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I believe the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the holy, undivided Trinity. Therefore I believe the Holy Spirit is sovereign. God the Holy Spirit has unimpeachable authority over the times, details and circumstances of our lives. He (not “It”) operates with perfect wisdom, eternal purpose and infinite goodness. With this confidence, I plan my preaching in advance. Well in advance.

In the name of honoring the Holy Spirit, some inadvertently dishonor him by thinking and acting as if the Spirit’s work is quenched if he is not free to work spontaneously. They treat the Holy Spirit as some harried housewife, overwhelmed by a lazy husband, overactive kids and dirty dishes and clothes, who gets everything done just in the nick of time...barely. This is foolish thinking. The Holy Spirit of God can lead just as effectively a year in advance as he can days in advance.

What an encouragement in developing a sermon calendar!

God knows if there going to be some tragedy that needs to be addressed. God knows when there will be a death that rocks the congregation. God knows if a crisis will arise in the church that will need to be addressed. God knows what the individuals and families are going through in your congregation. God knows what you do not know!

The fact that God knows our story—individually and corporately, from beginning to end—means we need not specialize in “Saturday night specials.” We do not have to start our studies at the end of the week. We do not have to spend more time each week deciding what to preach rather than actually preparing our messages. We can and should plan our preaching in advance with confidence that God is at work in, through and beyond this process to ensure our congregations are shaped by the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Why Develop a Sermon Calendar?

There are several reasons why you should plan your preaching.

1. Getting on top of your schedule. I am a sinner who needs to constantly take heed of his life and doctrine. I am a husband of one wife. I am the father of three children. I am the pastor of an active, growing congregation. I travel to preach away from home at times. I am a human being who needs food, sleep, exercise, recreation and fellowship, like everyone else.

I simply cannot afford to wait until Thursday afternoon to determine what I am going to preach Sunday morning. I need to be able to redeem the time in my sermon preparation. This can only happen when I replace the time I would be spending each week thinking about what to preach with time thinking about the text and the sermon.

2. Shepherding the church. Your preaching is the most effective way you can impact your congregation. Sunday morning is when you can touch the most people at one time. You must be a good steward of your opportunity. This happens not just when you preach and study, but also as you plan. You can easily start following the parade if you wait until the end of the week to choose your text for Sunday. Your preaching will become too reactionary. By planning your preaching in advance, you can strategically lead your church forward in thinking and living biblically.

3. Maintain doctrinal balance. In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul declared, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27 ESV). This is how I want to end my ministry. So should you. However, this cannot happen if you are only riding your theological “hobby horses” from week to week.

Your congregation needs a consistent diet of God’s word to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). It also needs a balanced diet. Your people need to hear Law and Gospel. They need to be taught Christian doctrine and Christian living. They need to be exposed to the various forms of literature in the Old and New Testaments. Planning your preaching helps you to be guard against “vain repetition” in your preaching. It helps you to establish a strategy for declaring the whole counsel of God.

4. Planning corporate worship. The pastor is the worship leader of the church, whether he knows music or not. Hearing the word of God is the highest form of worship. It also feeds the other elements of worship. Our worship will go higher only as we deepen our understanding of God’s word. Everything that happens in worship—and in the body-life of the church, for that matter—should be viewed as an extension of the teaching ministry of the church. Planning your preaching gives the pastor a practical tool by which to oversee corporate worship and to plan more meaningful times together.

When the preaching has been planned ahead, you can assign appropriate scripture readings that support the message. Music can be selected that highlights the theme of the message. Special, creative elements—readings, videos, testimonies, bulletin inserts or follow-up commitments—can be planned the worship services. You can decide that everything in the service one Sunday will be on prayer, or you can cross themes, preaching on the grace of God and singing about the holiness of God. Generally, your people should know what to regularly expect from the worship service. But every now and then you should knock their socks off with something special. Developing a sermon plan can be a great catalyst to accomplish this.

5. Making best use of your time. One of my associate pastors acts as a research assistant for me. He does not do my study for me. But he helps me to access what I need for study. He has my preaching calendar and access to my library. Each week, he pulls the major research material and commentaries that I will need and prints them out for me. (I like hard copies I can mark up and file for future reference.) At this point, he stays several weeks ahead of my preaching. So when I finish preaching one sermon, I am able to pick up the next file and take it with me. Having this file always with me gives me an opportunity to take advantage of “stolen moments” to read, research and reflect on the text for my next sermon. This would not be possible if I did not plan my preaching.

Likewise, when you plan ahead, you can collect resources without the pressure of last-minute preparation. Because you know what you are going to be preaching, you can scan your library for illustrative material in advance. You can have a mental trigger that notes things you may read in a blog, paper or magazine that may be useful later on. You can scan the Web for material related to your text or subject. And you can give your subconscious time to “marinate” on the text, deepening your thoughts and sharpening your creativity. You can also have an advantage when facing the busyness of life and “interruptions” of pastoral ministry. Having a sermon plan acts as a magnet to draw material together for your preaching.

