Pursue Excellence: Develop Useful Templates

When you drive to work in the morning, do you always go the same way? Do you go the way that you know is the quickest, or takes you past the best coffee shop, or has the least traffic? Or do you change up your route each day? I always take the same route. In fact, over time it becomes so automatic that I find myself turn toward work when I’m driving those roads on my day off.

Taking the same route is like using templates in the office. Templates are the well-worn tracks that help work become more automatic and less stressful. Templates can be used in many different situations and for varying purposes.

Templates create efficiency:

As a leader, you are probably quite busy. You don’t want to have to re-learn how to do something every time you do it. When you find a good way of doing something, keep track of that method or format, and use that to create a template to follow. When you create a new document or work on a new project, pull out this template and follow the plan you have learned to trust. This saves you from trying to figure out how to put it all together.

In the same way that a familiar route to work ensures you get there on time, templates become familiar paths to work through quickly and save time.

Templates ensure uniformity:

In addition to ensuring you follow the same method, templates help you produce similar-looking documents. For example, I use templates when I am writing job descriptions. In this way it easy to compare one document to another. It also ensures that I include all the pertinent information in the order I want in the job description.

There are times when various team members may independently prepare documents for a shared project. Without a template you may end up with very different looking pieces making it difficult to combine efforts or compare results. A template helps everyone follow the same format. In this way, you can easily compare information across various documents because you know exactly where to look to find the information you need.

Templates provide consistent processes:

I use a template in my sermon preparation. Using a templated provides me with a format and process to follow. My sermons don’t always look the same, but the research and preparation process often does. I know what steps I have benefited from in the past and want to make sure I don’t forget them. For example, I like to ask myself certain questions as I work on the application of the sermon, such as: How does this sermon speak to a twelve-year-old boy?

In addition to sermon preparation, I use templates when working with planning teams for church events. I this way I make sure that we talk about costs, budgets, available resources, plans for prayer, and various other essential steps in planning.

Templates are also effective for more administrative work. For example, when working on Terms of Reference, a template can make sure you have the important details listed. For instance, I want to make sure that if people are working on an agreement for working together, I want there to be no question as to who has the final say. A template reminds me to include a statement about that.

Useful templates:

Pursuing excellence requires a plan and a template can get you there. As you begin to use templates you will adjust and refine them to become the most helpful tool they can be. If a template makes you do more work than you want, if it is not actually useful, then redo it or find a better one. You could start by finding a template someone else has used and adapting it to make it your own.

Templates and creativity:

I have found that adapting and implementing templates to my work has been incredibly helpful. While I would always advise using a template when possible, there are times when using a simplified template – more of a checklist – is a better option. If your goal is creativity, rigid templates may be a hinderance. As a pastor, I have created hundreds of Sunday morning worship services. I love to create each service in a unique way, meaning the different parts in the service can be moved around to accomplish the best result for each service. I joined one church that had exactly the same order of service every Sunday for the last seven years! In this instance, using a service template may restrict some creativity. Instead, a template that focuses on the planning process, or even using a checklist, provides guidance while allowing room for more freedom. As I mentioned earlier, I use a template for sermon preparation, but I have developed it to aid my creativity. While the final sermon is different each week, I use a template to guide each step of the process, which includes adding creative elements. On the other hand, a template makes each order of service exactly the same, but a checklist could be an effective way to ensure all the items to include are included, while still allowing you to be creative. (More on checklists: The Incredible Value of Checklists)

You have probably already figured out that I place a high value on creativity. At the same time, I want to be efficient in my work. Templates save time, and if used in the right circumstances still allow for creativity in the efficiency.

Templates can be very useful if you find ones that fit your situation. Use them well and save time.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

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

Planning Ahead Raises Your Level of Excellence

My wife and I are planning for a short holiday. We are planning ahead. We are planning for the middle of January 2022, about three months from now. Planning ahead his beneficial for a few reasons: we can make sure we have time off, we can get a cheaper price, we can make sure that everything will be taken care of at home while we are away, we can set aside a little extra money in the next couple of months, we can try to prepare for any covid-related restrictions or obstacles, and we get to build excitement as we anticipate some time for just the two of us away from home and the daily routine. Planning ahead means that it will be a much better experience than if we had just decided to wait till a few days before and then quickly tried planning something.

