Taming the Monster of Sunday

Suddenly Matt Keller is everywhere. Or maybe it's just that now that I've read his book, The Up-The-Middle Church, I recognize his name when I see it...and it seems I see it everywhere.

His recent post on the ARC blog is a home run, on the subject of "Taming the Monster of Sundays":
One of the most taxing things about being a lead pastor is the drain of having to come up with completely new, creative, thought-provoking, challenging, engaging, funny, life-changing content every seven days. I like to call it the Monster of Sunday. It’s always licking at your heels and if we, as the primary communicators of our church, can’t figure out a way to tame that monster, it will eventually become our undoing and hold us back from reaching the full potential of our calling.

Over the past eight years, I’ve learned a ton about my rhythm as a communicator. Hopefully these tips will help you as well…

1. Learn your personal rhythm.

My personal rhythm is six weeks. After that, I need a change. If I speak more than six weeks in a row at Next Level Church, my creativity, drive and passion begin to sag. I know I’m not giving our people my best. Consequently, as a rule, I will not speak more than six Sundays in a row.

2. Get out of your own reality.

In order for me to remain creative, I need a change of perspective. Therefore, I build into my yearly schedule the opportunity to travel and speak in other churches a few times a year. Being away from home, helps me keep the greater vision of the local church in my mind. Otherwise, I can get tunnel vision.

I highly recommend for pastors to “sow into another man’s field.” For me this looks like developing relationships with pastors who are “a couple of steps behind us” and offering to pay my own way to come and invest in their church for a weekend.
When I travel and work with other churches, I learn from them as well. I get fresh ideas and perspective when I get out of my own pulpit.

3. Get four to six weeks ahead in message preparation.

One of the ways I avoid the Monster of Sunday is by staying four to six weeks ahead in my message preparation. We short-change our content and our people when we write messages the week of. There are just some creative ideas that need time to marinate. And writing a message on Saturday afternoon isn’t sufficient time for that to happen.

4. Learn to write to 80 percent.

When I say that I’m four to six weeks ahead in message prep, this is what I mean. I have a goal to have the main points, verses and illustrations laid out (or 80% of the message) weeks in advance. This gives me peace of mind knowing that on any given week, I’m simply microwaving the message up to 95% on Monday morning, rather than trying to start from scratch every week.

5. I write on Mondays.

The common theme for most pastors is to want to jump in front of a bus on Mondays, but I have found that if I can get in the zone and think of it as a continuation of the day before, I’m actually capable of some pretty amazing creativity. Some benefits of locking in my message on Monday:

I feel extremely productive. Doing what I do best on Mondays, rather than all the to-do list stuff, makes me feeling like a million bucks and sets me up for a more productive week.

I don’t feel as swamped later under all the details of church. Church work can drain you. And carrying the pressure of Sunday’s message on your shoulders while I’m dealing with detail stuff during the week can be overwhelming. Details put me on edge, which is not good for my team.

I have a clear mind to lead and make decisions. When the pressure of Sunday is off, the more confident I feel in my decision making. The bigger our church gets, the more pressure I feel on a decision making level. Having a handle on Sunday early in the week, empowers me to make important decisions during the week.

6. Learn to see “sparks” everywhere.

For any communicator, the distance from zero to a creative spark is infinity, but once you have the spark, the rest of the content for a message can flow pretty quickly. If you have to communicate on a weekly basis, you’ll have to develop the art of seeing sparks for messages everywhere. I see sparks everywhere, so much so, that there are lots of messages that I never have opportunity to develop or preach anywhere. But just developing the discipline of seeing the sparks helps me as a communicator.

The second key to seeing the sparks is having a place to put them once you see them. That’s where the Wall of Sundays comes in for me. Whether I use them or not, at least I know I have somewhere to put them.

7. Use a Wall of Sundays to organize your thoughts.

The way to see the long-range rhythm of your year is to have a place to put your creative thoughts when they come to you. We started doing this about three years ago and our wall of Sundays has become life to me and our team. I have to see things big and as a team, we need to plan ahead.

Here’s a picture of our most current Wall-of-Sundays.

8. Practice your messages.

Some pastors will say they want to “make sure the emotion of the moment comes through on Sunday,” or that “you can’t rehearse the anointing.” But I think that’s just an excuse. You wouldn’t say that to your worship team. If we want our worship team to rehearse and come prepared, then so should we. It took me awhile to get used to practicing my messages out loud, but for me, there’s no better way to actually get the content into your mind and spirit.

I can’t tell you how many times I will be practicing my message in my home office on Saturday night and hear myself say something a certain way. In those moments, I’ll actually stop and say out loud, “That didn’t sound right. Don’t say it that way again.” Then I’ll go back to the beginning of that section or story and practice saying it a different way.

By the way, for those of you who do multiple services, remember, first service is not your practice. We can either sweat in preparation or bleed in battle. I don’t know about you, but I would rather sweat in preparation.

The Result:

As a communicator who now speaks 150 – 200 times/year as well as writes consistently, it is vital that I have a sustainable rhythm for message preparation and content. There’s no way I could live out my calling otherwise.

If you’re a communicator, begin to strategically work on developing your own rhythm. It will serve you well for years to come.

About the author:

Matt Keller (@matthewkeller) is the lead pastor of Next Level Church in Fort Myers, FL. Matt blogs regularly at www.MattKellerOnline.com and is the author of the book, The Up the Middle Church; Doing Ministry One Yard at a Time available at www.UptheMiddle.com.
I gotta say, I do some of those things, but this post really inspired and challenged me to do better. For example, we work a year at a time in our message planning and two weeks ahead in message writing....but I'm gonna try the whole working-four-to-six-weeks-ahead and writing-to-eighty-percent thing, and the wall of Sundays idea. They're all great ideas. Thanks, Matt....again.

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