You Might Need a Preaching Calendar If ...
by Jennifer Gale
You need a preaching calendar if …
- You find yourself desperately scrambling to put some thoughts together Saturday night so you will have something to say on Sunday.
- You are downloading other people’s sermons and trying to pass them off as your own.
- Your schedule does not allow you to do proper biblical exegesis.
- Your sermons suffer from a lack of creativity and diversity.
- Your sermons have become boring and predictable.
- You have learned that leading a church in a new direction will require more than just one sermon.
If you have one or more of these symptoms, you need a preaching calendar. The following steps demonstrate how any one responsible for preaching week in and week out can gain better control of their schedule and create more time for planning, studying, and developing effective biblical messages.
Step One: Determine how many days you will be preaching. Let me use a 4-month calendar as an example. You will preach approximately 18 Sunday morning sermons. Step back and calculate how many of those 18 sermons you are responsible for in that 4-month period. Look at your church calendar and ask yourself if you have any scheduled guest speakers. Will you be out of town? Are you sharing the pulpit with another member of your church staff? The goal is to determine how many days you will be preaching.
Step Two: Determine what kind of impact holidays and special days will have on your sermons. This will include national holidays (both religious and secular), special days in the life of the church or in the life of the community. Also include nationally recognized days such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Consider consulting the Christian calendar the church has been using for centuries to educate people about the Christian story. For example, Advent (four Sunday’s before Christmas), Resurrection Sunday (Easter), Pentecost, and Reformation Sunday are important dates you might choose to build your sermon around. Of course, in some cases, these days will not directly affect your sermon, but they might receive attention somewhere else in the service. The important thing to remember is that holidays and special days can provide an opportunity to address issues that are on everyone’s mind.
At Christmas, for instance, you have an opportunity to not only preach about the real meaning of Christmas, but also preach about how many temptations exist that threaten to make us lose our focus on what Christmas is about. Subjects include: materialism, sentimentality, and cultural pressure to take Christ out of Christmas. Our culture might take Christ out of Christmas, but the church never will. These yearly events create a springboard that the wise preacher can start from and lead into the gospel.
Step Three: Decide which topics and or church programs you will give special emphasis in your preaching. For example, you might do a 3-week series over the “ The Power of Small Groups.” While I would never want to deny the ability of a single sermon to transform a person, chances are, if you want a church to change their mind or behavior, or simply get behind a new ministry, it will require you preaching about it on more than one occasion. This is also true about controversial or contemporary issues.
The Assemblies of God produces a calendar that contains days set aside for placing emphases on the departments of the church or subjects that are important to our fellowship. When is Speed the Light Sunday? What will you do on Racial Reconciliation Sunday, or Shut-in Sunday? This is a good idea for two reasons: No. 1, it helps keep the ministries our Fellowship offers in front of people, and No. 2, the Assemblies of God will often offer resources that will better help to promote these ministries. Some are free and you will need to purchase others. Again, not all of this may directly influence your sermon, but they will somehow impact what goes on in the service. The goal is to identify which topics and church programs will be preached about.
Step Four: Plan a series through a book of the Bible. Begin by prayerfully selecting a book of the Bible that addresses where your congregation is or where it needs to be. I suggest doing at least two or three series a year, intermingling them with more topical messages. The benefits to doing a sermon series through a book of the Bible are numerous: it matures your people, ensures Gods blessing, helps everyone share the same focus, and increases their knowledge of Scripture.
Step Five: Make time to plan, study, and be creative. Hopefully, by now you are seeing how much more wisely you will spend your time by simply calculating how many sermons you are responsible for and what kind of messages they are going to be. There is still the issue of how you are going to carve out the needed time to prepare messages. Here are some practical suggestions that I have seen work in a variety of situations:
Take a Sabbatical. This is not a vacation, but time to step away from church work to pray, study, and plan. You need to identify those times of the year where the demands of the church are slower and then assign special speakers or staff members to handle the preaching. It is important that you persuade your church leadership about the importance of doing this. If a sabbatical is not doable, then a long weekend could provide some time away to plan.
Use a Study Team. Gather a knowledgeable group of people to help you study topical issues and Bible texts. Sometimes these will be experts. I know of some pastors who bring in a Bible scholar every year at a summer retreat, and they work through a book of the Bible together to prepare their sermons for the coming year. You could take a similar approach utilizing other professionals, especially when dealing with issues that are outside your expertise. This team could be made up of church staff, interns, or even a cross section of church members.
I once preached, what I considered to be a pretty challenging message, on divorce. I titled it “Keeping Your Vows in a World That Breaks Its Promises.” If I was going to talk about such a sensitive issue, I wanted to anticipate some of the objections, biases, and competing priorities my audience could have. My goal was not only to preach boldly, but to be compassionate as well. I pulled together a group of couples in their twenties and thirties. Some of them were on their first marriage; for others, it was their second marriage, and another group were about to be married. I prepared a series of open-ended questions pertaining to the sermon’s subject and then turned on a tape recorder. I asked: “What should a sermon on keeping your marriage vows in a divorce culture say?” The feedback I received was invaluable. I had studied the relevant biblical texts, and they helped me to study my audience so I could speak to it about this topic with relevance.
Use a Creative Team. Once you know what texts, topics, and ideas you will be preaching about, consider using a creative team to help you brand the series and creatively promote and execute it. Once the series has been given a name you can promote it using banners, bulletins, posters, and your church’s Web site. The creative team will also help you with illustrations that utilize visual media, drama, and any other methods that help you communicate effectively and clearly. Creativity takes time, but with the right people you will be able to maximize the visibility and effectiveness of your sermon series.
I meet with my staff once a quarter expressly for a brainstorming Saturday. We pray, eat, laugh, plan out our church calendar, but most important, I cast vision about the upcoming series and the direction of the church. We come up with a series title and some images that will be used in promoting this series.
Throughout the week I meet with a group of church members who serve as my official creative team. They consist of a Bible college student, someone employed in advertising, and a student filmmaker. I give them the quarterly preaching calendar, which will include the main idea of the text, main idea of my sermon, and the specific objective I want the sermon to accomplish in the lives of my audience. We spend the first half of the meeting reviewing the prior service (what went well and what could have been done better). The remainder of the time is planning the upcoming service. Of course, the more elaborate the illustrations, the more advanced planning is necessary. If we have done something really involved the week prior, the following sermon will be a little more stripped down and not utilize much in the way of visuals. My goal is not to outdo myself Sunday after to Sunday, but to communicate effectively. The creativity then, is not an end in itself, but instead serves the series to make it as interesting and memorable as possible. This is also a time saver, because it takes the load off the preacher to come up with and prepare all of the illustrations.
A Special Note About the Holy Spirit and Planning
Do not underestimate the Holy Spirit’s ability to lead you in planning your preaching calendar. You should not depend on His guidance only during the altar call or your devotional time. He can certainly give you wisdom as you schedule your preaching calendar. Sometimes, as Pentecostals, we are so focused on spontaneity we neglect other vital parts of sermon preparation. We need to be reminded that God has called us to love and serve Him with everything we are and this includes our minds.
It takes hard work to think about what a group needs and how best to communicate that to them. It takes effort to prepare something in advance that you will preach about and make it worth showing up on a Sunday morning to hear. A preaching plan, like all plans, are projections that are made on the best information you have at the time. Like all plans, if it needs to be revised because of emergency or simply the Holy Spirit’s prompting then do so.
Jeff Magruder, D.Min,, assistant professor at Southwestern Assemblies of God University, and pastor, Abundant Life Assembly of God, Grand Prairie, Texas