Hearing excellent communicators – both secular and Christian – is easy today because of podcasts, YouTube and Vimeo. And that has made today’s church attendees more discerning as listeners. Their expectations are high.
Every day, believers at your church can turn on or tune in to the best of the best. Your congregation doesn’t know those other guys may have entire teams helping them put things together. And if you are a church planter, they don’t think about the fact that these pastors don’t have to negotiate rent, help do setup and tear down, handle problems in the preschool ministry and do everything else that goes along with being a church-planting pastor. They just wonder, “Why can’t he preach like Matt or Andy or David or Alistair or John or Tim or Louie?” Even the unchurched have very high expectations for communicators.
That’s why planning for preaching ought to be a high priority for every pastor and church planter.
Some people feel planning takes God out of the equation. Some think it’s more spiritual to seek God during the week for what to share on Sunday. They feel that if a text of Scripture has been chosen weeks or months before, then their people won’t be hearing a fresh word from God.
But think about it this way: It takes bold faith to sit down with God and plan out a year’s worth of preaching, seeking Him for what He wants you to speak about up to 12 months from now. It is possible for God to work through a preaching team and lay on their hearts what He needs pastors to say six to 12 months later. He’s a God who sees ahead. He knows who is going to be listening and what the church needs to hear.
You may wonder, “How will I know in January what I should preach next October?” Well, maybe you can’t know all the specifics, but you can develop the big ideas.
Here are five steps for planning your preaching:
1. Read the Scripture and keep a journal as an ongoing devotional habit.
For a preacher, there is no substitute for a vibrant devotional life. If you use a Bible-reading plan and if you journal, you may find that many of your series and messages come from an overflow of your devotional life.
So, read your Bible, pray and listen for the Lord’s leading. He will be speaking to you about what He wants His people to hear in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Rick Warren says, “I am a collector of ideas, collecting future sermon series and ideas. There are some series I’ve been collecting for 20 years that I still haven’t preached on. For instance, I did a series through Psalm 23. I had collected material for more than 20 years. I just knew that one day I was going to preach on Psalm 23. So, when I get a quiet-time insight, when I hear a good sermon and I hear a quote, I throw it in that file. When I get ready to plan a series, I’m not starting from scratch. I have what I call my ‘bucket file.’ My bucket file is not real organized. It is just stuff tossed in there. Once you get enough to start making a series, you say to yourself, ‘I want to do this series on the family, or I want to do this series on 1 Peter, or I want to do this series on the Second Coming’ – you start the file. Right now, I have maybe 50 series in the hopper.”
As you read the Scripture, God may prompt you to preach through an entire book of the Bible. Or God might prompt you to teach through short sections of books in the Bible, like the Upper Room Discourse found in John 13-17, the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7 or a series on sanctification out of Romans 6-8.
2. Survey your congregation and your leadership team for message ideas.
Listen to your people. They are always communicating their needs, disappointments, fears and hopes. Listen well. Ask questions. We all have favorite topics we like to visit and revisit in messages, but allowing your peoples’ struggles, questions and passions to inform your preaching calendar will help you overcome your blind spots and repetitious tendencies.
Involve your core team as you plan. Others on your team are seeing challenges and opportunities in the church that you may not be seeing. Those on your team who are more apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic need to be heard, just as much as those with the gifts of shepherding and teaching. A team approach to planning a preaching calendar will help you overcome the sins of self-sufficiency and pride. Obviously, you aren’t the only one who hears from God. Involving others in the planning process will increase your congregation’s trust and confidence in you and in your preaching.
So, ask your people – leaders, followers, young, old, new believers, seasoned saints, singles, married, etc. – “What do you think the Lord wants our church to know from His Word this next year?” Plan some listening sessions. Take great notes. Someone once said, “Give me time and I’ll give you something good; give me a team and I’ll give you something great.”
3. Review your church’s overall mission, values, strategy, marks and vision.
Your Vision Frame can be a guide for what you need to be communicating to your church.
Mission: What books, chapters or verses in the Bible inform your mission statement? Does the church need to refocus on your mission? How many weeks might you use to restate your vision in fresh ways?
Values: What values are being lived out well in your church? What values need attention? What aspirational value needs to be transformed into an actual value? What Scripture passages can help you challenge your people to turn intention into action?
Strategy: Which part of your strategy is working well? Which part needs help? If you look back at the past year and see that you didn’t give enough emphasis to worship, groups, service, outreach or multiplication, then one of these areas could be a special area of focus as you plan.
Marks: In general, which Marks of a Disciple are you seeing most and best in your people? Which are you seeing least? Perhaps a series on how Jesus perfectly exhibited all the marks could be timely. Perhaps focusing a whole series on one of your marks would be best.
Vision: Do you need a message or a series to remind your people where you are going as a church in the next eight to 10 years? Do your people need to be reminded of the journey/strategy of how you are going to get there?
Use your Vision Frame to help you find direction for your preaching.
4. Go on a sermon planning retreat.
Annual planning is best done when the church planter can get a few days away, by himself, on retreat. Take two or three days at a retreat center, cabin or another place that’s quiet. Review the journals that record your devotional life. Reread the notes you’ve taken when you’ve heard from your core team and from your people.
Pray through the upcoming year or six months, seeking what God would have you teach. Then spend your time outlining sermon series ideas. Get the big ideas first and group them into series. Next, break each series down into individual messages.
You likely will end up with somewhere between eight and 10 series for the year. You also can use the retreat time to schedule the weeks you will be out of the pulpit and the weeks you will have guest speakers or others from your team giving the message.
5. Plan your preaching based on the calendar.
Some days during the year, it’s probably wise for the lead communicator to be present and preaching. Easter and Christmas Eve are no-brainers! What other days do you think you need to be upfront and on stage?
It makes sense for the lead communicator to take other days off. For example, the last Sunday of the year is a Sunday many main communicators take off. When will you take vacation? What days will you be away? Decide how many weeks you will speak a year. Schedule your personal time off. Then choose which weekends would be best for you to be away.
As you plan your calendar, some of the major holidays to consider are Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July and holidays that create three-day weekends. There are other events, like the Super Bowl, that have become almost national unofficial holidays. And don’t forget the local civic and school schedules. Look at the beginning and end of school, Christmas and spring breaks and any other dates of major importance.
If you preach 35 times a year, that leaves you with 17 opportunities to involve others on your team. So who else from your team will preach? Who needs opportunities so they can be developed and, perhaps, one day sent out to plant? Scheduling your team in advance and giving them texts and topics will give them extra time so they can bring their best to your church.
Be proactive! Either you will make things happen or you will let things happen to you. Planning your preaching definitely gets you in proactive mode. Mark Batterson of the National Community Church in Washington, D.C., says, “I feel like putting together a sermon strategy is one of my most difficult and most important responsibilities. Planning the spiritual diet of a congregation is weighty business.”
Planning your preaching well on an annual basis is a way for you to achieve a well-balanced diet for the people God has entrusted you to lead and feed.
Published May 2, 2022