MANY successful ministers think of summer as an opportune time to plan for the church year which starts the first Sabbath of September and ends the second Sabbath of June. Time spent in careful preparation of a long-range program will save many hours of frustration from having to face one crisis after another. Bishop Gerald Kennedy, one of the preacher virtuosos of the twentieth century, wrote:
There are three things which seem to me to be minimum requirements for our long-range preparation. First, keep a notebook in which you can jot down the idea, the quotation, or the illustration that you discover. If it can be clipped, so much the better, though I could never bring myself to tear pages out of books. Much fine material becomes merely vague to us if we depend on remembering it. Second, keep a folder in which every idea for a sermon or every outline of a sermon may be placed. With such a storehouse, no man need face a week, or a year, desperately seeking something that will strike fire. He will always find enough and to spare. Third, plan your preaching at least one year in advance. I have learned that taking time in my summer holidays to plan next year's preaching pays as big dividends as any investment I can make. His Word Through Preaching (Harpers, 1947), p. 43.
When one prepares a schedule of preaching for the months ahead, it does not mean that all the sermons must be preached as outlined; but if there is nothing more urgent, the over-all plan will be followed. Planning ahead will give both direction and continuity to the total sermon program.
The Over-all Program
Several factors to keep in mind in building an over-all program for the church are:
1. A list of speakers and general sermon titles for each Sabbath worship service and Wednesday evening prayer meeting.
2. Plans for raising the church finances, a workable church budget, and stewardship program.
3. A Christian witness plan with a place for laymen involvement and evangelistic meetings for the church.
4. A place for the special features of the church year, such as annual campaigns, anniversaries, Weeks of Prayer, et cetera.
5. A social program for the church, making sure that all ages are included in some way.
In building a calendar of preaching, it is easy for ministers to ride hobbies to the satisfaction of a few and the distress of many. There should be a variety of sermons in our program to meet the many needs of the worshipers. There are many types and moods in each congregation the emotional, the practical, the intellectual, the discouraged, the bitter, et cetera. All of these temperaments must be taken into consideration. No one sermon fulfills the needs of every person.
Several facts to keep in mind when building the preaching year are: four communion Sabbaths, New Year's, Easter, Mother's Day (a good time for baby dedication), Labor Day, Reformation week end, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Then there are the special campaigns such as Ingathering:, Signs of the Times, Weeks of Prayer, Pathfinder Day, graduations, religious liberty, and temperance Sabbaths. There is the need for witness, stewardship, and Christian education. These and others are factors to keep in mind when building a church calendar.
It is wise for a minister to keep a page in his notebook for sermon ideas and titles. One of our well-known pastors kept a note book which he called his Garden of Texts. As he read his Bible through each year, he would jot down the text that might be the basis of a sermon. Later, as time would permit, he would make a rough outline under the text. It was amazing to see how many interesting ideas he had in his note book!
A productive way to obtain some excellent subjects is to pass a questionnaire to the congregation requesting all to suggest sermon topics they would like to hear. It will be a real experience to learn some of the practical ideas that come from the per sons in the pews. Series of sermons are both interesting and helpful to the church if not too extended. Why not try a series on a book in the Bible such as Ephesians, Jude, Philippians, or James? Our people always like a series of sermons on the second coming of Christ, heaven, the Sabbath, the signs of Christ's coming, or how men are saved. A series on the Beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, or the Lord's Prayer is helpful. Then dealing with problems church members have such as fear, criticism, resentment, et cetera, will long be remembered.
Some progressive ministers, after they have decided the subjects they wish to present, make a regular file folder for each. Thus when reading newspapers, magazines, and books, they clip or jot down thoughts and place them in the designated folder. Thus the long-range program be comes a magnet for one's experiences and reading. It is surprising how much one accumulates over a period of time. One is unconsciously on the lookout for anything that might help in his year of preaching.
Some wonder how often guest speakers should be invited to take the pulpit. This depends on the church and the minister. Institutional churches demand more guest speakers than the average parish. Wise is the minister who will plan for some well-chosen speakers to inspire his congregation. One minister used to invite a guest speaker on the average of once a month. Many pastors have more guest speakers during the summer months. By planning ahead, the best speakers may be obtained at the time they are needed the most.