Preaching is always a challenging task. The preacher who has the privilege and responsibility to stand before a congregation each week—or even multiple times each week— faces the challenge of being prepared when the preaching time arrives. One practice that makes this challenge easier is the advance planning of one’s preaching. The purpose of this article is to address how to schedule a year of pulpit work.This preacher learned about planning his preaching from his seminary professors and his courses in Preaching (Dr. Harold Bryson) and Pastoral Work (Dr. Joe Cothen) and from the joy and privilege of working at the task for the past thirty-five years as a pastor and interim pastor. Though some of the ideas/concepts of this article surely have original sources, such as the aforementioned professors, their books, and others, the process has become his own through the joyful labor of preaching the Word, week after week.
Some important presuppositions should be addressed. First, the preacher must be one who abides in Jesus, prays intensely, and is Spirit-led in all matters, including his preaching. All that follows in this article assumes that the preacher is working in the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit in planning his preaching. Could planning be done in the flesh? Surely, but the presupposition here is that the preacher will apply all spiritual wisdom and empowering in the planning of preaching. The preacher should recognize that the Lord can work as well months or a year in advance as He can the week of the preaching event.
Secondly, this preacher is convinced that the best preaching is textual preaching—preaching that is text-driven, shaped in all ways (subject, objective, development, application, etc.) by the text of Holy Scripture. In addition, this preacher is convinced that the best preaching for the ongoing health of a church is what he calls systematic expository preaching—text-driven preaching, paragraph by paragraph, through Bible books. How does the preacher schedule a year of pulpit work? To do so well, the preacher must apply the two presuppositions above.
Now, to the task. Based on the presuppositions above, three primary approaches exist. One is simply to follow the Lord’s leadership in choosing Bible books to preach through, allowing the passages to fall where they will (the Lord controls this). Do not worry about special days, but just preach through the Bible book, trusting the Lord to align the sermons with the needs of the congregation and the special occasions that the calendar presents. A second way is to plan for multiple special dates on the calendar, preaching a separate or unique passage in a text-driven manner, and then use the preaching through books of the Bible approach on all other occasions. A third approach is a combination of the first two, using some unique sermons on a limited number of special occasions but sticking with an ongoing systematic exposition on others. The difference is in how many special occasions the preacher chooses to break the sermon series. Following is one approach to planning preaching for a year using a combination of these approaches.
Some basics: 1) with a calendar in hand, determine which calendar dates or special occasions will be addressed; 2) plan at least a text and/or general direction for each of these sermons; 3) plan which Bible books will be used to “fill-in” around the special occasions.
What are some of the special occasions that might be addressed? Following are some of them. The preacher must determine how many to address specifically.
- The New Year (the Sunday closest to the turn of the year)
- Sanctity of Life Sunday (the Sunday on or just prior to January 22)
- Valentine’s Day (the Sunday on or just prior to February 14)
- North American Missions Emphasis (a week, including two Sundays, about a month prior to Easter)
- Palm Sunday/Passion Week
- Senior Adult Day (usually the first Sunday of May)
- Mother’s Day (the second Sunday of May)
- Graduate Day (the Sunday just before most of the congregation’s graduates will graduate)
- Memorial Day (the last Sunday of May)
- Father’s Day (the third Sunday of June)
- Vacation Bible School Emphasis (the Sunday before and/or after VBS)
- Independence Day (the Sunday on or closest to July 4)
- State Missions Emphasis (most state conventions observe this in September)
- Veterans Day (the Sunday closest to November 11)
- Thanksgiving (the Sunday just prior to Thanksgiving Day)
- International Missions Emphasis (a week, including two Sundays, usually the first two Sundays of December)
- Christmas (as many Sundays on or prior to Christmas Day as preferred)Some churches, traditions, or preachers prefer to follow the “Christian Year” more closely.
To address all of the above with a special sermon (outside of a Bible book series) is probably too many. Again, the preacher must determine how many to address specifically with a separate sermon, how many to address within his current Bible book series, and how many to ignore. Each preacher’s context will present other special occasions.
This preacher usually follows the pattern or approach below. A preacher can start any month on the calendar with his plan, but the following works well.
The Sunday just prior to Thanksgiving: The preacher could choose a text about thanksgiving or thankfulness or any related passage of Scripture (and preach a text-driven sermon from it).
The Sunday after Thanksgiving: Southern Baptist’s International Missions Emphasis is usually the first week of December. This preacher likes to start it on the Sunday immediately after Thanksgiving and extend it at least two Sundays or sometimes three. Often, a passage and theme are provided by the International Mission Board. The preacher can preach a text-driven sermon from that passage or choose any missions-related passage for one to three Sundays.
