It is Saturday night. Your week has found you spending so much time at the hospital with church members, you are thinking about stopping by human resources to pick up a paycheck. You woke up this morning with every intention of getting started on your message early ... yet here you sit ... looking at your Bible to find a passage ... or your computer screen with a blank document staring back at you. It is too late to ask someone to fill in for you. Whom would you ask?
These weeks come into the lives of every pastor, but by developing a preaching plan in advance, you don't have to spend your Saturday nights preparing sermons. In fact, you will consistently preach better if you don't. So here are some benefits of planning your preaching schedule.
A Plan Helps You Prepare Better and Faster
You have seen it happen in the lives of your church members. They become overwhelmed by circumstances and can't make good decisions. You are no different.
A preaching schedule will help you be on the lookout for illustrations and applications. Your brain is amazing! It will work in the background, looking for things that apply to or illustrate your message. It also will help you not shoehorn in that illustration you heard the previous week but instead save it for the right message where it fits.
Planning helps you preach more of the Bible. Think about what you do when you are regularly preparing on Saturday night. Perhaps you go to a familiar well, dusting off a previous message, hoping no one will remember. Why should they? You don't. Maybe you put more into it, and you stick to your favorite books or passages. Or worse, you hope inspiration will hit you; you talk about sports, family, politics, evolution and how you believe the Bible is God's Word ... all in the same message ... on the Ten Commandments!
It is hard to make the case that you believe the whole Bible when you only preach a handful of passages or topics. If you do this, you should not wonder why your church is scripturally illiterate.
A Plan Helps Others Prepare Better
I never have met a music leader who didn't want the music to complement the message. If you don't know what you are preaching, how can your music director lead? Your planning also helps your secretary typing the order of worship and the bulletin or newsletter. Your planning helps the person or people who are running the multimedia, children's ministry, special music, etc. If you let your congregation know ahead of time, members can even prepare by studying the same passage. That might help with scriptural literacy, as well.
A Plan Allows for Greater Leadership of the Holy Spirit
I know this sounds counterintuitive. Wouldn't the Holy Spirit be working overtime if you step into the pulpit with no notes and no direction? Wouldn't being unprepared help my prayer life? Wouldn't preparing and having notes stifle the work of the Spirit?
If you have a preaching schedule, the Holy Spirit has time to preach the sermon to you before you preach it to the congregation. Think back through the messages that garnered the most positive responses in the past year. Have any of those messages followed a time when God was working in an obvious way in your life and you shared those experiences with your congregation? Why were those messages so effective? Because you are not preaching to the congregation at that point; you are telling your story about how God used this passage in your life recently. They connect to it because it is real to you.
This is not to say you should make a schedule and never deviate from it. Built into the schedule should be Sundays that are not part of a series or a holiday. Plan at least one Sunday per quarter this way; if something special or a crisis arises, you can address it and then return to the schedule without having to rearrange everything. Then you save the pre-empted message for a time when your schedule hasn't been interrupted. (By the way, one of my messages was on hold for almost two years in a similar case!)
Now it is time for the tough question: How do I start? Here are five "gets" that will point you in the right direction.
Get in the Word: It ought to go without saying, but in our world of instant everything, we sometimes neglect the basics. The basic for every believer is a daily walk with the Lord. This should include prayer and time spent in the Word. Now this time is for you the believer, not you the preacher. You are not looking for three points from every chapter you read. You are looking for the Lord to speak to you.
Interact with the Scripture. Ask it questions. Find the answers. If you are serious about it, you will find passages that speak to you and that you feel led to research further for a message. All messages should be rooted in the Word of God, not an illustration, story or current event, no matter how compelling.
Get Guidance: The ultimate guidance for sermon planning and preparation is the Holy Spirit. Neglect that truth and you are headed in the wrong direction. There are books about planning a sermon calendar. If you are serious about trying this, a good place to start is Stephen Rummage's Planning Your Preaching. These books contain many great ideas.
You also would do well to consult the calendar. How many Sundays are in December this year? When is Easter? Will you have messages to emphasize Mother's Day, Father's Day and the Fourth of July? Make sure your preaching plan has consistency. If you frequently put your schedule on hold, the value of planning is quickly lost. You also can check out what others have done; find preachers in your area who plan well and learn from them. You likely will pick up some helpful hints and some other things that work for you.
Get Time: It takes time alone with the Lord to put a preaching calendar together. If you are able, take a week to go off by yourself to pray and plan. If you can't take a week, take a day once a month. I can hear some of you saying, "Do you know how busy I am? How am I supposed to find time to get away?" That is a great question, and I would say you are spending extra time now in order to save more time later. You have to make this a priority, and if you are waiting on ministry to let up for a while so you can get started, you might as well stop reading now. However, if you are willing to make this a priority and are short on extra time, then here are some suggestions for how you might make it happen:
- Trade pulpits with a friend in the ministry. This allows you to preach a message you already delivered and spend your time working on your calendar.
- Allow a seminary or college student to preach for you.
- Allow a seminary or college professor to preach for you.
- Do your planning during Homecoming, Anniversary or Revival week.
- Use a "Best of" message. Pick a message that was well-received and preach it again—just not last week's!
Get Together: Collaboration is an area some preachers are starting to explore. It is hardly a new thing, but it appears to be gaining popularity and intentionality. The idea behind collaboration is simple: Get more than one person involved in the preparation of the preaching calendar. For a church with multiple preachers or pastors, this can involve working together on a series theme and then figuring out who will preach individual messages. Another way is to get together with preachers from other churches. By sharing resources, you can dig deeper and make the message clearer.
Still another option is to meet with lay people in the church from whom you can glean ideas and illustrations. You might say to them: "I'm going to be preaching a series of messages on tithing. Could you give me stories I could share about how tithing has benefitted you?" Or "I'm doing a series on love. Could you give me some funny first-date stories?" I have seen pastors do this via social media, asking the questions of their friends online.
Get at It: One thing is certain: A plan never works until you work the plan. The time for action is today or this week, not next month or next quarter.
But start easy. At first, don't plan a whole year. Plan two or three months, then move up to six months, and then longer. Expect some setbacks; some things aren't going to work exactly the way you planned. Sometimes we get ahead of the Lord, and we have to make corrections. By creating and using a preaching plan, you will save you time in the long run. You will preach more of the Bible, and your people will appreciate it.