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How we plan our preaching calendar at Revolution is one of the most common questions I get from other pastors.

Plan ahead.

I am stunned by how little planning goes into some churches. You would think that pastors don’t care what is happening in their churches. I am a planner, so this is easier for me and actually more comforting when it is done. For example, the other day I talked to a pastor who said, “It’s Thursday, and all I have is a title.” That’s like saying, “All I need is a chip and a chair.” We need better odds than that when it comes to preaching. Now before you get on my case, God does speak at the end of the week; God does change what we are to say while we are walking up to the stage. It has happened to me, and it is exciting and scary all at the same time, but this cannot be our normal practice.

At Revolution, we have decided that the best way for us to reach our mission and target is to preach through books of the Bible. This does not mean we are against topical preaching; we just like doing it this way.

We split series up into two categories: attractional and missional. Attractional will be more topical, dealing with felt needs, but based on a book of the Bible. Some examples are the Song of Solomon and the Sermon on the World. The other category is missional, which tends to be more formation, doctrine, theology. Some examples are Jonah and Hebrews.

We also try to alternate between Old and New Testament books of the Bible. What we are trying to do is to make sure we are giving our church a healthy balance not only of books of the Bible but also styles and feel. One other thing that we preach on every year is marriage, dating, and relationships. For our target and culture, we feel this makes sense.

What about length?

We haven’t bought into doing a three- to six-week series only. Hebrews took 18 weeks, and Nehemiah will take 22 weeks. For the Sermon on the Mount, we decided to break it up into four smaller series to create more on-ramps for our church and guests this fall. The length of the series is not that big of a deal as long as the speaker is up for it. Long series are draining. We try to stay away from doing long series back to back as that is draining on me, our team, and our church. After the serious feel of Hebrews, we did a video teaching series with Dave Ramsey, which felt completely different.

How far out do we plan?

We look about twelve months ahead when it comes to thinking through topics. This is where so many pastors do themselves a disservice. The other day I was reading a leadership book, and the author was quoting and pointing to the book of Nehemiah all over the place. Without knowing that I wanted to preach through this book, I would have missed a ton of great information. Could I have remembered it and gone back to it? Sure, but that is risky.

My point is to plan ahead in some way. By planning ahead, we are able to do a lot more creatively as opposed to going week to week.

Are we flexible?

Yes. Just because we are planning something does not mean it is written in stone and unchangeable. Over the summer, we were actually planning to preach through Habakkuk but decided about four weeks out to do the life of Elijah instead, which proved to be the right move. Before making the change, though, our creative team let me know we had not gone far enough into the creative process for that series. It is important to not waste your team’s time.

For our creative process, we look six to eight weeks out as we think through atmosphere, visuals, video clips, dramas, cover songs. As we get closer, Paul takes us through a process of honing in on what we will use and how it will flow.

How long would this take? Not very long. In fact, if you sat down right now and made a list of topics you would like to teach on in the next six to twelve months, you would be well on your way.

When I started preaching through books of the Bible, I picked James to start out with because it was my favorite book of the Bible. Not very spiritual, I know, but it worked, and I started to get used to it.

The point is to plan ahead. Way too much is at stake to go week to week.

Now I’ve told you how we do it; how do you plan your series? How do you decide what to preach on?

Josh Reich is the lead pastor of Revolution Church in Tucson, AZ, which is trying to live out the rhythms of Jesus. The church's dream is to "help people find their way back to God."

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Chris Carter

commented on Apr 25, 2012

Ten years ago I would have disagreed with some of this article due to my ignorance, however, since I have started planning sermon series it has been a huge relief for me. With the idea of a team working on the series, we are a small church but I have two great ministers in our youth and music programs that I use to help with some of the planning, works great. I do preach through the books of the Bible, this works really well for us. Good article.

Colin Bain

commented on Apr 25, 2012

We started our ministry after have been given an assignment in seminary to produce a preaching plan. we've never looked back. We usually take a day after our annual retreat to pray through and produce an outline for the year, texts, and titles or topics. Taking a day (10 hours) I figure saves 150 hours doing the same work during the years. It just makes sense. Often we do not fill all the slots, but find that God has them filled already! We don't have the kind of creative team mentioned, but we do give the plan to our musical leaders.