How to Develop a Sermon Calendar

There are different ways to develop a preaching calendar. Some pastors plan for the month ahead, ensuring that they will at least be several weeks ahead of the game. Other pastors plan for the next quarter. This is a good start for many. It is not as intimidating as planning for a year. It also forces you to think and pray about your preaching more often.

I recommend you try establishing a preaching calendar for a whole year.  Planning your preaching for the year can make it easier to plan the rest of the program of your church. You can establish tools, goals and service opportunities to coincide with your preaching for the year. You can even organize Bible study groups around the Sunday morning preaching.

Planning a sermon calendar for a whole year may seem like a daunting task. But it really is not as hard as it seems. Pick a time, say October, and begin planning for the following calendar year. If your schedule permits, you can go on retreat for several days and plan your preaching. If that is not possible, you can schedule specific times during your regular schedule when you will focus on planning your preaching.

Here are several practical suggestions for working through a process of planning your preaching a year in advance.

1. Start with prayer. Preaching the word of God to the people of God is a sacred, serious task. You do not want to decide what to preach in a cavalier manner, which is why you should consider developing a sermon plan in the first place. Approach this process with a conscious sense of dependence upon God to lead and guide you.

  • Pray about potential books of the Bible, themes or series to preach. What truths would the Lord have to teach your people in the coming year?
  • Pray for and about your congregation. Pray about their spiritual condition and their needs, individually and corporately. 
  • Pray about the future. What is your vision for the church?
  • Pray for yourself! The things you have been studying personally and devotionally may become feeder for your pulpit work. Is there something you need to learn? I have found that the best way for me to learn a subject is to preach it. It forces me to study it diligently.

2. Talk to your team. You may be the senior pastor of your congregation, but you are not the only person of influence the Lord has placed in the body life of that church. There may be associate pastors, church officers or ministry leaders who have helpful recommendations for your preaching in the year to come. Or there may be non-official leaders in your church whose opinion you value. There may even be new or young members who you can talk to as plan your preaching. Indeed, there is wisdom in having a multitude of counselors. Take advantage of the perspectives of godly people you trust to plan your preaching.

3. Go through the calendar. At this point, I print down a blank monthly calendar for the coming twelve months. I then mark the holidays that fall on Sundays or impact Sundays. I also take note of the special days in the life of the church that will guide my preaching. For instance, our Prayer Emphasis Week is every January. I use those two Sundays to preach on prayer. October is our Stewardship Emphasis Month, during which I will preach on financial stewardship.

I also put down the Sundays that I do not intend to preach. It is probably best that a pastor to be in his pulpit about forty-five Sundays per year; but the hard number is not most important. What matters is that you plan certain Sundays when you will not preach. The bow that is always bent will soon break. You need to be delivered from the sweet bondage of weekly preparation occasionally. You may not be able to take an extended sabbatical, as some do. But have a mini-vacation from the pulpit. Use special days like church anniversaries, missions emphasis days or whatever to bring in a guest speaker. By any means necessary, take a break to recharge your batteries!

The biggest part of my sermon planning is choosing the series I am going to preach. My custom is to preach through books of the Bible. (I try to stick to a pattern: OT book, thematic series and NT book.)

Many teachers of preaching recommend that you preach short series (4–6 weeks, at the most). But I generally preach longer series. I don’t spend years in books, but I do try to preach them in their natural divisions, which sometimes requires twenty or more sermons.

Consecutive exposition through books aids sermon planning. I pre-study the book enough to divide it into divisions I will preach. I may even pick a title for each sermon. I determine my start date. Then I start filling in the blanks in my calendar, skipping over holidays, special days or Sundays I will be out of the pulpit. The calendar fills up quickly.

One more thing…

Be flexible. Like the Sabbath, the preaching plans are made for the preacher, not preachers for the preaching plan. Don’t be a slave to a preaching calendar. If a natural disaster or tragedy takes place that should be addressed, do it. If there is an issue in your community or city or the larger culture that needs a Christian perspective, do it. If you are led for whatever reason to ditch your plan for a week or two to preach something else, by all means do it.

Once your complete your sermon calendar, your work is not done. You must review it continuously. Think about where you may need to change course along the way. Ask the Lord to edit it as he wants. A bad page is better than a blank page. The fact that plans may need to change is not a reason not to plan at all. Your sermon calendar is a plan to work from throughout the year. Trust God to use your planning to strengthen your preaching, nurture you congregation and honor the Scriptures.

Remember, one who fails to plan plans to fail.

What steps or tools have you found helpful in developing a sermon calendar? 

H.B. Charles, Jr. is the Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, where he has served since the fall of 2008. He is primarily responsible for preaching-teaching, vision casting, and leadership development – along with all the other tasks that are a part of pastoral ministry.

