On Preaching and Ministry presented by The Jenkins Institute
If you are a preacher, you preach. It’s what we do. It’s the most important aspect of our work. However, no preacher can preach effectively without proper preparation. To be able to prepare effectively requires planning. There are about as many ways to prepare as there are preachers. Some preachers thrive under pressure. They prepare Saturday night or Sunday morning. One preacher jokingly said, “If you plan too far ahead, what are you going to do between the second and third song on Sunday morning?” Some preachers start planning for the next sermon on Sunday night. Others plan through the week. While still, others plan weeks or months in advance. We have a friend who has enough sermon topics planned for seven years! In this month’s offering of “ON,” we discuss one method of sermon planning. It has proven successful for many of us. Of course, you are not required to use this method, but we do hope you will consider it. We are thankful that the men who have written this month are men who plan their preaching a year in advance. Our lead article is written by our teacher and longtime friend, Billy Smith who first taught us about planned preaching many years ago. We hope you will be blessed by this issue of “ON” As always we would love to hear from you about your experiences or about anything that we might be able to help you with please feel free to let us know. Yours for Great Planned Preaching, - from The Editors, Jeff and Dale TheJenkinsInstitute@gmail.com
The Need For and Importance of Planned Preaching by Billy R. Smith, email@example.com
The task confronting the gospel preacher is to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This requires his understanding of the biblical message, of the specific needs of his audience, and how to bring these two elements, message and men, together effectively. Sermons should not be presented in general but for particular people with particular needs in particular places. The glory of preaching, however, can lose its edge to the pressure of constantly producing sermons along with the rigors of ministerial duties. Preachers often make the uncomfortable discovery that they are not spending sufficient time, nor finding adequate time, to prepare their lessons as they should. Left to their own schemes, they necessarily make themselves at home with the themes that fit their own minds. Consequently, the good news of God is not presented in its wholeness, and the needs of the audience are not consistently met. The concept of planned preaching provides a workable solution to this problem. Planned preaching is the process of choosing in advance sermon themes, texts, and objectives for a specific group of people, over a given period of time, according to a definite plan. The preacher who commits himself to a program of planned preaching faces two significant decisions. First, what unit of time will be covered in the program, and second, what major emphasis will govern the program’s design? The beginner in advanced planning should begin with monthly plans. This, being short, requires less forethought, and is less subject to change than the longer plans. This pattern would both accustom the preacher to the discipline of planning and prepare him to plan even further in advance, although it does not provide the “long view” for his preaching program.
The second natural time segment is the quarterly plan, the most popular approach because of its opportunities for series preaching in quarters, its parallel to the quarterly system of the Bible school program, and the “four seasons” of the calendar year. Preachers also feel greater freedom to change their plans when needed than they would if their plans were further in advance. A third time unit for planning is biannually. This plan is preferred by those who believe that life moves so quickly and moods change so precipitously that it is impossible to project accurately the needs for an entire year. This would continue the growth of the preacher as an advanced planner in moving from the monthly to the quarterly to the biannual plan. While each of these units enjoys its advantages, homiletical literature on this subject is dominated by the insistence that the preacher plan his preaching annually. The year’s pulpit work rises, not like a home thrown up by a small child, but rationally and soundly, like a building constructed by a master architect who understands the principles of balance, stress, support, and design. Once the choice of time unit is selected for his program, the planner must then decide on the emphasis that will govern the program’s design. A host of possibilities is available to the planed preach, a summary of which is provided here. The most frequently recommended design is by following the calendar, regarded as the simplest way to plan. The preacher will note Sundays of special seasonal significance. He may also make use of the civil calendar to set aside dates of special importance in the life of his people, such as New Year’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Days, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving. A third feature of calendar planning is the congregational calendar. With the input of the church leadership, the sermon planner considers significant dates in the program of the
