Preaching Curriculum

We all have our unique interests.  One of mine is curricula.  I love looking at the curricula of Bible schools, or helping to think through new possibilities for Bible schools (perhaps adding a second year to a one year program, etc.)  So perhaps it is only me that would enjoy the last of the chapters in Explosive Preaching, where the author describes the one-year curriculum he helped to design for a house-church movement in China.  The radical design is worth sharing, not only for those who share my fascination with things academic, but for all of us as a good nudge in our level of preparation for preaching.  Here’s the 66:33:1 curriculum:

66 – Each student, by the end of the year, has to be ready to preach (without notes) a one-hour sermon on each of the 66 books of the Bible.  This sermon is to include an outline of the content of the book, and contemporary application to the individual, the church and the nation of China.  At the end of the year, 3 books would be selected at random, then the student has five seconds to launch into their message.

33 – Each student had to prepare 33 one-hour sermons on the life and work of Christ, each based on a single verse (only 10 allowed from outside the gospels).  His whole ministry must be covered, from pre-existence to second coming (although I’d suggest His ministry extends beyond the second coming!)  Interestingly, students are allowed one page of notes per sermon in this category!

1 – Each student has to prepare an “end-of time” sermon – any length (since time constraints are irrelevant in eternity).  The goal is to help the student consider the whole salvation story from God’s point of view.  Perhaps at the great feast we will get to enjoy such a sermon looking back over it all . . . but would we be ready to give the sermon?

So there it is.  A creative and probably very effective curriculum.  If you had one year to train a preacher, what would you include?

31 thoughts on “Preaching Curriculum

    • Hey Sherman, the book does give some more info. I’ve really summarized the core elements. I’d encourage you to buy the book and see it as the author really intended it.

  1. Well one thing I would include is how you are less likely to be effective preaching for one hour than a lesser time. I am struggling with time right now and I find that at about the thirty minute mark people are struggling to keep up. I am failing at getting my time down but I recognize the need to do so.

    • Kevin,

      I believe that people desiring, begging even, to hear the Gospel will eagerly listen to an hour sermon and probably have questions for hours afterward. In today’s, western, post-modern, post-church even, society, 15 minutes is more than enough. It should say something about the spiritual eagerness of the average Christian warming a pew on Sundays. I am studying Ezekiel and I firmly believe that if we short-change what God wants us to say, we will have to answer to God for that. Preach it brother!

  2. Wow, that sounds like an exciting place to study!
    It also terrifies me a bit, but would love to have the opportunity/challenge to devote a year to that sort of prep.
    Where I’m studying at the moment, we get stopped when we talk over 20 mins and they like to see our preaching notes! Maybe we should raise the bar!

  3. I really like this as a concept. It seems it would be difficult as an actual curricula, but I’d be willing to try it out on myself at some point first.

  4. Kevin,

    I guess if you are considering a context for the American church, then yes less than an hour is probably appropriate due to our short attention spans. In China however I believe they would consider an hour to be the very minimum for how long they would like their pastor to preach. Many times they complain about Americans who can’t preach for two. I can assure you that wouldn’t be my problem 🙂 .

    Being able to communicate something of spiritual substance in 25-30 minutes is truly a gift, but can also be a weakness.

  5. I agree with Josh that I would love to tackle this kind of curriculum. I did not take the preaching class in seminary last semester and the more I heard about it, the more I am glad I did not. Every sermon had to be 20-22 minutes, including invitation! A witty anecdote had to be used before the text was read. I would have rebelled big time!

  6. I think the sad reality is that most pastors in the US would not be able to do this. I think one of biggest problems (as a whole) is a lack of familiarity with the Bible. This should probably be (without being legalistic about it) standard training for every minister of the gospel (with an emphasis on being Christ-centered in those overview sermons).

    Kevin, I think time is relative when it comes to preaching. It depends on the preacher’s ability. And it depends on the people. When I first came to my church, people were getting restless after 25 minutes. But this was because they were used to 15-18 minute sermonettes. After six years, I routinely preach for about 40 minutes and rarely hear any complaints. So, people can be taught to love the word. In fact after preaching for almost 45 minutes on one occasion, one of our new Christians, told me he was surprised when I said, ‘let’s pray.’ He was “just getting into it.” In the end, Stott’s advice is best – however long you preach, it should FEEL like twenty minutes.

