I’ve spent the last month or so mapping out the next year of preaching. That doesn’t mean I’m preparing a year’s worth of sermons in detail or that I won’t make changes along the way. Sometimes a congregation experiences unexpected transitions or cultural events, and sometimes God just makes it clear that what was planned isn’t the best message for the moment. So I’m flexible, but I want to think ahead.
I believe annual sermon planning is vital for several reasons.
1. To balance what the congregation is being fed.
When I map out a year of sermons I try to be intentional about balancing certain factors, such as:
- I want to teach from both testaments and every major genre of literature – narrative history, prophecy, poetry and wisdom, the gospels, and the epistles.
- I want to touch on all of the major areas of systematic theology – bibliology (the Bible), soteriology (salvation), pneumatology (the Holy Spirit), anthropology (mankind), ecclesiology (the church), etc.
- I want to talk about all five purposes of the church, and of life – worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry.
- I want to plan series designed to reach seekers, ground new believers, and take seasoned saints deeper into the beauty of the gospel.
I recognize that many readers will be strong advocates of expository preaching, as in, preaching through books of the Bible. I’m no stranger to this method. I spent four years at one church preaching every passage from Genesis 1 through 2 Samuel (yes, even Leviticus). One of my great preaching heroes, W. A. Criswell, made this method famous when he spent 17 years and 8 months preaching through the entire Bible at First Baptist Church in Dallas.
While I deeply honor the book-by-book approach, I don’t think it’s the only way to preach effectively or biblically. When I preached this way, I often tended to become too mechanical in my preparation and delivery. Thematic-series preaching has allowed me to stay fresh, get creative, and challenge myself as a Pastor in a much greater way, which brings me to the second reason planning my preaching a year ahead is important.
2. To give our team a chance to get creative together.
Nothing replaces preaching as the primary vehicle for the delivery of God’s truth, but preaching can certainly be enhanced and supplemented with various other kinds of elements such as videos, illustrations, object lessons, intentional song selection, poetic readings, and more.
My preaching calendar is visible to my teaching team and to our worship leaders so we can think ahead. And it’s also visible to other ministry leaders for another reason…
3. To keep our congregation focused on each theme intensely and collectively.
Our Community Pastor, Danny Kirk, who often teaches parts of our series’ on Sundays, writes small group studies in advance that our group hosts can use in their meetings to dive deeper into the content of the message from Sunday. Our Student Leader adapts that curriculum for Jr. and Sr. High students, and our Kids Director designs her curriculum for kids’ worship to flow with my sermons as well.
And because kids, teenagers, adults, and small groups are all on the same page, families get to talk about their shared spiritual growth together.
4. To give a dozen opportunities for members to invite people.
Almost every series lasts one month. The first Sunday of each month, then, becomes a bit of a “kick-off” point where we get to say something like, “Come and join us for a new teaching series about…” This gives us twelve opportunities to publicize something new, to launch new groups with a new curriculum, and to be creative with graphics and environmental elements.
So, what am I preaching in 2016? Here are the sermon series I’ve slated so far:
January: Free Indeed!
This is a series based on Jesus’ promise that all who trust in his truth would be made truly free. It’s a series about the spiritual bondage we can find ourselves in, and how to break free! Primary passages will include John 8 and Galatians 5.
February: Like vs. Love
Are you looking for likes while longing for love? In our tech-saturated, social media centric world, we can fall into the trap of living for the approval and smiles of others while missing the deeper biblical kind of love available to us from our Creator, who is Love. Primary passages will include 1 John, John 13, and 1 Corinthians 13.
March: Simply Jesus
Who is Jesus, exactly? There are plenty of viewpoints and opinions, but if you want to know the real Jesus, you need to read what he has revealed about himself in his word. This series looks at the three “offices” Jesus fulfills – prophet, priest, and king, and also talks about how this King is our best friend as well. We’ll look at John 17, Acts 2, and various other Scriptures.
April: Ghost Story
What happens AFTER Jesus’ resurrection? A whole new age begins. The New Testament is, in part, a Ghost story – the record of the Holy Spirit empowering the church for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
May: In the Ring
We’ll spend the month of May on marriage, dating and engagement, single hood, and relational issues. Once you put a wedding ring on, you’re stepping into the ring to battle for the best marriage possible.
June: Are We There Yet?
This is a “summer vacation” series that follows some of the major transitions and lessons from the wilderness wanderings of Israel.
This is a series based on the life of David. David illustrated that we are our own worst enemies when we give into temptation, give up to depression, and give ourselves over to pride. The main point is that we all need to look to Jesus for redemption and restoration.
August: WE > ME (We’re Better Together)
WE are always better and more effective than ME. You don’t have to do life alone. God meant for us to be in relationships with other believers. So we’ll tackle a few of the “one another’s” of the New Testament and prepare for a fall season of reaching out to our community together.
September: God of the Prodigals
You’ve heard of the story of the prodigal son? There were really two prodigals in the story. One traveled away and one rebelled at home in his heart. “Comeback Sunday” is part of this series, where we invite people to come back home to God again.
October: The GOD Experience
One of the most influential books of the last quarter century (and in my life personally) was Experiencing God, by Henry Blackaby and Claude King. This series is based on that book, but is termed in a new and fresh way. The bottom line is that God is always at work in, around, and through us and he invites us to join him in that work.
November: Inside My Head
Our direction is determined by our habits, which are formed from our thoughts and attitudes. With November being the month of Thanksgiving, we’ll talk about the power of bringing our thought life under the Lordship of Christ so we can think more purely, more positively, and more purposefully.
December: The Advent
Behind the scenes, in our home, we’ve being lighting Advent candles. Next year, I want to challenge our church to resurrect this family-around-the-table practice. We’ll preach about the coming, the appearing, of the Lord Jesus and how Christmas is a celebration of his first coming and an anticipation of his second.
I’m believing that God is going to use 2016 to do great things in the lives of his people. I want us to grow larger through evangelism, broader through ministry, stronger through worship, closer through fellowship, and deeper through discipleship. We’ll launch new services, perhaps new campuses and church plants, and we’ll hear from God through his magnificent, awe-inspiring Word!