church for the coming year, such as Homecoming, Vacation Bible School, preparation for gospel meetings, or the promotion of any congregational program. A second prominent emphasis or scheme for planned preaching is to preach through books of the Bible. If one book was used per quarter, four Bible books could be preached in one year. A related plan is a series of “book sermons,” where the preacher determines the main theme of one Bible book, discovers the original situation and relates it to contemporary life, using carefully selected material from the book. A third scheme in advanced planning is preaching to meet human needs, specifically the needs of your congregation, dealing with the real problems of real people. This plan is rooted in the preaching of both the prophets and the apostles who spoke the message their hearers most needed to hear. In addition to his knowledge of the congregation, the preacher may also survey the members for the purpose of discovering needs and area of study that might otherwise go undetected. This provides the congregation a sense of involvement in developing the minister’s preaching plan. A fourth design for advanced planning is the monthly series, which over the course of a year could be described as a “series of series.” There are twelve monthly preaching programs, each with its own theme, that fit together to make the one year’s preaching program. The month makes an excellent unit for sermon series, where several sermons are used to explore themes too demanding to be covered on a single occasion. Because sermon series should be kept relatively brief, both morning and evening services of one month can be used to develop a series of eight lessons on a designated theme. A fifth pattern for advanced planning is the selection of an overall theme for the year for the whole life of the church. The one hundred sermons for the year would all relate to this guiding theme. The annual theme may be expressed as an apparent need (“Evaluation”), or as a challenge (“Every Member an Evangelist”), or
in the words of scripture (“To Live is Christ”). While this plan might overlook some needed themes, it certainly provides the opportunity for the themes selected to be discussed in greater depth. A final principle of advanced planning emphasizes the importance of the planner himself, the man of God, himself immersed with the sacred writings and their relevance for life, also becomes a source for sermon selection. Out of his knowledge of the great themes of scripture, and because of his knowledge of his people’s thoughts, questions, hopes, and aspirations, he determines what portion of God’s truth will be presented when. All of this is to say that balanced preaching comes from a balanced man who shares his growing faith with hi congregation. Regardless of the design chosen for planned preaching, much of the material used will be the same. The important thing is that there be a plan. And when the choice of plan is made, the initial planning of lessons begins and should include at least “the three T’s: text, topic, and title.” The individual lessons are not developed in advance, but from week to week so that the preacher may be able to “sniff the atmosphere” as he prepares each new sermon. May the Lord bless us as we endeavor to become more effective planned preachers!
KEYS TO A SUCCESSFUL SERMON PLANNING RETREAT by JEFF A. JENKINS - firstname.lastname@example.org
If my memory serves me correctly, the seed was planted in my mind in a Preaching class taught by our beloved brother Billy Smith in 1980. In one segment of the class brother Billy encouraged us to plan our preaching one year in advance. His thought was that the best way to accomplish this was to get away from our office and find a place where we could work uninterrupted. This was only one of many lessons that sank deep into my mind from brother Billy’s teaching. My first Sermon Planning Retreat took place shortly after we began our first full-time work in 1981. My life-long friend, Joey Gafford and I got away for a
couple of nights and worked on sermons. Two or three years later, my brother Dale joined us. During those early retreats at Oak Mountain State Park south of Birmingham we had golf tournaments, spent a lot of time talking about preaching, and even brought in resource speakers to help us. As I write these words, I am taking part in a Sermon Planning Retreat for the 36th straight year. Each retreat has been unique, special, and meaningful. Through the years we have tried different venues and approaches to the retreat. Here are some thoughts that might be helpful if you are going to have a successful Sermon Planning Retreat. SET SOME GOALS. Decide what you would like to accomplish during the retreat. Some guys plan a year in advance, while others plan their sermons for half a year or even one quarter. As you work on your preaching calendar, it will help to have a church calendar, national calendar, and even a calendar with local events with you. I would also encourage you to have with you a family calendar that might contain family trips, school events, etc. You might want to think about series you will preach throughout the year as well as special days you will plan for the church. TOOLS YOU WILL NEED. In the early years of planning retreats, we would bring boxes of files where we had placed sermon ideas and illustrations that we had collected to prepare sermon topics for the coming year. We are now able to put everything into computer files. I currently have a file on my computer titled, â€œPlanned Preaching.â€? Throughout the year, in this file
we place any ideas for sermons, series, illustrations, or anything else that might help in planning for the next year. We also bring books that we find with ideas for sermon series. GET AWAY. It might be possible to plan a year’s worth of sermon topics as you sit in your office, but it is much easier if you can get away for a short time (two-three days). Find a house or cabin to rent. Share the cost with others. Ask the congregation to help pay your part. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE YOU ENJOY. Some preachers have told me they enjoy getting away alone with no one else around them. Personally, I can’t imagine a Sermon Planning Retreat without a group of preachers I love. We share ideas. We spend time in prayer. We discuss preaching, ministry, family, and our future. Oh, and we eat together! FOCUS. Try as much as possible not to work on any other aspect of ministry during your Sermon Planning Retreat. I try to have my sermons for the next Sunday and bulletin articles for the week completed before leaving for the retreat. This allows for greater focus. Don’t use this time to work on a book or any other project. This article contains suggestions that have been helpful to me. You should have your own ideas, methods, plans, and goals. Use whatever works best for you. Above all, just give it a try. My prayer is that a Sermon Planning retreat will become as meaningful to you as it has to me. It is one of the highlights of my year. I’m already looking forward to next year’s retreat early in December 2017.
