The sheep of your congregation look primarily to you, their pastor—or shepherd—to feed them (see 1 Peter 5:2). As you review your preaching during 1978, can you say they have received a balanced spiritual diet? Have they suffered from malnutrition? Are you, their shepherd, really sure of what you have been feeding them? The apostle Paul could confidently declare, "I have kept back nothing; I have disclosed to you the whole purpose of God" (Acts 20:27, N.E.B.).* We ought to be able to say the same, yet a careful analysis of our sermon topics for the past year might show, in far too many cases, that our congregations have been getting by on less than a whole-grain gospel diet. Thoughtfully planning a sermonic year is the only way to be sure our sheep have the opportunity to browse in all the gospel pastures and develop well-rounded spiritual health.
Planning your preaching a year—or even two years—in advance will add comprehensiveness and depth to your pulpit ministry. It will give the Holy Spirit room to work on your mind and heart as you meditate and do advance reading on your future themes. It will give direction to your study and help to eliminate repetitious, hobby-horse preaching. And since your sheep will be receiving well-planned, nutritious spiritual food each Sabbath, absenteeism will decline. Your members will come to church assured of a blessing. Ellen White urges us: "It is not flowery dis courses that are needed, not a flood of words without meaning. Our ministers are to preach in a way that will help people to grasp vital truth. My brethren, do not soar where the common people cannot follow you, and if they could, would be neither benefited nor blessed. Teach the simple lessons given by Christ. Tell the story of His life of self-denial and sacrifice, His humiliation and death, His resurrection and ascension, His intercession for sinners in the courts above. In every congregation there are souls upon whom the Spirit of the Lord is moving. Help them to understand what is truth; break the bread of life to them; call their attention to vital questions." —Gospel Workers, p. 154.
Begin your planning by setting down the normally reoccurring subjects you will probably want to emphasize each year in your preaching—religious liberty, stewardship, Christian education, personal witnessing, et cetera. Add the four communion services, seasonal topics (the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the resurrection around Easter, gratitude at Thanksgiving), and allow for some guest speakers. The remaining weeks are available for you to shape and plan as God leads you. The following suggestions for sermon series should provide the nucleus for a three- or four-year preaching ministry.
Topical preaching (which is what most of our congregations are accustomed to hearing) can fragment the Scriptures in our thinking. Texts are taken from here and there to illustrate and support certain topics, often without fully relating these isolated texts to the overall situation in which they appear. Preaching through an entire book of the Bible pulls these fragmented pieces back into a cohesive whole.
A sermon series on "The Gospel in Genesis" could explore such subjects as: Creation, Paradise Lost, East of Eden, The Flood, Noah and His Wine, The Family of Man, The Tower of Babel, Abraham—Man of Faith, Sodom and Gomorrah, The Sacrifice of Isaac, Climbing Jacob's Ladder, Esau, and The Providence of God in Joseph's Experience. You will find much helpful information on Genesis in these volumes: Patriarchs and Prophets (Ellen G. White, Pacific Press); In the Beginning (Finegan, Harper & Row); Gleanings in Genesis (Pink, Moody Press); God Sent a Man (Haynes, Review and Herald).
"The Gospel in Exodus" could include sermons on: Moses, The House of Bondage, Pharaoh and Moses, The Plagues of Egypt, Let My People Go, The Passover, Through the Red Sea, From Egypt to Sinai, The God of Moses, The Ten Commandments, and many more. Two very helpful books on Exodus are Let My People Go (Finegan, Harper & Row); and Layman's Bible Commentary, Exodus (Napier, John Knox Press).
Why not preach through the Gospel of John or the book of Hebrews? The fol lowing books will provide much food for thought: Exposition of the Gospel of John (Pink, Zondervan); The Speaker's Bible (Hastings, Baker Book House); The Eternal Legacy From the Upper Room (Griffith, Harper & Row); Daily Study Bible, John (Barclay, Westminster); John's Wonderful Gospel (Powell, Zondervan); Proclaiming the New Testament, vol. 7 (Baker Book House); An Exposition of Hebrews, 3 volumes (Pink, Baker Book House); The Book of Hebrews (Andreasen, Review and Herald).
You might want to tackle a selected Scripture passage before taking on an entire book. Numerous passages lend themselves to series of sermons in which you may present fresh food for your flock.