The remaining Sundays prior to Christmas: One approach is to start a series through one of the Gospels. Preach the Christmas narrative passages before, on, or around Christmas, then select various passages in the Gospel to address in a text-driven manner each Sunday, culminating with passages about the cross event and the Gospel’s resurrection narrative on Easter Sunday.
Sanctity of Life Sunday: On the Sunday just prior to January 22, the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, many Evangelicals observe Sanctity of Life Sunday, a time to focus on life and pro-life causes. For the past thirty years, this preacher has preached from a passage like Psalm 139 and brought specific application to the pro-life needs of the day.
North American Missions Emphasis (usually a week, one month prior to Easter): This annual emphasis can be addressed within the Gospel the preacher is working through or with a text-driven sermon or two from NAMB’s theme passage or other missions-related passages.
Passion Week and Easter: See above. Preach through a Gospel, or at least selected passages, from Christmas to Easter, ending with an emphasis on the Passion Week passages and the resurrection of Jesus. Some of the Gospels lend themselves to continuing a few Sundays after Easter.
Soon after Easter: This is a great time to start another Bible book series based on the Lord’s leadership and the needs of the congregation.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day: These can be addressed with a separate unique passage or from the Bible book sermon series the preacher started soon after Easter.
From Father’s Day until Thanksgiving: A great time to concentrate on preaching through another Bible book or finishing the one started after Easter.
Again, the preacher should/could do the following: 1) with a calendar in hand, determine which calendar dates or special occasions will be addressed; 2) plan at least a text and/or general direction for each of these sermons; 3) plan which Bible books will be used to “fill-in” around the special occasions. If the special occasions are on the limited side, the Bible book series become dominant. Preaching through Bible books should be the dominant pattern.
Recognize that planning for a year of pulpit work can happen in several ways. The preacher could devote retreat days to the task and develop the plan for the full year all at once, or the preacher could work by the quarter with the year in mind. In addition, planning/scheduling for a year of pulpit work could be done in a formal sense—rather complete, on digital file or on paper, with text and sermon development started for each sermon. Or, planning/scheduling for a year of pulpit work could be done less formally—not as much in writing but with the general ideas in mind. Or, planning/scheduling for a year of pulpit work could be done somewhere in-between these two approaches. Either way, it can be very beneficial for the preacher, his workload, and his quality preparation. This preacher recommends it to all of God’s proclamation servants.
Note that planning should be flexible. For instance, when Hurricane Michael hit the area on a Wednesday, this preacher needed to go a different direction with the sermon on Sunday, but the second Sunday, the next paragraph/passage in 1 John fit the congregation’s needs perfectly.
The above is primarily about planning for Sunday morning services. If the preacher is in a church in which he also has Sunday evening and/or Wednesday evening responsibilities, he simply must repeat the planning/scheduling process as many times as needed. In most cases, he will have less special occasions for emphasis in the evenings and can concentrate on more systematic expository preaching through Bible books.
What about planning/scheduling for the Sundays without some special emphasis and when the preacher is working through a Bible book? In a general sense, after diligent background work, the preacher should divide the Bible book into its paragraphs or sections that fit together. Then, he will move from paragraph to paragraph each week, preaching a text-driven sermon from the paragraph for the week. Each sermon should be a separate sermon on the text for the day but also have a solid connection to the context, themes, and purpose of the book as a whole. The preacher could schedule these sermons so that they fit well in-between some of the special emphases or just allow them to fall as they do (the Lord controls this), take a break for the special emphasis, and move back to the series the Sunday after the special emphasis. Finish the series whenever the paragraphs/sections are all treated and start another series the following Sunday. Some Bible books should be treated in their entirety; for others, the preacher may need to treat selected passages because of the length of the book or the needs of the congregation.
Robin Jumper is the Academic Dean at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida.
|↑1||This preacher learned about planning his preaching from his seminary professors and his courses in Preaching (Dr. Harold Bryson) and Pastoral Work (Dr. Joe Cothen) and from the joy and privilege of working at the task for the past thirty-five years as a pastor and interim pastor. Though some of the ideas/concepts of this article surely have original sources, such as the aforementioned professors, their books, and others, the process has become his own through the joyful labor of preaching the Word, week after week.|
|↑2||Some churches, traditions, or preachers prefer to follow the “Christian Year” more closely.|