HOW PLANNED PREACHING PROMOTES BALANCED PREACHING by TOMMY HAYNES - email@example.com
Do you ever feel like all of your sermons begin to sound alike? Many of us feel that way from time to time and want to find a better way to insure our sermons are balanced, interesting, and not repetitive. One of the ways this can be avoided is to plan sermons by subject well in advance of the start of the year. My good friend Jeff Jenkins and I started doing this almost 20 years ago together, and now have a small group of friends who have joined us (anyone wanting to do this should limit the number of men you work with to insure better quality). We would get together somewhere conducive to thinking and working, and would share ideas and plan our sermons for a year. Jeff and I share a mentor in the late Wendell Winkler who helped us figure out how to avoid being unprepared and repetitive. One of the ways Wendell did this was by making a list of categories he felt he needed to cover. There are about 50 categories on his list. Then he would make a calendar of Sundays he would be at home to preach with morning and evening slots. I have used that list and methodology for almost 40 years to do my sermon planning. The next step was the planning itself. Using the list, I would write a very brief (sometimes only one sentence) description of a sermon relating to that subject along with a title. Another element of this is my â€œsermon planning fileâ€? in which I would drop notes I jotted down when an idea would hit me, articles that I thought would make a good sermon, notations from books I was reading, and sermon notes I have taken from other preachers. One good friend when he attends any type of
seminar or preacher’s retreat brings one page notes of sermons he has preached. I have used some of those as thought starters from which I developed sermons. This methodology is a bit complicated, and it is hard work, but it pays off in keeping me from panicking when I have a short week with limited time. I already know what I am going to preach, have a brief description, article, and notes, so I am well ahead in the game. I have always been interested in the struggles preachers face, and have often asked them what they struggle with the most. Almost without exception they state that sermon planning and sermon organization is near the top of their list. I have asked several how many years it took them to really get into a good habit when it came to sermon planning. Also, almost without exception, most say it took about 10 years. This does not mean they did not preach well for 10 years, it simply means they struggled with planning sermons which has a definite effect on confidence and an effective work schedule. If we go into our study on Monday, and already have an idea of what we are going to preach, it will streamline our week, and give us comfort and confidence. Just because you have a sermon planned for every Sunday does not mean you need to be rigid in using that list. If elders request something special, always be open to that suggestion. That merely gives me a sermon down the road that I can use at another time. Good planning makes for better sermons that are well prepared, well thought out, and biblical. Paul encouraged Timothy to be “diligent” (2 Tim.2:15), and to “Preach the word…” with urgency. The mentioning of “…in season and out of season…” implies good preparation (2 Tim.4:1-7). May God help us to be well planned, prepared, and balanced in preaching His word. .
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Planned Preaching by PHILLIP JOHNSON, firstname.lastname@example.org
What do you consider to be the most intimidating aspect of pulpit ministry? My answer has changed over the years, but I remember what it was when I started my first job as a full-time pulpit minister. Before I reveal my answer, allow me to briefly back track through my ministry career. My first ministry job was not as a pulpit minister. My ministry career began in Mannford, OK. I served as associate minister for the Mannford church of Christ for seven yearsâ€Śthree years part time and four years full time. In a typical year, I would preach eight to ten sermons. I then moved to Norman, OK to work for the Westside church of Christ as university minister. My primary responsibility was working with our university students. Once again, I would preach eight to ten sermons each year. I never struggled to write these sermons each year. I was able to collect sermon ideas through the year, and I typically knew what I would preach next. This limited preaching role was
easy for me to fulfill. I knew it would be vastly different if I chose to serve as a fulltime pulpit minister. The math is rather simple to understand. Writing up to one hundred sermons per year is much different than writing ten. This brings me back to my original question. What do you consider to be the most intimidating aspect of pulpit ministry? Initially for me it was this simple, yet daunting question…what am I going to preach next Sunday? There are some aspects of pulpit ministry that every preacher can understand. Every preacher knows what it’s like to sit in his office on Monday wondering what to preach the following Sunday. I’ve been there…staring at God’s Word in all of its vastness and richness wracking my brain trying to come up with something to preach. I knew I didn’t want to repeat this pattern my entire ministry career. I understood I needed a different plan if I was going to continue in pulpit ministry. In actuality, I realized I just needed a plan. Here is a list of five items that have helped me in my week to week preaching. 