Whether it’s dreaming up ideas for the Christmas pageant or setting goals for a new ministry, creative planning usually involves a team of people, not just one person. And I believe creative sermon planning should be no different. Pastors, let me be blunt: You’ve got to have a lot of self-confidence as a pastor to allow other people into your creative sermon planning. There’s a great deal of vulnerability when you as a leader open yourself up to allowing a team of staff or volunteers to help you discern and plan out a Holy Spirit-inspired message—ahead of time. Many pastors unwilling to take this step fear that if they plan, the Holy Spirit won’t have room to move or lead. So let’s deal with some of these fears head on.
It’s pretty arrogant to assume we can limit the promptings of God. God will do what He sees fit regardless of our actions. But more to the point, God has revealed to us that He is a God of order, not chaos.
Take Genesis 1, for instance. The infinite, time-immune God of all creation could have easily snapped His celestial fingers and “poofed” everything into existence. An all-powerful God isn’t limited by mere time and space. He had the power to “make everything in an instant,” but He instead chose to exemplify for us the process of strategic planning and implementation. Six days is a long time for the God of all possibilities, don’t you agree?
Since it’s plain that God was showing us His very nature of order, why do some pastors still feel it necessary to plan at the last minute—or not plan at all—hoping the Holy Spirit will show up and deliver a great message? Here’s a truism you need to download and process in your mind: “It’s much easier to ditch a plan and go with the flow than it is to create a plan on the fly.” I am not saying we should try to program ourselves into a corner and then say, “Oh well, looks like God wants to move here, but we’re out of time. See you next weekend!” Instead, we should view planning as an opportunity to do as much as possible to lift Jesus up, so He will draw all men unto Himself.
“I don’t have time to meet with people.” So? Do you really think that God is unaware of the situation he’s allowed you to be in for this season of ministry? Do you honestly believe that God won’t raise up creative individuals who will carve extra time out of their schedules for breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings, if you can’t meet during “office hours” with them? Don’t try to limit God, pastors. Instead, pray that God will raise up individuals—from volunteers to staff members to people outside your church—who can help you start a creative sermon planning team.
- Other Christian leaders
If you have a staff, these people should know your vision, your heart, your style, your abilities and your personal limitations. What better group to help you turn a weekend message into a weekend experience? One common misconception is that you have to be surrounded by hyper-creative people for creative planning teams to work. Chances are, when you come to a meeting with a basic direction for the metaphor, theme and topic, people will start throwing out ideas from their own experiences. I think you’ll be surprised at just how crazy some people’s life experiences have been, even if they’re very stoic, conservative people! Life is crazy, so creativity will flow naturally from these experiences. Furthermore, some of your best and most creative moments will come from those you least expect to bring up a brilliant idea. This is why even the most creative advertising agencies employ focus groups with ordinary people—because even geniuses need to know how the “average person” will relate.
No matter if your staff is zero or 1,000, finding the fresh perspective of a volunteer who isn’t wearing the blinders of full-time church ministry is priceless. We often get so locked into our own church worlds that we unintentionally become disconnected from the realities of our society. The honest viewpoint brought to the table by someone looking at the issue from the outside is, I think, one of the best resources you can have in your meetings.
For small churches, this is a biggie. The life experiences of someone who has been in your shoes can bring essential clarity to a situation. People’s own life examples can be the creative springboard you need to launch into a topic. Even if their ideas and illustrations don’t fit you exactly, they are often the catalyst for other ideas that first got legs in another context. Even for large churches, the resource of friends in ministry should be something that you tap into on a monthly basis. Maybe you only bring these other leaders in for the development of a sermon series instead of a weekly message. And here’s the really cool part: They can bring you into their planning, too, as a valuable resource.
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