Steve Miller

commented on Apr 25, 2012

Don't forget that it is difficult for others on your ministry team such as the people who pick out music when you don't have a plan.

Will Nunn

commented on Apr 25, 2012

I'm a teacher Monday - Friday, and we use curriculum maps to lay out our teaching for the year. It makes sense to do this with our preaching, too. Our church has about a three-four man teaching team, and we take turns preaching, such that there are few weeks where one guy goes back to back weeks. This is helpful since we're all bi-vocational (except for the one dude who's still in seminary), but planning is necessary to make this run will. Thanks for the article. Some questions, though, for Josh and all, (not to be troublesome, but sincerely to learn) how do you plan to work through a book - do you select the passages and their weeks in advance together after the leadership retreat? What format do you use - super practical, sorry - to record the plan? (I'm thinking that the Lord might lead us to break up a passage or condense two passages together, thus altering the plan while going through a book.) Thanks for the input!

John Craft

commented on Apr 25, 2012

I've found that thinking several series out also enhances our relationship with our leadership (in our case an elder board). By communicating to them what is coming up, we convey preparedness, intentionality, and accountability. It also gives our elders the ability to pray for me as I prepare our messages because they know where we are heading and what we hope to accomplish.

Alexander Shaw

commented on Apr 26, 2012

This article is so important and so valuable - and not just from the planning a series angle - but to take people through a topic or a whole BOOK. We read no other book a few sentences at a time! Take your people through the whole of the Word of God - feed them on what is nourishing and wholesome!

Steven Chapman

commented on Apr 26, 2012

Sixteen years ago, when I ignorantly didn't understand my role a "equipper" in ministry, but "doer", I planned at most series to series. Now I plan (and, of course, adjust) 1 1/2 to 2 years out. That allows me time to consult the congregation and leaders on relevant themes they feel need to be covered, prepare the teaching team, and release the worship team to creatively cultivate the right environment. Without that advance planning, the entire worship, as well as the teaching, become a cookie cutter impression of the preceeding weeks, at best; or at worst, the teaching pastor saddles up his hobby horse, and take the congregation for the same ride week in and week out.

John E Miller

commented on Apr 27, 2012

What is the scriptural basis for this theory? Can we see the future? Do we know the circumstances, events and situations in the church, local or universal, or in the world at large, in advance? Can we not rely on the Spirit of God to teach us at the time what we need to say? I can understand a preacher or a pastor with a desire to go through a certain book of the Bible, or to take up a subject requiring a series of preaching, but to plan 12 months ahead seems to shut out the power of the Spirit of God to direct us in ministry when circumstances arise of which we could not possibly have pre-knowledge.

Steve Birch

commented on Apr 27, 2012

In response to John E. Miller, and those who believe as he does . . . I began planning my preaching 6 mos. to a year at a time 19 years ago while in Bible College. I took a course on this very subject, and of course part of the class required the assignment of planning my Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Weds. evening messages for a year. It was amazing how many times over the next twelve months that as events unfolded in the life of the church, what was on the preaching calendar for that week was exactly what we needed to hear from the word of God. I've heard the argument presented by Mr. Miller many times, especially where I went to Bible College in the Appalachian mountains. Usually it's just an effort to divert attention from the real issue, which is a desire to walk into the pulpit unprepared and just trust that the Lord will fill your mouth. I believe that God has had a plan since eternity past (at least that's how the Bible states it). If God can plan our world beginning to end, I certainly believe He is more than capable of helping me and everybody else plan 6-12 months of messages. All I can say is don't knock it till you've tried it. This will absolutely transform your pulpit ministry . . . I know it did mine! Oh, and as far as the Biblical mandate, try 2 Timothy 2:15

Robert Sickler

commented on Apr 29, 2012

In the military I had the concept of the 5-Ps drilled into my brain and I had the power of planning proven to me. So one side of me is in total agreement. The other side of me revels in reading scripture and having God hit me between the eyes with a sermon. Still, I like the idea of planning a teaching agenda that covers areas people need to hear about. Seek the help of the Holy Spirit in generating a plan and then rely on the Holy Spirit to give you the sermons for the plan. I do know that Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance ... and this should work for preaching, as long as the Holy Spirit is our driving force.