1. God’s Word—Preachers tend to read God’s Word differently than other people. What I mean by this is preachers are typically looking for sermon material when they read the Bible. Each day I strive to set aside a time to study and reflect on God’s Word to strengthen my personal relationship with my Father. The focus is not on finding more sermon material. My focus in these moments is to listen to God. Psalm 46:10 contains a powerful thought from the Psalmist. Many preachers struggle to, “Be still…” even when reading God’s majestic word because they are on a quest for more sermon material. Set aside time each day to allow God to speak to you. Doing this will better equip you to speak to others on behalf of God. 2. Calendar—I have a calendar on my desk with sermon titles written down for the upcoming year. I know what I plan to preach on March 5, 2017. My plans for the upcoming year are tentative and subject to change, but I do have a plan. Having sermon ideas planned in advance alleviates those Monday blues many preachers face. Each December, I take a few days away from the office to develop my preaching plan for the upcoming year. My goal is to generate sermon titles for the upcoming year. This time is invaluable to me and it makes me a better preacher. 3. Newspaper—Whether you read the newspaper dropped off at your doorstep or go online to keep up with current events, it is essential for preachers to know what’s going on in our communities, our country and our world. A preacher who is distant from God will not be
an effective preacher. I further believe that a preacher who is distant from current life events will also be ineffective as a preacher. 4. Books—In addition to reading the Bible I challenge myself to be reading some other book. The book doesn’t have to come off the shelves of the ‘religious section’ at Mardel. I have found helpful sermon material and illustrations from books like “Every Day I Fight” by Stuart Scott and “Quiet Strength” by Tony Dungy. I’ve discovered powerful messages in biographies and auto-biographies. Reading keeps the mind alive and provides a continual stream of material. 5. Notepad—Sermon ideas will hit you at some of the most unusual times. Life has a way of teaching us powerful lessons. When a thought is triggered in my mind, I want to write it down as soon as possible. When I first started preaching I would keep a notepad and a pen with me at all times. Now, I pull out my iPhone and write down the thought in my notes app. Whether a thought strikes me in the middle of the day or in the middle of the night, I write it down immediately.
I recently heard the following quote. “People lose their way when they lose their why.” I believe this definitely applies to preachers. I know why I preach. I also know I want to continue preaching. These tools I’ve mentioned help me continue on my preaching journey. I hope they will help you in some way as well.
Planned Preaching: There are Challenges Do it Well, or Don’t Do it at All! by RUSS DYER, email@example.com
It’s Monday, and I had better be thinking about what I am going to preach next Sunday. I will readily admit that I’ve spent a lot of Mondays, and subsequent days, wondering what in the world I am going to preach when Sunday arrives. For, Sunday announces, “Ready or not, here I come.”
There are several options available to preachers, in order to arrive at a subject, scripture, or even a whole sermon. For “mature” preachers, there may be many previous years of sermon notes to provide basic material, or even a complete outline. There are also plenty of other preacher’s sermons and sermon notes online from which gleaning can be done. “Old school” guys can even search through sermon books. A file of saved bulletin articles is a ready supply of good sermon starters. Great human interest stories are especially good illustration material. Telephoning, or “in person” quizzing family, church members, or even a wife can supply pointed preference ideas. If all else fails (sarcasm), reading an array of passages from the Bible can open a great number of possibilities. It can be fun, torturous, engaging, and maybe even life affirming.
One way to avoid the “What am I going to preach next Sunday?” problem is to have an organized plan or program. If a subject, scripture, or both are predetermined, the initial stress of deciding what to do is removed. There are many advocates of a planned program of sermons to preach throughout the calendar year. Often there is a theme or set of coordinated themes to connect the lessons by year, quarter, or any other pre-set division of weeks.
While having a coordinated plan for preaching has many preparation benefits, there are also some challenging considerations that need to be kept in mind. • Unplanned Interruptions in Schedule: While holidays are listed on the calendar, and planning can include them, there are unseen events that can interrupt the schedule and derail a plan. Deaths, natural disasters, world events, your own illness, internal strife in the congregation, a visiting missionary, or even an important sermon request are all examples of unplanned, or unforeseen interruptions. Adapting and moving around such interruptions may take some additional homiletic effort. There may also be a need for an explanation of connections in order to maintain the continuity of the interrupted plan. • Laziness: One of the reasons for following a coordinated sermon plan is that it is easier for a preacher to know what subject or topic is being addressed week by week. In some cases the benefit of having a subject in place may lend itself to lazy preparation. It is easy to fall into patterns of sermon preparation that do not push study and freshness in approach or presentation. Extra effort is needed to invigorate and show the uniqueness of each lesson. • Tedium, Redundancy, and Superficiality: Sometimes, an idea that sounds good in the thought process, and even looks good on paper, just doesn’t fly in the pulpit. The condition and depth of faith that is generally held within the assembled congregation is going to affect how valuable a message is to the ones who receive it. More explanation, less explanation, or a repetitive theme can leave hearers wondering how knowledgeable the preacher is on the subject.
