Getting Ready for GameDay

The following is a practical game plan for preparing a lesson for your small group on any given week.

A quick word before we go any further. While the following steps are very tangible ways to prepare for your lesson, it’s critical to remember that prayer is the most important ingredient. The underlying assumption is that prayer happens each and every day. Prayer is vital for checking the state of your heart and seeking to honor God in every phase of your preparation. Do not neglect your prayer life, for it is the key to God-honoring ministry.

If you don’t honor God in the process, you won’t honor God with the product.


DAY 1: Rest!

Don’t even touch the lesson plan! If God can take a day off, so can you!

DAY 2: Read the Passage

Before you get into the lesson plan, spend time in God’s Word. Check out the soil before you plant your tree. Pray that God would open your eyes, not only to what He wants to share with you but also what He wants to share through you.

Pray that God would open your eyes to what He wants to share with you and what He wants to share through you.

While this is specifically mentioned for day one, I would strongly recommend you re-read the passage each day leading up to your lesson. There is no such thing as being too familiar with the passage you’re sharing. Sometimes we can get caught up cross-referencing similar passages of Scripture or highlighting various commentaries to the point where we find ourselves discussing something far different than the intended meaning of the passage.

DAY 3: Read the Lesson Plan

Don’t worry about the planning. Save that for the next day. For now, simply read the material and form your perspective on it. Does this work for your small group? Is it relevant to your kids? Does it adequately convey the specific truth you’re trying to share?

DAY 4: Plan

Lesson Plans are not canon. They are not divinely ordained pieces of God’s Word. Don’t feel that you have to do absolutely everything exactly how it’s laid out in the Lesson Plan.

When we write our curriculum, we do so trying to accommodate hundreds of kids at a time. Those kids range from age to gender to ethnicity to demographic and to personality. You know your small group best, so prepare accordingly.

It’s ok to go “off book” if you feel that’s where the Holy Spirit is leading you. We aim to build environments that will pique curiosity and create opportunities to experience God. Our Lesson Plans are simply a starting point, not the end goal.

DAY 5: Share the Plan

Find someone whose input you value, and share your plan with them. Ask for feedback, and most importantly, listen! Every idea I’ve ever had was once flawless… Until I shared it. Take the time to get an outside perspective. Sometimes they may help you confirm a great idea, while other times they may help you avoid a disastrous one. Set your pride aside and listen to what they have to say.

If you want to take it a step further, ask another small group leader. See what they might be planning for their group. Collaboration is a healthy habit to get into. Like it says in Proverbs 27:17, both sides will grow from working together.

DAY 6: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Practice saying your message out loud. How long does it take you to run through it? Do you need to add more content? Do you need to trim it down a little bit? If you’re ambitious, practice in front of a mirror. You’d be surprised what kinds of gestures you do out of habit!

If you’re planning on doing a craft/object lesson, try it out for yourself to find out if a) it actually works like the lesson plan suggests and b) how much time you’ll have to account for.

And pray some more!


If you have to do anything more than review your outline the day of your lesson, then you’re not prepared. All that’s left is to review what you prepared and pray that God would speak through you.

Why Being Prepared Matters

Do you have any heroes? I certainly do.

One of my “heroes” is a man named Bill Hybels. Over 40 years ago he saw a need in his community for the kind of fellowship he’d only ever seen in Acts 2. So he started a church. That was the humble beginning of Willow Creek, one of the largest and most dynamic churches in our country today.

What I love about Bill is that he’s just an average guy who found success by being disciplined, diligent, and devoted to passionate preparation. When you hear his sermons, there is nothing that overwhelms you about the sound of his voice or the weight of his personality. However, it’s obvious that he put in hours of preparation for that moment. And that’s what makes him great.

“We must fight for excellence because it is excellence that honors God. It is excellence that inspires people.” (Bill Hybels)

I want to take a moment to define excellence.

Excellence is not about being better than the next guy or being the best at something. Excellence is resting in the fact that you did everything you could possibly do. As the late John Wooden put it, “Success is peace of mind knowing you did your best.”

Games are not won on GameDay. They are won at practice.

Sermons (or lessons) are no different. The sermons that speak to your heart and pierce through the barriers of sin and shame don’t happen by chance. They require diligence in prayer and preparation. They require careful consideration of their audience and the truth they are trying to convey.

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” (John Wooden)

When I listen to Bill Hybels preaching, I am reminded that anyone can be excellent. If you are committed to working hard, with discipline and passionate preparation, your ministry can be honoring to God. And special things happen when we live in light of God’s Truth.

Stop Planning

Yeah, you read that correctly. Stop planning.

Let me explain.

As a society, we hold planners in fairly high regard. After all, planning is a mark of preparedness and ambition. It demonstrates organization and a pursuit of excellence. Scripture even tells us that all things are to be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

On the flip side, we generally hold those “non-planners” in kind of a low regard. We esteem those who fail to plan thoroughly enough as not having an orderly life. Essentially, we view it as a problem to fix.

The book of Proverbs tells us that while diligence and fruitfulness go hand in hand, failure to plan and lack of patience lead only to poverty (Proverbs 21:5).

Personally, I love planning. I like to get my ideas out there and figure out how I’m going to make them a reality. To do that, I need to do some planning. After all, ideas are only as good as their implementation.

But many times our planning can become our biggest road-block. Sometimes we have our church services so planned out that we don’t leave room for the Holy Spirit to move as He pleases. We spend countless hours planning each minute, sometimes forgetting the real purpose behind it all.

Psalms 127:1 reminds us that you can plan all you want, but if it’s not backed by God it’s a useless endeavor (Also, see Proverbs 16:9, 19:21).

PSALMS 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

My challenge for you is to be diligent in preparing, but don’t insist on a concrete plan. Instead, be ready! Have a plan in hand and make it excellent. But remember that God sees the big picture. He knows what we need and what our churches need. Ultimately, our plan is just a starting point for whatever God has in store.

PROVERBS 16:3Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

Trust me when I say that God’s plan is infinitely sweeter than anything we can imagine.