5 Steps to Sermon Series Planning

Let’s talk a little about sermon series planning. This is the time of year when I’m seeking God’s guidance on what to preach next year. I realize that may be a new concept for some so let me explain. I typically preach in a series format that lasts anywhere from three weeks to six weeks. I’ve found that anything over six weeks and our people lose interest. Most times, the series will cover one month. For example, November has five Sundays so I’m preaching a five part series on spiritual warfare. 
  

In the last few years, I’ve settled in to planning three to six series at a time, meaning I plan three to six months at a time. How do I balance strategic planning with being open to the Lord’s leading? I’m glad you asked. Here is my process.

Step 1: Pray

Prayer is essential in every step of the process, but doubly so in the beginning. I invite God into the process but its more like I’m the one being brought into his plan. We must never forget preaching is what happens when God speaks his message to us so we can speak to his people. Preaching was invented by God, not us. Additionally, I prayerfully consider the condition of our congregation and ask the Lord, where he wants to take us in our spiritual development. I also ask him to open my eyes to the strategic possibilities that are naturally available to me. 

Step 2: Determine Key Themes

There are certain themes I will preach on every year. Those themes revolve around congregational needs and are an excellent way to add stability to our ministry. For example, I already know I will preach our vision (Love God; Love Others; Love the World) at least once a year. I will also preach on Generosity and our church purpose. These may be set up as series giving me topics for at least 3 months scattered throughout the year. Mind you, I don’t preach the same passages of scripture or have the same sermon titles for these topics every year. 

Step 3: Seize Opportunities

There are certain times of year when people have key topics on their minds. These are opportunities to impress scripture on their hearts, guiding their lives toward godliness. So I look at the calendar and note every holiday, season, and church annual day that gives a strategic opportunity to preach. For example, in February, everyone will have love on their minds because of Valentine’s Day. I may preach about love, relationships, intimacy with God, etc. During tax season or during the holidays, I may preach about generosity. In every case, I am asking the Holy Spirit to guide me to preach what we need in our church. Which means, I may not take the obvious route. One year, for example, I preached about loving the Word of God in February instead of relational love because the Spirit moved me in that direction.

Step 4: Make A Preaching Calendar

Each year, I make an Evernote file called Sermon Series. I type an outline of months and add in the series for each month. Under each month, I include any key calendar dates, the primary theme of the series, a series overview, the number of weeks, and the primary passage of scripture for the series. If possible, I will also give the sermon title for each sermon in the series. Here is November’s entry.


November
5 weeks
Spiritual Warfare Advanced Training (SWAT)

Spiritual Strength
We have strength given to us by God. We have spiritual power.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:10‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Spiritual enemies
There is an enemy and it is spiritual.
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:11-12‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Spiritual courage
God gives us the ability to stand in the face of adversity.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Spiritual armor
The armor provides defense and offense in a spiritual battle.
“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:14-17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Spiritual perseverance
While we have the armor on, we must endure with prayer. Communication with the commander in chief, Jesus.
“praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:18‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

The outline is always incomplete and that’s good. This way I have to constantly seek God for his guidance throughout the year. I must also study and prepare each week allowing God to shape the sermons. I may have several sermon series ideas but they are not all on the calendar. Instead, I group them together at the bottom of the calendar in my Ideas section. This November 2015 series on spiritual warfare was an idea a few years ago that God has finally released me to preach this year. 

Step 5: Share The Calendar

Can you imagine what worship would be like if everyone was on one accord? Let me tell you, it’s beautiful and has incredible impact. We achieve this at our church by sharing the sermon series ahead of time. Literally, there are key leaders who have access to my sermon file year round. They have been given instructions to tailor their portion of the service to line up with the sermon series. For example, the praise team will begin the service with words of encouragement and songs that match the theme. The words of exhortation from the pulpit each Sunday match the sermon of the day. The choir will sing at least one song that goes along with the sermon. And when the announcer gives the thought for the week, it usually matches the sermon. So if I’m preaching about courage, as I did on Sunday, our members will hear about courage throughout the service, reinforcing the importance of the topic.

Conclusion:

I hope this helps anyone who is considering preaching sermon series this year. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I may not have all of the answers but I will do my best to help you.

10 questions every church member should answer. 