Audience attention-spans may lend hearers to become bored with what appears to be too much of the same thing. â€˘ Un-met Needs: Preaching is about making Godâ€™s word known and understood. It is also about addressing the needs of the people who have the message presented to them. A quick look at messages presented by John the Baptist, Jesus, or Paul will show that they tailored their words and themes to the people in the audience. Age, economic status, educational level, and permanency of congregants are among the many things that will challenge the contents of a message. Meeting the fluctuating needs of people with Biblical instruction trumps following even a well-planned system. There are times that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, but there are also times that the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. Life-needs may call for a program to be shelved so that a singular subject can be more clearly addressed.
Planning or coordinating sermons according to a theme or specific area of study can be a benefit to both preacher and congregation. The congregation can get a better study of a subject when it is given a broader opportunity of expression. Such a plan can give a preacher a more focused view of what he will preach week by week; saving time and frustration. Still, it should not be done without considering and addressing the intrinsic challenges that are involved. Whether a plan is used, or not, preaching always deserves the best that is in the preacher.
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Planned Preaching and Special Days by Dale Jenkins, firstname.lastname@example.org
So, youâ€™re going to jump in and plan your sermons for a year. Super! First off, get a calendar - well, first, pray - then get your calendar up. Find out and mark the important dates for your congregation and those that you will be gone and finally holidays you might plan on acknowledging. How often in my early days of planning my sermons for the coming year have I forgotten about the expected (read: required) days. We can argue all we want about Easter, Christmas and what to preach but the reality is the in most of our
church there is an expectation that we will mention those days and if a guest shows up and we have not they will be really confused as to why we didn’t. But that has spread with tremendous rapidity into other “holidays” - Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, New Years, 4th of July, Labor Day, and the list seems to be ever growing. In 1536 the Catholic church had 95 holidays - including 52 on Sundays (Wouldn’t that pretty much be all of them - not that I don’t think every Sunday should be a holiday!). I wonder if that is what pushed the Puritan/Protestant influence to try to do away with all holidays, yep, all of them! They wanted to replace them with Days of Fasting and Days of Feasting. As challenging as it is to come up with a fresh and meaningful Mother’s Day sermon every year, some years I think I’d be with them on that. But until we can get an official ban on holidays here are some things I’ve learned on planning your preaching in light of special days/holidays: What I’ve learned: - Don’t be too fancy: Remember that people come to worship God. If your bells and whistles and your desire to be creative are in the way of that you are stretching to hard to be creative. If someone comes one or two times a year and they see “the crazy” they are going to wonder what they have stepped into. - People come with expectations: They expect to hear something about the resurrection at what is called Easter, something about Christ at what is called Easter, something about Mom’s at Mother’s Day. Carry them from where they are to where they need to be. Take them from Charlie Brown quoting Luke 2 to the resurrected Savior (CB just didn’t go far enough - he left the babe in the manger). These expectations are probably no more true than on Mother’s Day. These expectations are probably no more true than on Mother’s Day. Ignore that day to your own chagrin :). - It’s hard to be creative after about 5 years: Mother’s Day is very fun, so is Christmas for the first few years but then - it is easy to become VERY dry when it comes to creative approaches to those days. Try doing it for 35 years. With apologies to my first two points you still need to try. To paraphrase David
Shannon, you’ve got to get people on the bus if you want to take them anywhere. So, simply put, work at it. Seek input. It is not simple to get people’s attention and contrary to some who think it’s a new phenomenon. God, Himself is the ultimate Creative Thinker. Jesus used miracles partially at least to get people to hear the Word. So, within the guidelines of scripture - stop being boring - work hard at being creative. - On special days remember to preach the Gospel: You’ve got a Homecoming, Friend Day, any event and if you are careful in all of your planning and coordinating you might just short-change or add the Gospel as “sort of” an afterthought. At everything we do make the Gospel the center. - As you plan your preaching for the year think about inviting guest speakers in areas they have extra knowledge or ability for Sunday’s you are going to be gone. Build that into the calendar. - Plan the special Sunday’s like Easter or Homecoming into the larger series as you plan your preaching calendar. If not you’ll get there and wish you’d prepared in advance for something “within” the series for those days. Thanks for your desire to be better, to learn and improve. Let’s always help each other.
