I still remember my panic as a young preacher. With the early part of each week slipping through my fingers like dry sand, I would be staring at a bulletin deadline: the time my sermon title was due. That meant I had a sermon to write, but didn't even know where to begin.
I can remember browsing through religious periodicals, desperately searching for inspiration. At times, I found myself giving the church secretary a generic sermon title like "The Love of God," hoping for enlightenment later in the week!
How can a preacher avoid this weekly panic attack? Here is one practical suggestion: plan an annual preaching calendar. Most ministers will admit that there are benefits to a preaching calendar, but many don't know where to begin. Here's a simple process (tested in the local church) for developing such an annual calendar.
Personally select a group of 12-15 members from your congregation to serve on a Sermon Planning Group. Look for individuals representative of the diversity of your congregation (age, gender, ethnicity, and religious heritage). Give this Sermon Planning Group a 30-day assignment. Ask each member to solicit feed back from family members, neighbors, and friends about topics that would interest them in the coming year. Encourage group members to develop specific recommendations of sermon series that would connect with the individuals that they have contacted. You will be surprised how seriously individuals take hold of this assignment!
Begin this process four months prior to the beginning of your preaching calendar. This allows adequate time to work through the process and still provide some lead time for the worship teams to plan services at the beginning of the preaching calendar.
It is helpful to change the composition of the Sermon Planning Group annually. This provides opportunity for a broad cross-section of the congregation to participate. It also avoids the criticism that a handful of members are controlling the preaching calendar of the church.
Bring your Sermon Planning Group together for a brainstorming session. During this session, listen to reports from your Sermon Planning Group members. Take notes. Writing suggestions on a whiteboard or large notepad helps group members to see emerging patterns.
Several individuals may suggest a series of sermons on a similar theme, or on a particular book of the Bible. Decide together the best format and length for each series. Solicit group feedback regarding titles.1 By the end of this brainstorming session, you should have a collection of sermon series.
Allow a minimum of four hours for this brainstorming session. You may decide to take the Sermon Planning Group to a retreat center for the day or even for a weekend together. Either way, if you spend a minimum of a full day with your Sermon Planning Group, you should be able to complete a rough draft of your preaching calendar. Adequate time spent doing Step #2 will save time later in the process.
Solicit feedback from other pastors on your staff or from key lay leaders. While these individuals may not have participated directly in the group work mentioned above, they are sensitive to the needs of the church family.
Give them an opportunity to review the rough draft of the calendar. Encourage them to make suggestions, either adding to, deleting, or modifying the recommendations of the Sermon Planning Group. During this third step, you may also deter mine who will be responsible for each preaching assignment.
Go to the mountain. This is a time for you to prayerfully reflect on your proposed preaching assignments. Take the revised draft of the preaching calendar with you, along with any notes from the brainstorming session. Consider the flow from one sermon series to another.
As you look at the bigger picture, you will begin to see what needs have not been addressed.2 Make additions, deletions, and modifications, fitting into any liturgical or denominational plans you may need to observe. Then, make a calendar and assign a specific weekend for each sermon.
As part of the preaching calendar, include a proposed sermon title, preaching passage, and preaching idea.3
Planning a preaching calendar takes time but the benefits far exceed any such cost.
First, as mentioned, having a preaching calendar helps you to avoid the weekly panic attack that comes from last-minute sermon planning. Beginning the sermon preparation process weeks or even months ahead provides incubation time for you to process ideas.
Once your preaching calendar is complete, you can create a file for each sermon. As you find relevant resources or ideas, drop them into the appropriate file. Then, as you begin your sermon preparation, you will not only know your basic direction but you will also have resources to work with.
Second, a carefully planned preaching calendar helps to ensure balance in the spiritual diet of your congregation, and more life in the delivery of the sermon. The apostle Paul re minded the Ephesian elders that, during his extended time of ministry in Ephesus, he had declared to them "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27, NKJV).
A balanced preaching calendar will include both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and will cover the broad themes of the Bible as well as issues of practical concern for everyday Christian living.
The one-sermon pastor who preaches the same sermon every week with a few minor variations bores the congregation and leaves them spirit ually malnourished. A lack of prayerful, intentional planning can also result in myopic preaching preoc cupied with chasing after immediate concerns while failing to declare the whole counsel of God. This unplanned preaching is often at the bottom of much of the mediocre preaching that we hear about.
Third, a preaching calendar also enables your worship teams to plan ahead. You may not actually begin to write a specific sermon until the first part of the week, but the worship team assigned to that weekend can plan weeks or even months ahead, designing a worship service around your preaching passage and preaching idea. Even though your preaching idea may be modified, the basic theme will remain the same.
Fourth, with advance notice regarding upcoming sermons, your communications team can provide articles for local newspapers and make postings on your church Web site. You can also encourage church members to plan ahead and invite family members, neighbors, and friends to an upcoming sermon series.
There will inevitably be a few times during the year when your preaching calendar will need to be modified. Events like September 11, 2001, can not be ignored. Unexpected transitions in the congregation might also necessitate the addition of a sermon not originally scheduled. At times like these, make prayerful adjustments to your preaching calendar. Such changes create a certain amount of disequilibrium, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
Fifth, a carefully planned preaching calendar will give your communications team enough lead time to announce upcoming services and invite people in the community to join your church family for worship.
1 My 2002/2003 Sermon Planning Group showed a tremendous amount of creativity. They sensed the need for sermons that connect with everyday life. One four-part series that they suggested was entitled "Christianity in the Marketplace." This sermon series included "Being Christian in the Classroom," "Being Christian in the Care-Giving Professions," "Being Christian in Business," and "Being Christian at Home." For more information on this series, read the article entitled "Start a Sermon Resource Group: Unleashing Your Congregation's Creativity" in the September 2003 issue of Ministry.
2 For example, after reviewing the rough draft of my 2002/2003 preaching calendar, I was impressed to follow up an evangelistic series with a three-part series entitled "The Family of God," which included the following topics: "Who Needs Church?" "Why Are There So Many Denominations?" and "Life-Changing Fellowship."
3 For a sample preaching calendar, visit the Calimesa SDA Church Web site at <www.calimesasda.com>. Sermons are also available as audio files or manuscripts.