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.
Spiritual Warfare Advanced Training (SWAT)
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
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
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
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
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.
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.