomes merely an academic exercise with a cold delivery. The preacher needs deep devotion in his preparation; he also needs times of devotion not related to preaching. But to dichotomize the two is not helpful to the preacher or the congregation. Devotional times and sermon prep are not legalistic and academic but grace-filled and heart-warming.

    1. Agreed, Tom. I was thinking through a similar response, but you said it clearly — the personal feeds the public, no question.

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