One of these days I’m going to make a video of how to cook an omelette. Because it’s a really useful skill for a preacher.
Actually, it’s a really useful skill for a serious chef, too. I’m told that it is still a tradition, in the big, real, kitchens, for chef to begin the working day with a pan, two eggs, and some butter.
Bear with me. You’ll see.
Start with the pan. A small, heavy pan, round-bottomed and without corners. Non-stick.
Then the butter. Salted, room temperature.
Two eggs, in a cup or bowl, beaten with a fork until the colour turns a lighter yellow. Watch until it does.
Now, put the pan on the heat – hot, but not so fierce that you’ll burn things if you lose control. And add the butter. Maybe 1 cm square, perhaps a tad more.
The butter will melt, slowly. Wait.
The butter will have melted completely. Wait.
The butter will start to foam – still wait. It’s the amateur mistake to put the eggs in too early.
Now, the magic.
Listen. After a while, the butter will stop foaming. It will go silent and still. And now – not before – you tip the eggs in. If you wait too long, though, the butter will start to brown. But wait for that moment of silence. The butter is ready.
So, only now, tip the beaten eggs in, and move them round the pan with a fork, mixing and turning. You’re trying to get all the mixture to rise in temperature at the same speed. Slowly you will see the eggs start to solidify; keep moving the mix until it all starts to set, then stop.
And once again, wait.
If you’re adding some flavour, tip it on now – grated cheese, herbs, ham. If you’re adding mushrooms, you should have cooked them already and have them waiting. At this point, the additional items are just going to warm and melt, not cook.
Watch. That omelette will grow, the edges go slightly pale, and there’s a hint of golden brown.
Off the heat, flipped onto a plate, and you’re ready to munch.
Making an omelette is easy, basic. But the reason the great chefs still do it, every day, is to remind them of order, timing, and respect for the ingredients.
But afterwards, with his disciples, he explained the parables.
I used to think that ‘sermon prep’ was one thing, like cooking an omelette is one thing. I used to put it in my diary, and spend a morning doing stuff, and finish with no real sense of progress, or clarity. I was waiting for something to happen (and in God’s kindness, it usually did), but I wasn’t quite sure why, or how.
What I’ve learnt, though, is that it’s actually a series of steps, identifiable and simple, but they need to be done in order, and with enough time and patience in the processes. and the right amount of time in between.
Each step, of course, prayed through.
Sentence flow. Best in the original if you have even crude skills. But pencil, paper, and an open bible, trying to get into the flow of the argument, or poem, or story. Noodle round till you get a feel for how it works. My error here was just to stare at the bible. But even a rough sentence flow gets your hands dirty and gets the brain juiced up. (I’ve no idea if ‘juiced up’ is biologically accurate, but it feels right.
Commentaries. Not too many – it’s impossible to be exhaustive in a normal week. You’ve probably worked out who you find useful. So dive in, read carefully, and interrogate the commentaries in the light of the text, and vice versa.
I used to get this the wrong way round, and just pile error on error – commentaries too early, and just staring at the the bible. No, dig in first, and then wrestle with a decent scholar or two.
And wait. Those two tasks are probably a morning’s work – but unless there’s something you really need to clarify, I’d stop there and do something quite different. Leave it till tomorrow.
Then, three questions (these are the Haddon Robinson questions). What’s the Big Idea? What’s the Theme Sentence of the Passage? What’s the Aim Sentence for the Passage?
Wait again. This is early doors, still. Getting clarity on those three sentences can be a couple of hours work, easily, but you need to be patient. Because those three sentences will be unwieldy, complex, unpreachable sentences. They might read well in a commentary, but you’re not writing a commentary. You’re not going to create sentences to be read at all. But don’t rush the process. At this stage, clarity beats simplicity.
Then, my grid. I’ve mentioned before that I have an informal list of preachers and communicators I respect, each with a key strength that they’re known for. So I go through that little check list. It keeps changing and developing – and I’ve found it a really helpful habit.
Again, an hour or two, and then stop. See the pattern? Each step is identified, with a suitable time slot allowed, and then I know I’m making progress.
Some things can’t be planned into a single slot. I’m praying and thinking about application and illustration from the outset. I’ll be trying out phrases while Im walking the dog. These days, while I’m having to preach mostly to camera, I have to get the format right for a single lens, rather than a room with a crowd.
But I’ve found breaking it down, and knowing the time it takes and where it goes, to be really helpful.
Does that mean that I can’t cope with a crisis and a diary crash? Of course not! If the past year has taught us anything, it is to cope with the sudden. And God is good, when we have to go from soup to nuts in quick time.
But respect the ingredients and the process.
What else have you learned? Pile in!