  7. If preaching were all that were required of seminarians, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and Christians, this might be a rudimentary way to prepare them.

    However, if you are are preparing people for ministry, they need to know more than how to preach. Each of the five-fold ministry positions requires specific skills and temperament.

    This program sounds too formulaic, even trite in its simplicity, if not haughty in its demands. I guess if you are just charging up some high-energy missionaries to shoot off into the Middle East to be martyred, this curriculum might do.

    Of course, seminarians ought to know the Bible from cover to cover. They also ought to know:

    – how to pray, in both method and experience

    – how to listen compassionately, and how to provide Biblical answers to contemporary and timeless issues of the spirit, soul, body, and general world view

    – how to disciple others and BE discipled

    – how to reach their target culture by knowing something about its language, customs, values, and needs

    – that one year does not a mature christian make. Even Paul did not immediately start his ministry after salvation

    As to preaching hour-long sermons, I agree that we westerners are woefully short on attention and interest in spiritual teaching – we are intellectually and spiritually lazy.

    However, I also think that there are some extreme weaknesses in the ‘Educational’ model of ministry – that is, in the model that has one guy teaching up front for hours on end while everyone else sits passively ‘learning.’

    This might be useful in cultures where literacy is low and people can’t read for themselves, but it is infantilizing and perpetuates spiritual immaturity, imo. I would rather have people

    a. involved in ministry, esp. in small groups

    b. involved in personal spiritual disciplines (feeding themselves instead of expecting the preacher to feed them long sermons)

    c. allowing ministers to not just preach, but minister in prayer during services, allowing God’s presence to heal, prophesy, and deliver. Of course, that’s just my post-Charismatic side poking through.

  8. I also forgot, seminarians would benefit from, nay, need to know:

    – systematic theology
    – an understanding of church history and what it teaches us
    – the writings of great men of God (at least a few)

    So maybe that would take us beyond a year’s time. In a year, you might be right, they at least need to master the scriptures. But that alone will not adequately prepare them for ministry. Some of these other elements I mentioned must be included.

  9. Interesting the comments describing difficulty in preaching “that long”. We yanks live by the clock, keeping even our Sabbath rest full and complicated. Part of what drives this is our penchant for costly facilities, necessitating their “full use” (read: multiple meetings each weekend, crowded schedules, the big hand chasing the smaller one until everyone must clear out for the next lot….” and we run our churches like either a corporation or a courtroom, right on the dot.

    Remember, the context of these preachers being trained is a HOUSE church setting….. no one HAS to clear out for anyone else, they are there because they’ve chosen to not be elsewhere. And, if my understanding of this church is correct, their meetings are not scheduled, even to the day, they meet when and where they can escape detection. A rough go no matter how one describes it. Further, from my understanding of it, this house church movement in China is often amongst the rural folk, who generally do not govern their days (nor minutes) by any timepiece. They are there until they go elsewhere….. in fact, one basic way to avoid detection is for people to arrive and depart at different times. No crowded car park clearing out and refilling at 10:45 every Sunday.

    Thus, those who preach/teach MUST be instant, ready at any time, to open God’s Word and deliver it to his hearers. I agree strongly, few North American pastors could function on five second’s notice for ANY length of time, let alone an hour. And to know the bible intimately and deeply enough to be assigned ANY book, to be expounded upon at a moment’s notice? No, American seminaries do NOT prepare men for this level of competence. Betimes, I can even know at which seminary a given preacher in the US has studied by the pattern and style of his sermons. Stodgy, canned, “by the numbers”. These lot would be abandoned quickly in the CHina house church setting. And some wonder the cause of unfruitfulness in the American church? A flock needs healthy pasturage in abundance to grow healthy and strong. Any wonder there are well in excess of a million converts added daily to the church in China, whilst our churches are slowly dwindling down and closing their doors?

