For many pastors, these words are like giant mosquitoes, sucking the lifeblood right out of them. After all, we didn’t go into ministry to be planners and administrators. We chose this profession because we love people and we want them to meet Jesus. We want them to experience Jesus in every message we preach. That’s the stuff that gets our juices flowing!
How to Effectively Plan a Year of Preaching
But preaching requires planning. Ministry requires administration. Expecting to preach well without planning well is like expecting to harvest a crop that you planted yesterday. Seeds take time to grow. So do sermons.
So how do we plan well? Specifically, how do we plan sermons well for a calendar year? What I’m going to share isn’t the only right way. It’s simply my way. Here are some key principles that I always follow.
1. Never plan your sermon calendar alone.
For far too long, I assumed that since I’m the preacher, I should be the sole sermon planner. This is D-U-M-B, DUMB! My life changed (and I mean that sincerely) when I realized that I needed to bring other people into the process.
Every October, I meet with a group of three to five people to plan the next year’s sermon calendar. They are men and women who are staff, elders and core volunteers. I keep the group purposefully small so everyone can be a major contributor.
I bring plenty of coffee and donuts for the group. Once we’re sufficiently caffeinated and sugared up, we go to work. We begin at 9:00 am and we usually have the entire year planned by noon.
We hang an old-school desk calendar on the wall, and we’re armed with Post-It notes and markers. We write the sermon series ideas on the Post-Its and stick them on the calendar. It’s a great way to visualize the year as a whole, and the Post-Its make it easy to move stuff around.
To give you an idea of what it looks like, here’s a picture of our 2018 calendar. It’s blurred out to preserve a little bit of anticipation and mystery for our church. If you want to see an unblurred pic, email me at mike.edmisten[at]connect.cc.
2. Evernote is everything.
OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement. But Evernote should be in every preacher’s toolbox.
I created a folder in Evernote called Sermon Ideas. Throughout the year, whenever an idea hits me, it goes into that folder. It may be an idea that comes from something in culture. It may be a series idea that was preached at another church (don’t ever apologize for this!). Or the idea may simply come from reading the Bible (you’re doing that, right?).
Wherever the idea comes from, I throw it into that Evernote folder. I don’t bother to organize it. Clip it, save it, move on.
Then, when it comes time to plan the next year’s sermon calendar, I open up that folder. After filtering the contents, the folder usually yields at least six months of messages. That means our team only has to plan six months of messages instead of 12. Talk about making sermon planning easier!
Bonus note: I also have a folder for sermon illustrations. I add stuff to that folder almost daily, tagged by topic. Preaching every week is a grind, and sometimes the creative well runs dry. It’s so helpful to open up that folder and immediately have a ton of illustrations at the ready.
3. Ask the right questions.
When our sermon planning team meets, we review some key questions. We read the questions before we begin. We refer to them throughout the process. And we review them again when we’re finished.
Here are the questions we currently use.
- Is Jesus present in every message?
- Is there a mix of Old and New Testament, leaning heavier toward the NT?
- Is there a mix of theological teaching and “felt needs”?
- Is it balanced for men and women? Young and old?
- Does it speak to pressing issues in our time?
- Is there a balance of topical and expository series?
- Is there a variety of voices preaching?
- Are there creative hooks, without being gimmicky?
- Is there a series on marriage and a series on money?
- Did we recognize the necessary holidays/cultural events?
- If a person heard and applied every message in 2018, would they be more like Jesus on December 31 than they were on January 1?