I believe the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the holy, undivided Trinity. Therefore, I believe the Holy Spirit is sovereign. God the Holy Spirit has unimpeachable authority over the times, details, and circumstances of our lives. He (not “It”) operates with perfect wisdom, eternal purpose, and infinite goodness. With this confidence, I plan my preaching in advance. Well in advance.
In the name of honoring the Holy Spirit, some inadvertently dishonor him by thinking and acting as if the Spirit’s work is someone quenched if he is not free to work spontaneously. They treat the Holy Spirit as some harried housewife, overwhelmed by a lazy husband, overactive kids, and dirty dishes and clothes, who gets everything done just in the nick of time. Barely. This is foolish thinking. The Holy Spirit of God can lead just as effectively a year in advance, as he can days in advance.
What an encouragement developing a sermon calendar!
God knows if there going to be some tragedy that needs to be addressed. God knows when there will be a death that rocks the congregation. God knows if a crisis will arise in the church that will need to be addressed. God knows what the individuals and families are going through in your congregation. God knows what you do not know!
The fact that God knows our story – individually and corporately – from beginning to end means we need not specialize in “Saturday night specials.” We do not have to start our studies at the end of the week. We do not have to spend more time each week deciding what to preach, rather than actually preparing our messages. We can and should plan our preaching in advance with confidence that God is at work in and through and beyond this process to ensure our congregations are shaped by the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Why develop a sermon calendar. There are several reasons why you should plan your preaching.
Getting on top of your schedule. I am a sinner who needs to constantly take heed of his life and doctrine. I am a husband of one wife. I am the father of three children. I am the pastor of an active, growing congregation. I travel to preach away from home at times. I am a human being, who needs food, sleep, exercise, recreation, and fellowship, like everyone else.
I simply cannot afford to wait until Thursday afternoon to determine what I am going to preach Sunday morning. I need to be able to redeem the time in my sermon preparation. This can only happen when I replace the time I would be spending each week thinking about what to preach with time thinking about the text and the sermon.
Shepherding the church. Your preaching is the most effective way you can impact your congregation. Sunday morning is when you can touch the most people at one time. You must be a good steward of your opportunity. This happens, not just by how you preach and study, but also by how you plan. You can easily start following the parade, if you wait until the end of the week to choose your text for Sunday. Your preaching will become too reactionary. By planning your preaching in advance, you can strategically lead your church forward in thinking and living biblically.
Maintain doctrinal balance. In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul declared, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27, ESV). This is how I want to end my ministry. So should you. However, this cannot happen if you are only riding your theological “hobby horses” from week to week.
Your congregation needs a consistent diet of God’s word, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). It also needs a balanced diet. Your people need to hear Law and Gospel. They need to be taught Christian doctrine and Christian living. They need to be exposed to the various forms of literature in the Old and New Testaments. Planning your preaching helps you to be guard against “vain repetition” in your preaching. It helps you to establish a strategy for declaring the whole counsel of God.
Planning corporate worship. The pastor is the worship leader of the church, whether he knows music or not. Hearing the word of God is the highest form of worship. It also feeds the other elements of worship. Our worship will go higher only as we deepen our understanding of God’s word. Everything that happens in worship – in the body-life of the church, for that matter – should be viewed as an extension of the teaching ministry of the church. Planning your preaching gives a pastor a practical tool by which to oversee corporate worship and to plan more meaningful times together in worship.
When the preaching has been planned ahead, you can assign appropriate scripture readings that support the message. Music can be selected that highlights the theme of the message. Special, creative elements – readings, videos, testimonies, bulletin inserts, or follow-up commitments – can be planned the worship services. You can decide that every thing in the service one Sunday will be on prayer. Or you can cross themes, preaching on the grace of God and singing about the holiness of God. Generally, your people should know what to regularly expect from the worship service. But every now and then you should knock their socks off with something special. Developing a sermon plan can be a great catalyst to accomplish this.
Making best use of your time. One of my associate pastors acts as a research assistant for me. He does not do my study for me. But he helps me to access what I need for study. He has my preaching calendar and access to my library. Each week, he pulls the major research material and commentaries that I will need and prints them out for me. I like hard copies I can mark up and file for future reference. At this point, he stays several weeks ahead of my preaching. So when I finish preaching one sermon, I am able to pick up the next file and take it with me. Having this file always with me gives me an opportunity to take advantage of “stolen moments” to read, research, and reflect on the text for my next sermon. This would not be possible if I did not plan my preaching.
Likewise, when you plan ahead, you can collect resources without the pressure of last minute preparation. Because you know what you are going to be preaching on, you can scan your library for illustrative material in advance. You can have a mental trigger that notes things you may read in a blog, paper, or magazine that may be useful later on. You can scan the web for material related to your text or subject. And you can give your subconscious time to “marinate” on the text, deepening your thoughts and sharpening your creativity. You can also have an advantage when facing the busyness of life and “interruptions” of pastoral ministry. Having a sermon plan acts as a magnet to draw material together for your preaching.