This weekend, our church, Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, held our annual church conference. One of the things I get to do during the conference is share an annual address. Usually, my address will recap the year, and cast vision for the next year, but this time, the address was very introspective and focused solely on next year.  

Using Ephesians 4:11-16, I asked our congregation 10 questions. I’d like to share them with you because I believe they are relevant to the growth and success of any church. 

  
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:11-16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

In this passage, Paul describes what the church should be. Based on this description I have 10 questions we need to answer. 

1. Will you position yourself to be equipped?
Paul says spiritual leaders are given by God “for the equipping of the saints”. 
We may need to change our minds about the ministries of the church. When we’re offered the opportunity to participate in the teaching ministries of the church, what will be our response? 

2. Will you join in the work of the ministry?
Paul says we’re equipped “for the work of ministry”. 
Last year, we gave every member a chance to serve. This year, we will do the same. Will you serve in our ministries or stay on the sidelines?

3. Will you work to edify the body of Christ?
Paul says we’re equipped for ministry, “for the edifying of the body of Christ”. 
We’re challenging every member to do one thing to make our church better. Instead of talking about what should be done, get involved and do what you can. 

4. Will you be united in the faith?
Paul says “till we all come to the unity of the faith”. 
Come in from the fringes. Buy in to the vision and the purpose. Change your mind. If we’re still saying “them” and “they” when speaking about the church, instead of we and us, there is a problem. 

5. Will you get to know Jesus?
Paul says we should come to the unity of the faith, to “the knowledge of the Son of God”
We need to learn the shepherd’s voice. We need to know what he’s like. If we’re all listening to the same spirit, we will all arrive at the same conclusions. 

6. Will you seek perfection?
Paul says we’ll come “to a perfect man”. 
We need to commit to growing into the best we can be. We need to make some lifestyle changes and overcome habits and vices. 

7. Will you believe in God alone?
Paul gives us something to chew on when he says “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting”. 
Teams who change coaches too often, rarely win because they’re unstable. They hear too many voices. People who try to follow different belief systems are just as unstable. We need to put our complete trust in God alone. 

8. Will you speak the truth in love?
“but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ”. 
We need to get along without being easily offended. We don’t need to bring an offense and we don’t need to take offense. This means we must trust each other. We can’t grow if we’re always offended by what others say. 

9. Will you bring something to the table?
Paul describes the church like a human body and says “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies”. 
Every part of the body is important. We are inter-dependent. We all have a contribution to make. That contribution may take many forms; time, talents, and treasure. 

10. Will you do your share?
“according to the effective working by which every part does its share”. 
God has a purpose for our participation in the church. There are ministries that need us. If we’re holding out on God, we’re stunting the growth of the church. 

Conclusion:
I believe the right answers to these questions will bring the result Paul shares in this passage; “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Prayerfully ask yourself these questions and I believe you’ll experience a deeper, more meaningful, church membership. 

Planning, planning, planning. 

For last few weeks I’ve been wanting a standing desk. What is that, you ask? It’s literally a desk tall enough for a person to stand and work rather than sitting all day. So, last week I visited a few furniture stores and office furniture stores looking to price a standing desk. I found two of them at IKEA priced at $630 and $450. I was really hoping to get one in the $250 to $300 range. So I decided to build my own. Along the way, I learned a few things about planning I’d like to share. 


Get a plan. 

  
Look, I’m not a carpenter but I happen to own a circular saw and a drill. All I needed was materials and a plan. After examining the desks at the store closer, I at least got an idea of how to construct the desk. I was thinking maybe some 2 X 4’s and a wooden board would do it. The last thing I wanted to do was reinvent the wheel. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing but the manufacturer of the desk at the store did. So I followed their pattern just as Moses followed the pattern God gave him for the tabernacle. 

“who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”” Hebrews‬ ‭8:5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

When you’re the leader, people often look to you for direction and answers. In some cases, they expect you to be the subject matter expert on everything concerning your ministry or business. But let’s be honest, just because you know about something doesn’t mean you know it intimately. There are plenty of people around us doing what we want to do on a high level. Admit what you don’t know, look at their pattern, go ask them questions, and develop a plan. Eat the meat, spit out the bones you don’t need, take the ideas, tweak them, and use them. 


Be prepared to plan again. 

