When it comes to filing, there are two kinds of pastors in the world.
Black hole filers keep everything, but the stuff will never see light again. Anti-filers don’t file anything because they think they’ll never use it anyway.
I want to show you a third way: to collect resources that will help you efficiently prepare substantive sermons.
The four sermon prep files you need
1. Biblical files contain a file for each book of the Bible. Store articles, sermon notes, exegetical thoughts on Genesis, Exodus, etc.
2. Theological files consist of a file for each theological subject.
3. Topical files store articles or thoughts on various topics: leadership, counseling, productivity, etc.
4. Illustration files. If you’re like me, you think up most illustrations during your sermon prep. But whenever you come across a good one (e.g., in a book or sermon), store it.
Biblical and theological files feed you with conceptual content. Topical and illustration files feed you with practical content. The best preachers hit both.
Why do you need these four files? Two reasons:
1. These four things come to a head in sermon preparation. Last week I preached on 2 Thessalonians ch. 2 (biblical), which addressed false teaching (topical) on eschatology (theological), and I had a perfect analogy (illustration) from something I saw in Planet Earth.
2. Most commentaries stink. I’ll start a series reading three or four, but end the series using one or two. A solid file of articles and resources compensates for unhelpful reference books.
How to set up your sermon prep filing system
I store all my files in just three places. Each has folders or drawers for biblical, theological, topical, and illustration files:
1. A filing cabinet contains my handwritten notes and articles I have printed off or photo copied.
3. Evernote stores web content, like blog posts.
Set up a file for each book of the Bible and each major theological topic in the three places above, even if you don’t have anything for it. This disposes you to collect resources, and to keep content you create.
How to efficiently and effectively use your sermon prep files
Files don’t help if you never use them or can’t access them easily. Here is a three-step process for using your files.
1. Pull out your biblical file. Keep it available until your sermon or series is finished, even if there is nothing in it at first, since you will contribute to it while you study.
2. Scan through your topical and theological files. I say scan – instead of read – because if it doesn’t look helpful immediately, it probably isn’t, and scanning is faster than reading. Pull out anything relevant to your passage. If you lack a file that you wish you had, create the file right away so that you’re ready to collect those things later.
3. Scan through your illustration file. When you use one, note the date and place you used it to avoid using illustrations repetitively.
Focus on filing quality, not quantity
When it comes to sermon prep files, nothing is better than something, if the something is crappy. Non-quality content costs you efficiency. You waste time saving it now and reading it later. If you actually use non-quality resources, you lose effectiveness.
Don’t miss the rest of this series on How To Get Organized:
- 3 Signs You’re Not as Organized as You Think
- 5 Nerdy Tools that Will Make You an Organizational Jock
- You Don’t Have to Be a Neat-Freak to Stay Organized
- How To Set Up Your Files for Efficient and Effective Sermon Prep
- Find a Task List System that Fits Your Personality