The Sermon on the Mount will repay your study with any number of rich sermons. Check these volumes: The Plain Man Looks at the Beatitudes (Barclay, Fontana); Understanding the Sermon on the Mount (McArthur, Harper & Row); Sermon on the Mount (Boice, Zondervan); Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (White, Pacific Press); Sermon on the Mount (M. Lloyd Jones, Eerdmans).
Have you ever preached a pre-Easter series based on Jesus' seven words from the cross? Several authors have written on the subject: Faces About the Cross (Chappell, Abingdon); When God Met Men (Bietz, Pacific Press); Personalities of the Passion (Weatherhead, Abingdon); Men Who Faced the Cross (Siegel, Augustana); The Voice From the Cross (Blackwood, Baker Book House); His Cross and Mine (McGuire, Review and Herald); The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross (Pink, Baker Book House).
The Ten Commandments make a natural sermon series. Here are four books dealing with the Ten Commandments: The Hard Commands of Jesus (Roy Pearson, Abingdon); The Ten Commandments (G. Campbell Morgan, Revell); The Gospel in the Ten Commandments (J. C. Massee, Revell); Ten Rules for Living (Chappell, Revell).
Jesus' life is an area broad enough to encompass the preaching of a lifetime. I will simply list suggestions for sermon series and books that will guide you in your study of these areas.
The encounters of Jesus with such individuals as John the Baptist, the sinning woman, the Levite, the publican, the lawyer, the Canaanite woman, the man of wealth, Judas, Nicodemus, Paul, et cetera: The Quiet Revolution (James Smart, Westminster).
The parables of Jesus: Christ's Object Lessons (White, Pacific Press); The Waiting Father (Thielicke, Harper & Row); Christ and the Meaning of Life (Thielicke, Harper & Row); Parables and Metaphors of Our Lord (Morgan, Revell); He Spoke to Them in Parables (Bosley, Harper & Row); The Parables of Jesus (Buttrick, Harper & Row); Rediscovering the Parables (Jeremias, Scribner); Lessons From the Parables (Lightfoot, Baker Book House).
The mind of Jesus: The Desire of Ages (White, Pacific Press); The Mind of Jesus (Barclay, Harper & Row); Jesus as They Saw Him (Barclay, Harper & Row); Daily Life in the Times of Jesus (Daniel Rops, Hawthorn); Daily Study Bible (Barclay, Westminster); The Mind of Christ (Bosley, Abingdon); Behold the Man (Bunch, Review and Herald).
The atonement: The Satisfaction of Christ (Pink, Zondervan); The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement (Sneaton, Zondervan); The Doctrine of the Atonement as Taught by the Lord Himself (Sneaton, Zondervan); Why Did Christ Die? (Marsh, Zondervan); In Christ (Gordon, Baker Book House); The Plain Man Looks at the Cross (Weatherhead, Abingdon).
Closing scenes in Christ's life: The Desire of Ages (White, Pacific Press); Daily Study Bible (Barclay, Westminster).
The great theologian of the New Testament will prove a rich source of sermon material. The eighteen chapters of The Mind of St. Paul (Barclay, Harper & Row) will stir any man who preaches and will open up such areas as: Paul's thinking About God, Paul's Thoughts on Christ, The Incarnation, The Work of Christ, The Death of Christ, The Risen Christ, Salvation in Christ, Paul's Concept of Faith, The Essential Grace, The Holy Spirit, Sin, et cetera.
Practical godliness characterizes the theme of these books: Steps to Christ (White, Review and Herald); The Normal Christian Life (Watchman Nee, Christian Literature Crusade); The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life (Hannah Smith, Revell); The Sanctified Life (White, Review and Herald); For ever Triumphant (Huegel, Zondervan).
Of course, these are merely suggestions. You will want to shape your own sermonic year as the Holy Spirit guides you and as the needs of your congregation require. A planned preaching pro gram does not mean that you cannot break into that plan or change it when the need arises. A sermonic year is simply an orderly way to bring forth the eternal verities of the gospel that unplanned preaching is prone to omit or neglect.
If you plan your preaching year thoroughly, you can be sure your sheep will receive a steady diet of carefully prepared gospel truth. With Paul you may say, "I have kept back nothing; I have disclosed to you the whole purpose of God."
* From The New English Bible. The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970. Reprinted by permission.