Deepen Your Preaching Barrel by Planning Ahead
The benefits of using your summer to plan out your sermon series for the coming year.
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When I first became senior pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver in 1996, I had limited preaching experience. Sundays seemed to hurtle toward me at the speed of sound every three or four days and one of my biggest anxieties was deciding what to preach on. As I look back on my first sermons that summer, I see how I recycled the few sermons I had in my hip pocket. Then I ran out and panic set in. After a couple of months, I felt like I was "scraping the bottom of the barrel" for sermon material. In those days my sermons basically consisted of the Bible text, a football illustration, and a quote from C.S. Lewis.
One of the practices that has made preaching at Tenth Church sustainable, and even life-giving, has been taking time each summer to map out the possible sermon series for the coming year, from September through the end of June (an associate pastor plans our summer series in the spring). I have found that summer is a particularly good time for me to engage in some longer-range sermon planning as I'm able to get away from the day-to-day pressures of ministry and look back over the last year of preaching. I have the space to prayerfully seek God's guidance for the coming year. I typically take two to three weeks for study and planning each summer, then two to three weeks for vacation. (Tim Keller, who served for many years as senior minister of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, shared with me that he took one month for study in the summer and a month for vacation, and with this yearly rhythm he never felt the need to take a longer sabbatical.)
However, I don't begin my planning for possible sermon series from scratch in the early summer. I keep a "hopper for preaching" file on my computer. Throughout the year, as ideas for sermon series come to mind as I read Scripture, books, and engage in conversations with people, I jot down possible sermon series ideas in this document.
Scripture, needs, Holy Spirit
When I first began preaching I asked Minho Song, the seasoned pastor of Young Nak Church in Toronto, "How can I discern what to preach on a given Sunday?" He drew an image of a triangle and wrote "The Word" on the bottom and explained that the base for our preaching must be Scripture. He then drew another side of the triangle on the left, and wrote "Needs" (of the community). He said, "Ask yourself, 'What are the needs of the people you are going to be preaching to?'" Finally, he wrote, "Holy Spirit" on the right side of the triangle and asked, "What is the Holy Spirit doing in your own heart? What is the Spirt stirring in you?" Ever since, I have used this triangle to assess what to preach, not only on a given Sunday, but when I plan a sermon series.