Planning. Organization. Administration. Calendars.
For many pastors, these words are like giant mosquitoes, sucking the lifeblood right out of them. After all, we didn’t go into ministry to be planners and administrators. We chose this profession because we love people and we want them to meet Jesus. We want them to experience Jesus in every message we preach. That’s the stuff that gets our juices flowing!
How to Effectively Plan a Year of Preaching
But preaching requires planning. Ministry requires administration. Expecting to preach well without planning well is like expecting to harvest a crop that you planted yesterday. Seeds take time to grow. So do sermons.
So how do we plan well? Specifically, how do we plan sermons well for a calendar year? What I’m going to share isn’t the only right way. It’s simply my way. Here are some key principles that I always follow.
1. Never plan your sermon calendar alone.
For far too long, I assumed that since I’m the preacher, I should be the sole sermon planner. This is D-U-M-B, DUMB! My life changed (and I mean that sincerely) when I realized that I needed to bring other people into the process.
Every October, I meet with a group of 3-5 people to plan the next year’s sermon calendar. They are men and women who are staff, elders, and core volunteers. I keep the group purposefully small so everyone can be a major contributor.
I bring plenty of coffee and donuts for the group. Once we’re sufficiently caffeinated and sugared up, we go to work. We begin at 9:00 am and we usually have the entire year planned by noon.
We hang an old-school desk calendar on the wall, and we’re armed with Post-It notes and markers. We write the sermon series ideas on the Post-Its and stick them on the calendar. It’s a great way to visualize the year as a whole, and the Post-Its make it easy to move stuff around.
To give you an idea of what it looks like, here’s a picture of our 2018 calendar. It’s blurred out to preserve a little bit of anticipation and mystery for our church. If you want to see an unblurred pic, email me at mike.edmisten[at]connect.cc.
2. Evernote is everything.
Ok, that’s a bit of an overstatement. But Evernote should be in every preacher’s toolbox.
I created a folder in Evernote called Sermon Ideas. Throughout the year, whenever an idea hits me, it goes into that folder. It may be an idea that comes from something in culture. It may be a series idea that was preached at another church (don’t ever apologize for this!). Or the idea may simply come from reading the Bible (you’re doing that, right?).
Wherever the idea comes from, I throw it into that Evernote folder. I don’t bother to organize it. Clip it, save it, move on.
Then, when it comes time to plan the next year’s sermon calendar, I open up that folder. After filtering the contents, the folder usually yields at least 6 months of messages. That means our team only has to plan 6 months of messages instead of 12. Talk about making sermon planning easier!
Bonus note: I also have a folder for sermon illustrations. I add stuff to that folder almost daily, tagged by topic. Preaching every week is a grind, and sometimes the creative well runs dry. It’s so helpful to open up that folder and immediately have a ton of illustrations at the ready.
3. Ask the right questions.
When our sermon planning team meets, we review some key questions. We read the questions before we begin. We refer to them throughout the process. And we review them again when we’re finished.
Here are the questions we currently use.
- Is Jesus present in every message?
- Is there a mix of Old and New Testament, leaning heavier toward the NT?
- Is there a mix of theological teaching and “felt needs?”
- Is it balanced for men and women? Young and old?
- Does it speak to pressing issues in our time?
- Is there a balance of topical and expository series?
- Is there a variety of voices preaching?
- Are there creative hooks, without being gimmicky?
- Is there a series on marriage and a series on money?
- Did we recognize the necessary holidays/cultural events?
- If a person heard and applied every message in 2018, would they be more like Jesus on December 31 than they were on January 1?
We all have natural tendencies in our preaching. These questions ensure our calendar is balanced. On my own, I would rarely preach from the Old Testament. I’m a New Testament guy. But the balance question forces me to a place I wouldn’t naturally go. I’m preaching a series on the life of Abraham in 2018. Without these questions, I might have reverted back to my New Testament wheelhouse. With these questions, it positions me to preach the whole counsel of God, not just my favorite parts.
4. Preach less often.
When you plan a year in advance, it provides ample opportunity to plan your time OUT of the pulpit. Most preachers preach way too often. I have friends who preach 50 Sundays a year. Some even have added responsibilities, like preaching Sunday nights or leading a Wednesday night Bible study.
Remember when Moses was trying to lead the nation of Israel by himself? His father-in-law got up in his grill and told him, “What you are doing is not good” (Exodus 18:17). Moses needed to delegate responsibility or he was going to flame out.
We’re not better than Moses. We can’t carry the load of leadership by ourselves, either. And make no mistake about it…preaching is leadership. We must learn to delegate the leadership of preaching if we’re going to stay in the game for the long haul.
Our people need this, too. The people in my church need to hear voices other than mine. Different voices bring different perspectives. They help us see the truth of the Word in a fresh, new way.
Gavin Adams wisely said, “My goal as a Lead Pastor is not to preach, but to ensure our church gets the best content – engaging and helpful – every week. I’m the Lead Pastor, not the Lead Preacher. There’s a difference.”
I want my people to receive the best content every week. That means they need to hear other voices in addition to mine.
There are preachers who kick against this, but sometimes their motives aren’t exactly pure. Some pushback with arrogance, believing they alone can preach effectively in their church. Others balk at this because of their insecurity. “What if someone else preaches, and they’re better than me? Gasp!”
We need to get over ourselves. We need to put the needs of our people first. They need to hear a variety of voices, not just one.
5. Take the long view.
When our sermon planning is finished, I step back and look at the calendar filled with Post-It notes. It excites me and it gives me hope.
One of the worst things pastors can do is live week to week. Many preachers write their sermon on Saturday, preach it on Sunday, and then leave feeling miserable because they know they’ve got to come up with something to preach the following Sunday.
Planning ahead means you never have to write a “Saturday night special.” (Those messages are terrible, anyway.) It allows you to get further ahead, not just with sermon planning, but in actual sermon writing. I write messages two months in advance. My goal is to get even further ahead than that.
I never walk out of church wondering what I’ll preach next Sunday. I always know. That takes a ton of pressure off.
Here’s a glimpse of my normal week of sermon prep.
Monday -I pull out the message I wrote two months earlier. I edit it, create my slide presentation, and get the message fresh in my mind again.
Tuesday – Meetings, administration. No sermon work.
Wednesday – I write a different message, one that I’ll preach in two months.
Thursday – I circle back to the message for the coming Sunday. I preach it out loud a few times, make my final tweaks, and send it off to our team. I don’t touch that message again until Sunday morning. No more stressful Saturdays. No more disappointing Sundays.
Preaching and Preparation
Paul told a young preacher named Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
As preachers, we get psyched up when we read, “Preach the word.” That’s what we live for! But look at what Paul says next: “Be prepared.” Paul links preaching and preparation because they are inseparable. Preaching well means preparing well.
I lived in the mess and stress of disorganization and poor planning far too long. I’m never going back there again. I hope you won’t, either.
Prepare well, so you can preach well.
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