    • Sorry if this is disappointing, but “in excess of a million converts a day” is extreme hyperbole. Reports of 30,000 per day came out in 2004, with some tying the figure back to the 32,000 killed during the summer of persecution known as the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Anyway, the growth of the church in China is very exciting! Perhaps we should pray for a million converts each day, then China would be totally Christian within four years!

  10. I think dgsinclair needs to understand the context and cultural situation of these pastors. Lewsta covered it a little bit in his post. These pastors will never darken the door of a seminary. This will, most likely, be curriculum that they work on over the course of a year and meet with whomever to show that they have mastered the course of study.

    Remember the cultural context these men are a part of. It is a Communist, atheistic society and these people will be “martyred”. The Asian underground church movement is sending missionaries west towards Jerusalem. There will be a lot of martyr’s blood spilled before they ever reach the Holy City. Do we “westerners” have that commitment?

  11. We can talk all day about what is needed in a seminary grad (knowing small groups, this program, that touchy-feely non-authoritarian blah, blah, blah. . . )

    But lewsta hits the nail on the proverbial head:

    Any wonder there are well in excess of a million converts added daily to the church in China, whilst our churches are slowly dwindling down and closing their doors?

    I believe that if a man knows well the Word, he will have been transformed by it and there isn’t much he won’t be able to do.

    • Sorry John if this is disappointing, but “in excess of a million converts a day” is extreme hyperbole. Reports of 30,000 per day came out in 2004, with some tying the figure back to the 32,000 killed during the summer of persecution known as the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Anyway, the growth of the church in China is very exciting! Perhaps we should pray for a million converts each day, then China would be totally Christian within four years!

  12. Sounds like a great curricula, Peter!

    I’m curious, with some of the commenters here; I don’t understand why there is this apparent move to accommodate the “Western attention spans” of your people (as pastors). Sounds like we’ve bought into to many sociological/demographic studies, and are tailoring our sermons towards that end (e.g. allowing the congregants ‘perceived’ attention span to dictate the sermon/worship time).

    If it’s a cultural thing, then change the culture; if people (who are the church) cannot pay attention to their ‘Daily Bread’, then maybe they are “full on something else.”

  13. Interesting.

    One of the things that you taught us a the Better Bible teaching course in Kent a couple of years ago was that a good sermon needs at least an hour of preparation for five minutes of delivery, or maybe even more.

    Not being the most gifted of speakers to say the least, I, like Spurgeon, have to write down the whole of my message, very time consuming, but probably ending up with a more considered and possibly more accurate message.

  14. Thanks for the comment Paul. I’m surprised I was so generous – only 1 hour for each five minutes? 🙂 In reality it is hard to give any such guideline. It is easier to prepare for a 45 minute message than for a 15 minute message. Whatever time we give to the process will be used. Some people need to realize it takes longer to prepare properly than they have been giving it, while others need to release themselves from the guilt of never giving the dozens of hours they’d like to give, but simply can’t. I remember Bruce Fong saying one hour for every minute of the message. But I wonder how often he, or his students, have been able to do that in the busy world of pastoral ministry? I suppose we need to know ourselves and then decide whether to try to increase the time we give to sermon prep, or reduce the guilt because we’re already doing what we can.

  15. >> MARK: I think dgsinclair needs to understand the context and cultural situation of these pastors. Lewsta covered it a little bit in his post. These pastors will never darken the door of a seminary.

    If you have a curriculum, you have a de facto seminary. My entire point is, bible knowledge alone, while central to creating whatever you are trying to create with this curriculum, does not a man of God make. If you are trying to create simple disciples who know the word, such rudimentary education is fine.

    If you are trying to create mature pastors, evangelists, or other church leaders, you will have more work to do than this simplistic approach.

    >> Any wonder there are well in excess of a million converts added daily to the church in China, whilst our churches are slowly dwindling down and closing their doors?

    And how many are then turning their little cells into controlling cults for lack of real pastors? Don’t be too short sighted.