“We can make our own plans, but the LORD gives the right answer.” Proverbs‬ ‭16:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬

My plan for acquiring the materials was to get some scraps of culled wood from Home Depot. Each day, imperfect or warped building materials are marked and set aside on a cart at the back of the store. Those pieces are sold at 70% off. When I reached the cart, I found several pieces of wood that didn’t exactly fit my plan, but had the potential to help me reach my goal. 

For example, I was able to acquire 1 and a half 2 X 4’s instead of 4. After measuring the wood, I was able to adjust my plan to make the desk with 3 legs, instead of 4. I also had to do some interesting math calculations to make angular cuts so the frame of the desk would fit together. Things don’t always turn out the way we plan. That’s why leaders need to be flexible enough to revisit their plan at each new challenge. 


Plan with people in mind. 

It took two days for me to complete the desk. I was tired, sore, and covered in saw dust but I wasn’t alone. My plan affected everyone in the house. My wife, Melissa, was my support team. She helped me make initial decisions, made sure I was resources with food, water, and back rubs. My daughter, Faith, helped keep my work space clean and organized, while reminding me to put safety first. My cat, Robin, ran from the sound of the saw which encouraged me to plan well enough to reduce cuts. I measured twice and cut once. 

Leaders lead people not programs. If you’re not making your team better, if you’re not developing the people around you, then you’re not a real leader. You’re no different than a line leader in a grade school classroom. You’re just at the front because it was your turn. The teacher is the true leader while you’re just holding a spot. 

At the end of the day, our plans are not successful unless everyone involved is made better. Every step of the way was an opportunity to teach important concepts, build relationships, and make memories with my family. For example, Faith learned how to use the saw and drill, and ended up with enough scraps to make a project of her own. 

So here it is. My homemade, three legged, scrap constructed, standing desk! It cost me a whopping $12 but the blessings I received in the process were priceless. 

  

The Heart to Lead

Recently, our church held a Clergy Appreciation Service and personally, it marked eight years for me as a pastor. Eight years! That got me thinking. So, I’ve “Googled” average pastor tenure and several sites say the average is three to four years. Think about that. On average, in less than five years, the pastor and church will part ways.

I’d like to share some thoughts about this from a leadership perspective for pastors. I know it’s not always the pastor’s fault but maybe this post can help those who are stepping into new positions. Let’s look at King Solomon.

heart_to_lead
“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?””
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NIV
‬‬

When God offered the young King Solomon anything he desired, Solomon asked for a discerning heart to govern God’s people. He didn’t ask for fortune, fame, or any of the perks of being king. He was personally secure in his position. This is important because insecure leaders expend more energy and bravado trying to secure their positions instead of leading the people. I’ve heard many seasoned pastors say “the moment you have to say ‘I’m the pastor’ you’re not the pastor”. Solomon wasn’t like that. He was already royalty by birth. We can learn from Solomon’s example. As believers, we are born again, joint heirs with Christ, which makes us royalty. The riches of the kingdom of God are ours to enjoy. We don’t need the church to validate us or feed our ego.

Additionally, Solomon was already anointed king of Israel, meaning he was chosen by God to lead the people. In our case, pastors are anointed and chosen as well. You see “pastor” is a gift from the Holy Spirit, not a job or title. Those who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to pastor are already anointed to do the job. However, if you’re a preacher / minister who isn’t gifted to pastor, but you’ve been given that title, you will always struggle because you’re not in your gifted role. Pastors have the royal pedigree and the spiritual anointing to lead God’s people. What more could we need? We need the heart to lead.

Solomon asked God to perform a spiritual transplant by giving him a heart to lead the people under his care. When I talk to pastors who have served one congregation for 10, 20, or 30 years, they all exhibit a genuine love and concern for the needs of their congregations. Today, as pastors, we need to care enough about our congregations to want what’s best for them. Some of our church members have been hurt by previous pastors and are bitter toward us. Some of them have been bruised by everyday life and bring those scars into the church, pointing their pain at everyone, including the pastor.

My pastor told me on many occasions “hurt people will hurt you”. That’s why it’s so important for new pastors to ask God for a discerning heart. Without it, we could mistake aggression for hatred. We could take every outburst personally rather than looking past the hostility to see the church’s true needs. So God, please give our pastors a discerning heart to lead your people, and bring stability to our churches.