I’m sure you do some planning for events in your home. You plan to be at your kids’ sports activities. You plan for Christmas. Your child is planning for graduation.

Why is it that we seem to avoid planning too far ahead in our churches?

Sermons and services are prepared each week from scratch to be ready for Sunday. Meetings come up and we rush to make sure there is an agenda and then run off to the meeting. We arrange for a visit with church members, but hardly give it a thought until we arrive at their door. What if we planned ahead?

Planning ahead is valuable, and can raise the level of excellence in your ministry. Planning ahead:

  1. Demonstrates that you care about what you are planning – you have put some thought into it rather than just hoping it will all work out.
  2. Means you have a clarified vision and purpose – and gives you time to develop and apply those.
  3. Results in well-prepared events. You have time to research each aspect and prepare any documents or tools you need to make the event a success.
  4. Allows others to be involved in the planning process. You can work as a team, and can collaborate with others who are part of that event.
  5. Avoids conflicts. You can make sure to avoid any conflicting appointments or events at that time.
  6. Helps you test your plans. You have time to work on issues you may face at the event.
  7. Gives you more time to spend in prayer ahead of time.

Let’s look at how planning ahead raises the level of excellence of the event.

Meetings

If you plan ahead, you can make sure all the people who should be at the meeting are notified in advance so they can either book that time for themselves or let you know of conflicts so you can reschedule. Planning ahead allows you to ensure you have an appropriate meeting room, necessary research and documents are prepared, and an agenda can be created with participant input. You can even arrange for someone to provide drinks and snacks. This also gives you time to ensure that you are comfortable with the technology you will be using (and test any videos, etc.) or that tech support will be available.

Visits:

Most pastors will at some point visit with members, either at their home or over coffee at a local restaurant. You could just show up and hope the conversation goes well, or you could plan ahead. If you want to raise the level of excellence for a visit, do a few things to prepare. You could make sure you know who you are meeting, especially if you do not know them well. I once was asked by a funeral home to call and provide pastoral help, to a family who had lost a loved one. I called and asked for who I thought I was to speak to, only to realize I had gotten things confused and I was asking for the deceased father! Make sure you know who you are meeting with.

Even if you know them well, you may want to think of past conversations.  Have they asked for prayer recently? It might be good to check up on that. You might want to remind yourself of who is in their family, and the names of their children.

As the pastor, you might even think through where they are at spiritually and how you could use this meeting to help disciple them. Are there some issues that you want to challenge them with? Is there a volunteer position you would like them to consider?

And be ready to have a fun and enjoyable time with them.

Worship Services

The Sunday morning worship service is the main event in a local church. While there are numerous moving parts to the service, it is amazing how many churches don’t plan very far in advance. Too often staff and volunteers rush around each week to be ready for Sunday. This means there is little opportunity to consider anything creative, and instead, to keep up each week, churches keep doing the same old service each week with just a couple of different songs and a new sermon.

You, pastor (or preaching team), would do well to plan ahead. I have tried to usually plan a year ahead. This allows me to think through the needs of my congregation, and plan around and for special days and seasons throughout the year. Taking this approach has allowed me to prepare a balanced preaching schedule, so I’m not surprised when Easter or Christmas arrive.

I don’t have every sermon prepared a year in advance, but I have a general idea of the scriptures and themes I will be addressing throughout the year, so that they are in my mind as I come across good quotes or creative ideas that fit a certain upcoming theme.

Planning the sermon text and themes ahead of time means I can better work with others, too. Sharing the upcoming sermon themes with a music pastor or worship planning team means they can also plan ahead. They might want to prepare special music around holidays or special events, or add creative elements such as preparing a skit or reading. This enables others involved in the services to prepare in a way that complements the sermon.

You raise the level of excellence when everyone involved knows what is going on and can make sure their part fits well. You raise the level of excellence when people can practice and prepare ahead of time for some more unique additions to your service. You raise the level of excellence by having the time to do better.

I want to encourage you to plan ahead. Not just for meetings and visits and services, but in all your responsibilities.

Do you want to raise your level of excellence? Planning ahead is a great place to start!

Keep looking up

Andy

www.elevatecoaching-consulting.com