Pursuing Excellence: Plan Your Sermons a Year Ahead

Life happens at a pretty steady pace. In fact, unless you plan ahead, you will be dragging behind regularly, just barely keeping up. It is valuable to set aside time at regularly to do the work of looking ahead. For preachers, there is always another sermon to prepare. Unless you plan ahead, it is difficult to spend adequate time thinking through how to preach a biblically accurate, relevant, and creative sermon. The more you plan ahead, the more time you have to think through and improve each sermon.

1.Natural Blocks of Time

I begin by determining the number of Sundays between natural breaks. For example, if I was going to preach on Christmas through Advent, and typically think of the church “year” from September to June, that means I only have September through November for a longer series. I could preach through a book of the Bible with that many weeks. Or, I might do a series for September and make a change at Thanksgiving. After determining how many Sundays for natural blocks of time, I start praying through and listing what I feel I need to preach on in the next 12 months.

2. Congregational Needs

There are times in a church where it seems the congregation needs a certain topic addressed. For example, I am presently leading a church transition ministry, meaning I come into a church that is newly without a pastor and is looking toward hiring the next one. Sometimes the transition is a painful one, where people have been hurt by the pastor or each other. Many transition pastors preach a series on the “one anothers” of the Bible. (“Love one another” or “forgive one another” and so on). The hope is to help people to restore their relationships and trust in each other.

As you pray and think through the needs of your congregation, God will guide you to which books of the Bible or topics to address. You could invite your leadership team into the process by asking them to suggest needs they see in the congregation. If you know that most people are going to take holidays over the summer, you might want to plan a summer series in which each sermon doesn’t build on previous sermons but can be fully understood on its own. If people miss a sermon, they are not falling behind.

If you have a number of new people, you may want to address some of your denominational and local church beliefs and priorities. Or if your church includes many new Christians, you might want to introduce them to Jesus through preaching through one of the gospels over the next year. You could intersperse it with thematic series at Christmas or leading up to Easter, or just preach right through the gospel.

If there are themes you feel need addressing but don’t fit in your preaching schedule, you could address some of those needs in a class or weekend seminar.

3. Main Idea of Each Sermon

Once you have decided which of the books of the Bible or themes you want to preach on, begin breaking them down to what scriptures will be preached which Sundays. Make sure each independent sermon builds on the theme you have decided on. After identifying the scripture for each Sunday, develop the basic sermon idea. This will not necessarily be the final decision, because at this point you are just doing a quick survey of the material. You may adjust the main idea later, but you want an outline of the focus for each sermon so you can begin to collect supporting materials, ideas, and stories for that focus over the next year leading up to each week’s sermon.

Develop the main ideas well enough so that you can give the music and creative service planning teams about six months’ notice for them to gather material for that Sunday that will fit with the sermon.

4. Monthly Glances Ahead

Each month, spend time looking at the next month’s sermons, reminding yourself of upcoming themes and topics. This helps you watch for how things like the news or world events are speaking into what you will be preaching about, as well as how that sermon will speak to local needs. Keep in touch with those who will be leading music or adding other creative ideas into the service so you are working together and building one cohesive service.

Prayerfully start to define the main focus of each sermon more specifically. Ask God to give you and your team creative ways of speaking truth and applying it to each one who will hear.

5. Weekly Specifics

As you work through the details of planning the sermon and accompanying service for the next Sunday, work closely with any volunteers who will be part of the service. Communicate your theme clearly and make sure you are on the same page with all who will contribute. Pray about the applications you will include in your sermon, and ask God to direct your final preparation so that lives will actually be transformed through what God has helped you prepare.

It is a privilege to weekly stand before a congregation who is waiting to hear from God. Put in the time necessary to be biblically accurate and creatively relevant to your congregation. God will reward your efforts as you continually listen to His guidance right from the time you determine what book of the Bible to preach on to the time you wrap up the conclusion of your sermon.

Keep looking up,

Andy

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