How to develop a sermon calendar. There are different ways to develop a preaching calendar. Some pastors plan for the month ahead, ensuring that they will at least be several weeks ahead of the game. Other pastors plan for the next quarter. This is a good start for many. It plans out the next three months. It is not as intimidating as planning for a year. It also forces you to think and pray about your preaching every several month.
I recommend that you try establishing a preaching calendar for a whole year. Planning your preaching for the year can make it easier to plan the rest of the program of your church. You can establish tools and goals and service opportunities to coincide with your preaching for the year. You can even organize Bible study groups around the Sunday morning preaching.
Planning a sermon calendar for a whole year may seem like a daunting task. But it really is not as hard as it seems. You can start now and plan for the next twelve months. You can pick a time, say October, and begin planning for the next calendar year. If your schedule permits, you can go on retreat for several days and plan your preaching. If that is not possible, you can schedule specific times during your regular schedule when you will focus on planning your preaching.
Here are several practical suggestions for working through a process of planning your preaching a year in advance.
Start with prayer. Preaching the word of God to the people of God is a sacred, serious task. You do not want to decide what to preach in a cavalier manner, which is why you should consider developing a sermon plan in the first place. Approach this process with a conscious sense of dependence upon God to lead and guide you.
Pray about potential books of the Bible, themes, or series to preach. What truths would the Lord have to teach your people in the coming year? Pray for and about your congregation. Pray about the spiritual condition of your congregation. Pray about their needs, individually and corporately. Pray about the future. What is your vision for the church? Pray for yourself! The things you have been studying personally and devotionally may become feeder for your pulpit work. Is there something you need to learn? I have found that the best way for me to learn a subject is to preach it. It forces me to study it diligently.
Talk to your team. You may be the senior-pastor of your congregation. But you are not the only person of influence the Lord has placed in the body life of that church. There may be associate pastors, church officers, or ministry leaders who have helpful recommendation for your preaching in the year to come. Or there may be non-official leaders in your church whose opinion you value. There may even be new or young members who you can talk to as plan your preaching. Indeed, there is wisdom in having a multitude of counselors. Take advantage of the perspectives of godly people you trust to plan your preaching.
Go through the calendar. At this point, I print down a blank monthly calendar for the coming twelve months. I then mark the holidays that fall on Sundays or impact Sundays. I also take note of the special days in the life of the church that will guide my preaching. For instance, our Prayer Emphasis Week is every January. I use those two Sundays to preach on prayer. October is our Stewardship Emphasis Month, during which I will preach on financial stewardship.
I also put down the Sundays that I do not intend to preach. It is probably best that a pastor to be in his pulpit about forty-five Sundays of the year. But the hard number is not most important. What matters is that you plan certain Sundays when you will not preach. The bow that is always bent will soon break. You need to be delivered from the sweet bondage of weekly preparation occasionally. You may not be able to take an extended sabbatical, as some do. But have a mini-vacation from the pulpit. Use special days like church anniversaries, missions emphasis days, or whatever, to bring in a guest speaker. Preach some of the young men around you. By any means necessary, take a break to recharge your batteries!
The biggest part of my sermon planning is choosing the series I am going to preach. My custom is to preach through books of the Bible. (I try to stick to a pattern: OT book, thematic series, and NT book.)
Many teachers of preaching recommend that you preach short series (4-6 weeks, at the most). But I generally preach longer series. I don’t spend years in books. But I do try to preach them in their natural divisions, which sometimes requires twenty or more sermons.
Consecutive exposition through books aids sermon planning. I pre-study the book enough to divide it into divisions I will preach. I may even pick a title for each sermon. I determine my start date. Then I start filling in the blanks in my calendar, skipping over holidays, special days, or Sundays I am out of the pulpit. The calendar fills up quickly.
One more thing…
Be flexible. Like the Sabbath, the preaching plans are made for the preacher, not preachers for the preaching plan. Don’t be a slave to a preaching calendar. If a natural disaster or tragedy takes place that should be addressed, do it. If there is an issue in your community or city or the larger culture that needs a Christian perspective, do it. If you are led, for whatever reason to ditch your plan for a week or two to preach something else, by all means, do it.
Once your complete your sermon calendar, your work is not done. You must review it continuously. Think about where you may need to change courses along the way. Ask the Lord to edit in what he wants in and edit out what he wants out. A bad page is better than a blank page. The fact that plans may need to change is not a reason not to plan at all. Your sermon calendar is a plan to work from throughout the year. Trust God to use your planning to strengthen your preaching, nurture you congregation, and honor the scriptures.
Remember, one who fails to plan plans to fail.
What steps or tools have you found helpful in developing a sermon calendar?