In several places in my academic journey through college and seminary I came across a sentiment variously expressed, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” To me, this was a constant reminder for the need to apply diligence in getting my assignments in on time and that temptations to procrastinate would not be met with understanding by my professors. I assumed all of my fellow students felt the same. But time and again I heard students request extensions for deadlines and give excuses (a few valid) to excuse them for missing a test or being late with a paper. Occasionally, I witnessed professors relent and extend deadlines or allow for an exam to be taken at a later date.
Unfortunately, real life and ministry do not have very many opportunities for late work and make up assignments. The old adage becomes painfully true, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Several weeks ago I noted how many unforeseen events materialized out of the ether. I had two families come to me with struggling marriages, requests for meetings with me, some unfortunate new development with our building project, a staffing issue, a personal family issue, a community event that necessitated my presence, and personal illness (you are going to get sick when it is most inconvenient). I would like to think weeks like this are a rarity. My calendar and memory show me they are not. Life does not care about your plans for productivity or your workflow.
Prior to the arrival of this week set ablaze by the demands of pastoral life, I made a plan for both my preaching and the overall direction of the church. Finding time to plan is a necessity not a luxury. If something is a luxury, you can live without it; planning does not fall in that category.
Reasons for planning:
It allows your time for any given passage, especially the longer you are in a series to compound as you have many weeks to think on difficult passages as you see them approaching on the distant horizon.
There is no sense of panic as you frantically search for a topic or passage for the upcoming week.
If you are preaching systematically through a book of the Bible, you have had to do some difficult work discovering the distinct periocopes which work together to present the main thesis of the entire book.
Steps to planning:
I think of planning on two levels. First, where do I want the church I’m pastoring to be in five years? What experiences, knowledge, and heart posture do I want my congregants to have, and what are things I need to put in to motion today and plan for tomorrow to make those a reality?
Second, how am I exposing my congregants to the whole counsel of God’s Word? By engaging in long term planning I make sure I am giving them both Old Testament and New Testament books to reflect on. Beyond this, I want them to experience different genres of scripture outside of narrative history, and more didactic Pauline epistles which is likely what has been their experience thus far in the church. By purposing to interject poetry, proverbs, and other genres I am putting them in a position to experience God in a way they might not have before.
When you have both of these firmly in your mind begin thinking through which books of the Bible might work together to accomplish your dual focus. Since my daily Bible reading has me reading several different genres, and within both testaments, I am constantly allowing God to speak to me through his manifold creative disclosure. Prayerfully consider where he might be leading you to preach.
When you have landed on two or three books you’d like to work through, read each of them in their entirety several times to get a sense of them. Once you know which you will start with begin to search for a good commentary or other source to give you a synopsis so you might gain a sense of the overarching thesis and some background issues found in the book. Now you are ready to begin some heavy lifting. I print out a copy of the Greek text if I’m preaching a NT book and begin to go through it marking out clausal structures to give me a sense of the flow of the book. I compare my breakdown of the text to at least 3–4 commentaries to see how my work compares to others. Sometimes I’ll notice ways to group teachings together to create short series on themes found over several weeks. Or I’ll find a mistake I made with the text by comparing my work to that of others. I take my final textual divisions and begin to schedule them on the calendar to see where I might need to change things to accommodate vacation, special events in the life of the church and any other series I might want to interject if I’m doing a longer study.
For instance, I’m currently preaching through 1 Corinthians and it will take me over a year to preach the book in its entirety, so working with my staff team we have divided the book into super sections such as chapters 1–4, 5–7 and each of these are themed according to what we see as the recurrent ideas found in that section. Each time we hit a break we insert a different book or section of a book. I’m currently taking a 3 week break to teach in the Psalms as we move into the summer. By planning out your preaching, you take into consideration the long term health of your church, allowing the full counsel of God shape their hearts as you work diligently to expose them to the beauty of his Word.
Matt Beasley is the pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Greenville, Texas.