Planned Sermon Direction by Reed Swindle, email@example.com
Organization is not a strength of every person. As a matter of fact, organization is something I would much rather not be a part of in most areas. However, I despise failure! My hatred of failure is much stronger than my dislike for organization. I guess you could say I am organized enough to ensure I do not fail. This level of organization is strictly based on the importance of the situation. For me, preaching has high priority and I do not want to fail. Anyone considering preaching as a career at some point must face the great preaching question. What will I preach for that many Sundays?!?! Anyone serious about this lifestyle could not actually say “I might run out of material” lest they render themselves lazy in their own minds. The problem is not enough material. The problem is coming up with an idea of what to preach. Just a direction would help. If a speaker is given an assigned topic, he knows what direction to go in. It is no different on Sundays. If we assign ourselves topics, we have a direction. 1. Planning sermon direction a year in advance takes away the stress of trying to figure out what to preach. A year full of Sundays seems like a much smaller number when you begin to fill in direction one week at a time. If it is a retreat with fellow preachers, a quiet coffee house to yourself, behind the locked door of your high traffic church office or slipping off somewhere by yourself it is an extreme advantage to write down a sermon title, idea, text or series for each of the following year’s Sundays. 2. Planning sermon direction helps us know what NOT to preach. Certain texts seem to fit in so many places and it is easy to refer back to certain favorite texts often. If the schedule shows a sermon on Acts 2 in April then this helps avoid using Acts 2 as a supporting illustration in a sermon before that. This
helps our sermons to be fresh and palatable for our audiences. We will know to dig a little deeper and see if we can find another passage to support our current sermon. This may not always be the case but it is worth considering. It also allows for maximization of our personal illustrations. Even though each sermon may not be completely fleshed out, there may be an upcoming sermon that would be most effective with a certain illustration. 3. Planning sermon direction allows time to reflect and collect information over an extended period of time. If a sermon on Acts 2 is coming up in April and The Jenkins Institute releases a Minsters and Mocha with the apostle Peter, this material can be filed and meditated on for weeks prior to the sermon event. I assume Dale could find a convertible chariot and would ask about the first gospel sermon! 4. Planning sermon direction helps vary topics and texts. A struggle associated with preaching is the constant attempt to cover God’s entire counsel. When sermon titles, texts, series or ideas are mapped out in front of us it is easier to have a more balanced line up of sermons for God’s people. 5. Those who plan sermon direction need to make sure flexibility is allowed. A rigid direction does not allow for the normal flow of a congregations life to be considered. 6. Those who plan sermon direction would benefit from a conscience attempt to make sermons look and sound different. A congregation can tire of an over usage of the phrase “last week we studied”. Using different power points and allowing sermons to stand alone prevent stagnation. It may not be for an entire year, but it is in our best interest to plan our sermon direction so we do not become burned out and have more time to devote to making every sermon the very best we can make it.
Determining a Preaching Theme for the Year by Elisha Freeman, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the book, Man of God: Essays on the Life and Work of the Preacher, Willard Collins says, “A primary work of the preacher is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, from the pulpit. Sermon planning is so important.” 1 Every minister I know has two goals going into the pulpit: preaching the message of God faithfully and bringing about change in the life of those who are listening. This means that the sermons must be intentional and applicable. To accomplish this requires prayer, thought, and planning on the part of the preacher. I have found that having a theme for the year is the best way to accomplish these goals.
You may be asking yourself, “why a theme?” If you will allow, I want to give you just one reason: direction. A yearly theme gives you and the congregation a sense of direction. As Charles E. Jefferson says in his work, The Building of the Church, “A church likes to feel itself in the grip of a man who knows where he is going.”2 A 1
Mathis, Shawn D. Man of God: Essays on the Life and Work of the Preacher Chapter Eleven pg. 97.
theme communicates to the congregation that each sermon will project an idea connected to the theme, therefore the preaching is not disjointed or aimless.
How do I determine a theme? The answer to this question lies in the answer of another question. What does the church need? I was at a church that had been established for 125 years. This meant that for most of the members, they were mature in their faith. This was a strength and a weakness. It was a strength in that a lot of time did not have be spent on laying a biblical foundation. It was a weakness because it enabled the church to become lukewarm and go through the motions. This weakness is not addressed through one sermon or even a month’s worth of sermons. A yearly theme enabled me to address these needs of the church, which leant itself to motivating the church.
