But crafting the lesson takes work. It is the work that is rewarding, because in the work we find an outlet for both our creative and analytic capacities, as well as an outlet for presenting an aesthetic to others.
The aesthetic speaks to others, not only because of the talent of our work, but because of the synergy that exists between our work of study and the work of the Spirit. It is oddly ironic that our work results in speech, but is received by hearing.
How do we craft such lessons that speak powerfully to those who hear them? Many preachers and teachers have read books advocating that they spend hours in their study, poring over lexicons and grammars, delving into commentaries, and reading blogs and social media, searching for insights.
But for the busy teacher, especially for those who teach or preach multiple times a week, how do we go about crafting lessons amidst the business of our schedules?
Start with three things to spend less time doing to create more time for your craft, then move to four things to spend more time on (the actual work of your craft).
First, spend more time with your Bible than with the news (or talk radio). If you added up the amount of time you spend daily either listening to news, watching news, or reading blogs and websites (or newspapers) about news, how would this compare to the amount of time you spend daily with your Bible? Substitute an audio Bible for talk radio in your car; spend an equal amount of time reading the Bible with your family for the amount of time that you watch news; or cut out most news altogether.
All Bible reading is cumulative and builds upon each other. Your reading does not have to be directly in service of your crafting of lessons; it will all serve that goal as you focus on your intake of the Bible.
Second, spend more time with your Bible than with blogs and other social media. How much do you spend daily reading various blogs (do you have an RSS reader?), surfing Facebook, or scrolling through Twitter or Instagram? Much of social media is about validation seeking, and when you discipline yourself to apply your time to your craft, your validation will be your own when you present the fruits of your labor to others.
Third, spend more time with your Bible than with commentaries. Commentaries can be a crutch. Many busy or frustrated teachers read through a text once, if at all, then pick up a commentary to tell them what it means. Other lazy preachers will skim through commentaries looking for illustrations to shape their lessons around. These are not crafters; these are hacks.
The first three points will help you create space and reduce noise in order to do the work. The last four points will teach you how to do the actual work.
Fourth, in the time you've gained by lessening the above three things, take your Bible and read, re-read it, and re-read it again (especially the texts you are working on). There is nothing like re-reading the text you are working on. Take an hour on Monday and read through your upcoming sermon text repeatedly. Take notes. Use multiple translations. Read it out loud. Listen to it read to you.
Fifth, spend more time asking questions of the text than leaping to your first insight. What is happening? What is the flow, or shape, of the passage? What is the high point? What did you miss the first several times you read it through? Why did you miss that? What is uncomfortable about this passage? Why? The answers are always in the questions.
Sixth, spend more time outlining the text, based on your own understanding of it, after asking questions and long before consulting commentaries. In your outline, look for emerging patterns, main points, and key words. Flesh those out with the use of a concordance. Begin to see for yourself how the text fits together and what it is saying.
Seventh, follow this slogan: "Be quick to read, slow to outline, slower to read commentaries." Trust yourself and the Spirit to understand God's word. Take time to read, to ask questions, to outline, to pray, to meditate on the word.
I am not discounting the value of research or commentaries, but the experience of those who too quickly abandon doing the work of crafting lessons. As ministers of God, we minister his Word to others. Is it not worth taking the time to become word-workers of the Bible?
In my experience, a quality lesson can be crafted in 8-10 hours a week, give or take more time depending on number of lessons taught each week and other responsibilities. A true crafter would not rush through their work as a habit; we show ourselves to be a crafter or a hack by our approach to the work.
Let the lesson emerge from your work, not from your initial burst of creativity or vision. I have, many times, begun a lesson with an idea, only to have to change the idea upon further work. We go where the work leads us.
Much like a woodworker does the work by taking wood and creating furniture out of it or carving an intricate relief pattern into it, by doing the work we craft lessons that bring a beautiful aesthetic to those who have ears to hear, and who build it in to the tapestry of their lives.
Do the work.