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Talk about it...

Charlie Bryan

commented on Dec 30, 2014

I began doing this after about six months in my first full-time church as I ran out of all the sermons I had preached here and there prior to my first place of service. It has helped me tremendously over the years and also helped the leaders of music and worship in planning the music so that we have one worship service rather than a song service and then preaching.

Linda Slutz

commented on Dec 30, 2014

I am at my first full time church and it seems like my preaching options are restricted by the choir director. He loves the lectionary and he selects the congregational hymns and choir antherms one year in advance. Usually, the Sunday selection leans towards either the OT or Epistle or Gospel lectionary selection for that day. It makes me feel pigeon-holed of having a choice as to what scripture passage to preach on. Once I deviated the scripture from the lectionary and because the hymns didnt "match" the scripture, he was very upset with me. I wonder if I am the only one in this predicament.

Robert Bravo

commented on Dec 30, 2014

I hate to say it but you are the pastor. Your choir director works with you. You dont work around him. It is my experience and opinion that you pick the scriptures and sermon topics then the choir director works on what to sing. You dont develop your sermons around what he has decided to sing. I would suggest a conversation about it with him. Share your vision and plan with him. Although be careful. If you came into a dysfunctional congregation and dont be fooled many of them are dysfunctional especially the ones that go through pastors often. (I'm assuming this is the case considering its your first full time position and they called you in. I just said a prayer for you.. :) If he is paid staff then you dont have a big issue, if he is a volunteer that's been there for suggestion is be prayed up before to talk with him. Just my thoughts.

David Ledford

commented on Dec 30, 2014

Sister, I believe the author of this article put it well, "The pastor is the Worship Leader of the church." I would encourage you to begin subtly and tactfully letting your fellow-servant know that he will need to begin adjusting the worship hymns to better fit that which you will be preaching. Ask the Lord to show you some ways to implement this slowly and lovingly; and if this man is Spirit-filled and led, he will make the adjustments in a similar loving fashion.

Tom Smith

commented on Dec 30, 2014

I have used the Book by Book method for years. I start at the beginning, and go verse by verse, through the whole book. In other words, Romans 1:1 through Romans 16:27. This gives much more insight than to the mind of God, sent through the Apostle Paul, than skipping from one topic to another. One time I was at our youth camp, and was doing some revisions to my notes for the following Sunday. Another Pastor came by, and saw what I was doing, and asked what I was going to preach on. I told him, and he said, "I am in a quandary, I haven't a clue what to preach this Sunday". I said, "I have the next 6 months in the pipeline, because I am preaching through 1 Corinthians". He said, "Really, I don't think my congregation would hold still for that. My Deacon board would fire me". That is sad. This person that God has set in charge of His Church, to be so paranoid of his congregation. God has set you in charge of your preaching, don't let outside forces rule your pulpit. Try it, it works. As to the article, good points, thank you, Pastor Charles.

Ira Antoine

commented on Dec 30, 2014

This is great article. I have been doing this for the past several years. As a bivocational pastor who serves as a denominational servant for my state convention on top of being a husband and father, I find this most helpful. There is a discipline needed to begin this effort but once you have done it once or twice you become hooked on it. You can use some of your committed church members to assist in finding illustrations and preaching material if you know in advance what you are going to preach. I began this year's planning by asking myself one question and then allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me. I asked myself, "What do I want the church members to be like at the end of the year?" Having answered that question I began to develop my preaching and teaching calendar around that answer. I typically preach through an OT and NT book once or twice a year. I try to preach on lighter themes during the summer months because the congregation attendance fluctuates due to vacation and out-of-school time. I recommend preaching calenders to any pastor who desires to lead their congregation in a systemic manner.

David Ledford

commented on Dec 30, 2014

Well written, and I agree with every point Pastor Charles made. I am going to be implementing a similar plan this year. He is also right in recognizing a pervasive mindset, among many preachers, which is critical of any who see the need to plan and prepare that which we will be proclaiming. Yes, we must be attuned to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, but we are not Jesus. It is often inappropriate for us to speak "from our hearts." Our responsibility is to become so familiar with the Words spoken and given by our Master that they flow from Him, through what we have prepared, to the ears and hearts of the listeners - all the while being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.

Oscar Prado

commented on Dec 30, 2014

I just want to say thank you very much, it is a very good article, it help to think about, God bless.

Emmanuel Babaniji

commented on Dec 30, 2014

A very good article and insightful. Thanks

Jessie Tharpe

commented on Dec 30, 2014

This is a well explained and prepared article. Very encouraging. Thank you for your effort and time to share this information. God Bless

Emmanuel George

commented on Feb 2, 2015

In the Church where i fellowship with here in Nigeria, the pastors of the local church usually plan their preaching schedule for the whole year and makes the schedule available to the worship committee thereby making all the singing groups in the Church prepare there songs in line with sermon topics for each Sunday.

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