As an example, one year, our theme to address this need was “C.I.A.”. This stood for “Church in Action”. We had two Bible verses for that year: Ephesians 3:10 to remind us of the mission God has given the church and Ephesians 2:10 to motivate us to get up and to go to work for God. Except for holidays or special events, every month was given a specific series to emphasize our yearly theme.
My current work is different due to being in a major metropolitan area. Currently, the church is in a county of one million and because of this fact the leadership settled on the theme “Reflecting Jesus and His Love”. The overall need of the current church is to reach the one million people in our county and this theme provides us with a direction to accomplish that goal. My role as the preacher is to convey how we can reflect Jesus and His love.
The second Sunday in January is always dedicated to conveying the theme to the congregation. The reason for this is two-fold: first, it allows everyone to come back into town from their Christmas break and second, it sets the tone for the rest of the
year. My first sermon is always titled “Vision Sunday”. This sermon is used to explain the how and the why of the theme. This keeps the church accountable to the theme.
Our theme for 2017 incorporates love. On our calendar, everyone knows that the month of February is the month of love. Therefore, it is easy to dedicate this month to answering part of our theme which is love. When reading the Gospel accounts, we see Jesus loving people. Jesus’ love is expressed through compassion and mercy. With these three characteristics three sermons are provided. After settling on these topics, then use the examples from Jesus’ life to show these qualities. Each sermon ends with the call for the church to go out and reflect Jesus’ love by showing compassion and giving mercy.
In closing, the task of determining a theme for the year can be daunting. However, God has provided His written Word and living Word to give you all the necessary tools to accomplish His mission. My fellow preacher, do not be discouraged with the task God has laid before you. Continue to “preach the word in season and out of season!”
Order daily devotional books for every member of your congregation at OneWordStudy.com ($3.00 each!) and order your own One Word Preaching Resource for $3.50 at the same site. A great preaching plan for 2017 or beyond.
â€Š A TJI Interview: 8 Questions with Jeff & Dale. ON: Planned Preaching We posed 8 questions to four guys who are masters at planning their sermons. What we got was great insight into how these guys work and great ideas on how we can work better. Aubrey Johnson is not only one of our most prolific authors but an always prepared preacher who recently moved to work with the Southern Hills church in Franklin, TN. Logan Cates is a young preacher whose wisdom and insights are far beyond his years. Logan believes in planned preaching and he does an excellent work for the Lord in Oklahoma. As a professor of Bible and a local preacher at the North Jackson church David Powell is a busy man. His insights will help us to learn how to get more done. Reed Swindell is the rookie in this field of veterans but donâ€™t let that deceive you. Reed is a preaching machine who hangs his hat at the Foote Street congregation in Corinth, MS where he is lighting it up every week! ON: How long have you been doing this?
AJ: I started planning my preaching early in my ministry. In the beginning, I spent more time trying to figure out what to preach than I did on the actual sermon. Then I realized, its just a choice. I want to be thoughtful but it is burdensome and delusional to think you must choose the perfect topic or text each week (Matthew 11.28). DP: I think it’s been nearly 40 years LC: About 5-6 years. RS: This is my 4th year AJ & DP in unison: “Rookies!” (they didn’t actually say that :). ON: What got you started planning your preaching? RS: When I was considering moving to the pulpit from youth ministry I knew I was going to need a plan. I began working out my first year of preaching even before I was a “preacher”. DP: I guess I started in 1978 when I had Billy Smith for Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. I was in Billy's first Prep and Del class at Freed-Hardeman. He talked a lot about the value of planning your preaching and it registered with me. I have been trying to do it ever since. LC: I began realizing I was missing very critical topics which could have been prevented had I planned better in advance. AJ: For me it was a necessity. Time is precious and I was falling behind every week due to indecision.
ON: Do you do it every year? AJ: Most years. When I don’t I regret it. I feel less in control. LC: Yes, but not all year. DP: Yes! RS: Yes. ON: What has been the benefit of planned preaching?