Leslie Boone

commented on May 3, 2012

Many years ago I began planning sermons ahead several weeks so that I would not allow my own reactions to the moment direct my lesson. Often I have prepared a sermon several weeks in advance and had it address exactly what needed to be when it was preached. I can't claim any credit for the perfect fit. Only God could have made that possible. Prayerful long-range planning is wise. It also allows God and His word to take the central place in our sermons rather than circumstances and feelings of the moment.

Byron Vanarsdale

commented on May 5, 2012

Very well presented article.

Chris Surber

commented on Jan 9, 2013

Well written. I find it helpful to plan sermons at least a few weeks up to a few months in advance in order to allow the music committee and secretary advance planning for their roles in worship. This doesn't prohibit the Spirit moving and shifting a thought on a given Sunday, it does give direction. Its a good thing.

Jeff Glenn

commented on Jan 9, 2013

Good article! "Once upon a time" I would scoff at a sermon calendar, but now I plan them all the time. I'm amazed at how God has used them in my ministry!

Leslye Haller

commented on Jan 9, 2013

Oh for the luxury of being able to plan ahead like that! I have a full time job beside my part time ministry with two churches. Between evening meetings, Bible studies and youth group, I'm lucky to have my sermon even started by Thursday evening. But I will agree, planning ahead will be a real treat for me if I'm ever able to leave my "day job".

Robert Tevis Iii

commented on Jan 9, 2013

Hi John E Miller... I never understood what some preachers have against planning a year out. This is basically saying that the Holy Spirit can't be in the planning. The Spirit does not just work in the moment. How is planning not relying on the Spirit of God to teach us? Even Jesus assumed the importance of planning in Luke 14:28-33. When the Scriptures tell us not to worry about what to say, these are generally in times of persecution. When we stand in front of the world, let's not worry about planning. In front of the congregation, you should give your best guided by the Spirit. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Doug Conley

commented on Jan 9, 2013

The "staff" at the congregation consists of only three people: Me, Myself, and I. Planning is a great thing, but why do most of these articles assume that the preacher has a plethora of resources to make up a "team". What about the small churches?

Gerald Graham

commented on Jan 9, 2013

If we are attentive to the Lord He will lead us into all things no matter whether "we" plan it or not. Does it mean someone is winging it just because they don't have a series every Sunday? In our church the musicians, and the "children's sermon" people are not specifically coordinated. Yet I can't count the amount of times all of these elements have fit together by the Lord's hand. He is awesome!

Micheal E Drake

commented on Jan 9, 2013

For Leslye and Doug - Over forty years of preaching have taught me a couple of lessons. While working at another job may make it difficult to plan on a regular basis- perhaps one could plan a once a year retreat for the purpose of planning out the preaching year. (Andrew Blackwood, one of the great preachers of the past espoused this approach). I also have found it helpful to meet with a sermon group with other preachers from area churches and plan preaching series together and thus benefit by our corporate study and knowledge. Just an observation.

David Hallum

commented on Jan 9, 2013

I had the privilege of having a tremendously disciplined preaching professor in seminary. He forced us to preach 10 minute sermons and develop sermon calendars for 1, 3 and 5 years. His comment on changing your sermon as you walked to the pulpit was, "Make sure it is the Holy Spirit who is moving you to change and not the devil!" Having worked all week on a sermon, I have found in the last 15 years that has only happened twice, and both times the Holy Spirit moved our church! I find it much easier to preach knowing I have spent time with God developing the calender and spent time with God developing that week's sermon. God bless you all!

Charles Ingwe

commented on Jan 9, 2013

The article is stabilizing. It gives me a strong conviction to ask for some men of God who may have the heart for Africa to get in touch with me so as to see how best we can do sound doctrine world over.

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