Every Monday morning when I wake up I have the same thought: “It’s almost Sunday.” Most pastors quickly recognize that the rigor of developing original, interesting, transformational, biblical sermons week after week is a heavy and unrelenting load to carry. For those of us who preach two or more different messages each week, the task is even more demanding. The question of what we’re going to preach next never leaves our minds.
Since preaching is central to our calling and our pastoral role, developing a plan for preaching is essential. Hoping for a last minute blast of inspiration leading to a Saturday night special might work occasionally, but everyone knows those specials aren’t really that special.
Think about it. If you preach even two different original sermons a week, you’re creating about one thousand manuscript pages a year, maybe more. If you preach for thirty years, you will have written the equivalent of the most recent edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Preaching every Sunday is like having two or three college term papers due every week for the rest of your life!
As a result of the incessant frequency of sermons, the huge demands upon our time in ministry, and our own limitations, a preaching plan is a lifesaver In all honesty, an annual plan might not work for everyone; but without a well-thought-out and workable plan for how we maintain our preaching schedule, we will hit a wall eventually. Planning helps avoid that.
My first bit of counsel is counterintuitive: Don’t follow my plan! Friends of mine go to the mountains for a week to plan. Others go with pastor buddies on golf/annual sermon-planning retreats. I’ve also read about the megachurch pastors who have their sermons nearly complete six months in advance. Praise God. Good for them. None of those options fit my life. So don’t follow anyone else’s plan if it doesn’t help you, but help yourself by developing a plan!
Here are some general principles for thinking about developing your annual preaching plan. For one thing, many of us will preach special messages due to the calendar. Christmas messages, Easter sermons, a Thanksgiving message, and Mother’s Day/Father’s Day messages are obvious examples. Some pastors choose to ignore those holiday messages altogether while others might add more (Pentecost Sunday, Independence Day, Memorial Day, etc.). Either way, your plan can guide you. If you choose to speak with the holidays as a backdrop in order to capitalize on related biblical themes, some of your annual preaching calendar is already set. In addition, the rest of your preaching can be planned around these calendared special messages. For instance, you wouldn’t want to start a six-week series the week before Mother’s Day. If you did, you interrupt the new series for the special day and potentially lose the momentum of the new series. Therefore, planning protects you from competing with yourself!
For the purposes of preparing all of your messages, including those special Sunday messages, create folders (electronic or traditional) to collect and store materials throughout the year. I am constantly aware of and collecting material for sermons, including Easter and Christmas material year-round! We know those days are approaching, so why not scan, copy, and save appropriate illustrations and articles whenever you find them—even months in advance?
Another principle of planning regards what you will preach. If you’re preaching through biblical books, planning is still essential, but following the next passage in the text helps alleviate short-term preaching panic. A long biblical book can easily dominate a year of sermons (or more), so planning for your year becomes more manageable, though not less important.
If your annual preaching plan is more likely to focus on popular short-term series, the frequent change of topic requires you to have a Bible in one hand and an annual calendar in the other. In my private study, I go old school by making use of a large dry erase wall calendar where I can visualize my annual preaching at a glance. It is marked up with actual planned series as well as potential series ideas.
I plan what I’m going to preach through the year by thinking in terms of the four seasons. For example, in the Spring season, I’m blocking out series titles, main themes, texts, and message titles for the Fall season. That method continues throughout the year. When a series outline is complete, I send it to the Graphics and Worship teams, who then have an appropriate amount of time to do their work—developing images and services related to the series. Planning isn’t just about salvaging your own ministerial sanity (although it helps), it’s also essential when you work with other busy people.
Resourcing the Plan
Finally, whatever you’re preaching is going to require massive amounts of fresh material. There’s really no excuse for lacking resources in the 21st century. Still, finding and keeping track of what you need is greatly aided by the fact that you know what you’re planning to preach.
It’s true; we have more material available to us at a keystroke than older pastors had—even if they had lived across the street from the A. Webb Roberts Library. What you do not have more of is time. We must plan and protect our time for study as fiercely as an Olympic athlete prepares for the games! Fight for your study, prayer, and planning time. It’s a major part of sermon planning.
How far out and how you plan is ultimately a personal choice, but planning is absolutely essential for an effective preaching ministry. I would like to say a lot more about this subject but I’ve got to go—it’s almost Sunday!
Kie Bowman is the Senior Pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.