LC: I don't know about you guys, but I don’t believe we should be left to choosing texts or topics ourselves. If so, we will preach only what we want and not what He wants us to preach. Planned preaching takes more effort. I pretend someone has “given me a topic” for that week and I better get busy preaching it, opposed to a more casual decision such as, “What should I preach this week?” Planned preaching forces us to not only look ahead, but also increases my depth of study. DP: The biggest benefit is not worrying about what you are going to preach Sunday. I like to preach expository sermons through books of the Bible. Once I have charted out my passages, I know exactly what I am going to preach every Sunday. It takes so much pressure off of me and allows me the opportunity to do other things, like visiting, etc. RS: I feel like I have so much more time to prepare my lessons because I don’t have to figure out what I am going to preach. I can spend my week getting ready for the lessons. It also eliminates stress and frees me up to do more things during the week. AJ: It give me more balance. I see the gaps when I can glance through the schedule for the year. More polish. I collect more thoughts when I come out of the gate on Monday rather than late in the week. ON: How has planned preaching affected the congregation? DP: That's a great question. As you preach through a book of the Bible it forces you to deal with passages or subjects you normally would not cover. For example, preaching through a Minor Prophet. The congregation benefits from studying passages they have perhaps never heard preached or haven't heard in a while. Also, expository preaching lends itself so naturally to congregational study. RS: I am able to address topics and issues that I would not normally do in a setting that does not make it look like I am picking on anyone. This year I preached through 1 Corinthians. I entitled the series Christianity and Culture. As we moved through the book I was able to hit on topics our congregation needed and enjoyed hearing but it didn’t come across as if I was picking these out to “attack". AJ: They get a less distracted preacher if nothing else. It also lets me spend more time crafting a quality sermon. More time and more quality. Not a bad tradeoff.
And what a blessing to the family when you are present on weekends because you did your work in a timely way. LC: I think most probably notice these topics are chosen ahead of time rather than last minute. Also, if someone has a question in class I can respond with, “I am preaching a series on this in two months.” Looking ahead is biblical. Last minute is deceiving.
ON: When do you do your planning? AJ: All the time. I keep a list of sermon ideas for the coming year in Apple Notes. I have my phone with me always so I can jot down thoughts on the run. However, I sit down and formally put it all together in the early fall. That leaves me time to walk away from it and come back with fresh eyes. LC: I try to meet with some area ministers once a year and I usually get half of my topics complete. I also use my time at night to get up and think of a topic, or my daily study time. Most of the sermons stem from daily bible reading. DP: Usually at the beginning of the year. RS: In November or December I get together with another preacher or two. We get away for a day and half. ON: Who all do you involve and why? RS: A very small amount of people but a person or two who understands what we are trying to do. I don’t want to go on a planning retreat and listen to preachers preach sermons they preached during the year. I want several hours of quiet time so I can get my thoughts together. Then I like a little time to bounce ideas off of each other and see if the other person has any information or direction on what I am looking to do. AJ: My wife, Lisa, is my best adviser. She’s not afraid to tell me what I need to hear. I also ask my elders what they want, but when I hear a request from them, I typically jump on it right away instead of waiting. When your shepherds tell you a sermon
topic, it is a golden opportunity to bless the congregation and strengthen your relationship with them. Do not delay. LC: As many as possible. My mother, my sister, my wife and even my oldest son. I try to use as many people as possible to bounce sermon topics around (If that is the question being asked). I try to involve Elders and sometimes the congregation for their input. DP: If I understand the question clearly, I usually don't involve anyone else in my planning. I have enjoyed the leisure of my own scheduling. Of course, I have to factor in Sundays away and that then involves our associate minister who preaches in my absence.
ON: What would you say to someone who wants to plan their preaching but is intimidated and doesnâ€™t know how to start? DP: Great question. I think I would suggest picking a NT book to preach through on Sunday mornings and an OT book, like a Minor Prophet, to preach on Sunday nights. Of course, there are other ways of doing it, perhaps a topic, like the church, cross, etc. I once preached a series of lessons on "sermons we haven't heard in a while" and covered the fundamentals of doctrine. The most important thing is to read through the biblical book first, chart out your passages and then get to studying. LC: Start with one month. Plan four-eight sermons that month ahead of time with a simple topic and a few scriptures under each heading. I think you will find your time will be well spent and much of your stress and anxiety about preaching will be subtracted. AJ: Just get started. RS: Do not feel like you have to have a title, 3 points and illustrations on December 31st. Even if you decide to just write down texts or sections of a biblical book. For example, on Sunday nights I am preaching thought the Bible. I do not know what the sermon will be on Monday but I know it will come from Nehemiah 1-6. AJ: And donâ€™t overthink it. Get something down and tweak it later. Make a table with three columns (Date, AM, PM) and 52 rows. Pencil in holidays, singings, youth
days, vacation, and traditional events. Now your brain has a canvas on which to work. Just creating the table will draw ideas out of you. Itâ€™s kind of like running for me. Once I get my tennis shoes on I am good to go. Getting my shoes on (preparing the table) is the hardest part.
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