    Also, while the western church is tepid compared to the Chinese in some ways, there are many more factors other than the lack of long sermons that make it so. China’s explosive growth probably has less to do with preaching styles and length, and more to do with:

    – the historical vacuum of the gospel now being filled
    – the population! they dwarf us
    – persecution, which often drives true spirituality
    – the westward movement of the gospel (Back to Jerusalem)

    >> BOBBY: I�m curious, with some of the commenters here; I don�t understand why there is this apparent move to accommodate the Western attention spans of your people (as pastors).

    There is a mix of reasons, both good and not so good. The GOOD reasons to shortin sermons include:

    – being long-winded doesn’t mean you are being efficient or impactful. I note that this blog recommends one of my favorite books on preaching, Andy Stanley’s _Communicating for a Change_. For all of you that think that only long sermons are effecctive, I’d say read this book.

    – Sunday church is not seminary – the ‘educational’ model of ministry produces passive, immature ‘spiritual consumers’ rather than mature participants. If it were up to me, I’d have Sunday church every other week, and expect more involvment in small groups. And we might even consider changing how we do Sundays.

    – Nothing can replace passionate preaching, but if we fail to engage the culture using relevant means, we become irrelevant. Today, we have so much information, people need us to be efficient with our communications, and deliver real value. They have so many choices with their time, and we unfortunately need to compete. For many, long sermons show that we don’t care about their time.

    BAD reasons for short sermons include:

    – we DO have a shorter attention span, and little desire for deeper spiritual truths
    – our own attention to the word of God is poor
    – as one commenter put it, we have forgotten how to take a Sabbath rest.


    I think that some of the zeal for this interesting but simplistic approach is based on our desire for getting back to simplicity, but also, our disgust with ourselves as a lazy church.

    But I also think that we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and realize all of the things that the modern western church has contributed and DOES contribute to the global church – things which this ‘bible only’ approach misses, including:

    1. A systematic theology that includes engaging and transforming culture. The Fundamentalist Baptists of the 1900’s had this ‘bible only’ view, and though they preserved doctrine and sent missionaries worldwide, they lost the American culture due to their myopic cultural isolationism and anti-intellectualism.

    2. Theology that allows for modern forms of communication and worship. We lose many people when we demand 1800’s English language and culture, esp. when evangelizing places like China! Thank God for a theology that allows for cultural transformation of the Gospel (and thank you Hudson Taylor!).

    We can certaily learn from the Chinese church, but I am rubbed the wrong way by people who so easily bash the Western church and jump on the ‘isn’t this great and simple’ bandwagon as if it is a panacea for all spiritual sickness, or think that short sermons are the problem. Short attention span, maybe, but let’s not miss the broader scope of things.

  16. >> a good sermon needs at least an hour of preparation for five minutes of delivery, or maybe even more.

    I think I heard Lloyd John Ogilvie said that a preacher ought to spend ONE hour of prep for evey ONE minute in the pulpit.

    That would mean that for every 40 minute sermon, you ought to spend 40 hours (one work week) in preparation.

    As a bivocational pastor, I don’t have that kind of time. However, I do find that I need at least half of that time to do a better than average job.

    So when I spend 30 minutes for every hour in the pulpit (e.g. 15 hours for a 30 minute sermon), I do well. When I spend 8 hours for a 30 minute sermon (1/4 of the recommended time), people seem happy, but I am not happy with the quality of the results.

    Specifically, what happens when I spend less time is:
    – I don’t say things correctly or with the best words that make me understood
    – Relevant scriptures or quotes come to mind that I don’t have written down and can’t find in the moment. Had I practiced more, I would have discovered these
    – I often lack the focus and punch needed to bring my points home.

  17. dg – you know just about everything you mentioned that a seminarian would need in order to minister effectively, I believe those who move through this curricula would have. No, they wouldn’t have a systematic theology or church history (at least post-ACTS history) but they would certainly learn the others. Not in specific classes or seminars but by observing them as practiced by the apostles. They would be able to think through their theology because they would be so saturated with the Biblical Text. They might not be “Purpose Driven” but I dare say they would be Bible driven.
    You know, given the fairly dismal results of much of current seminary education, the near total absence of biblical knowledge in our pews, maybe, and I might be stretching it a bit here, but maybe this model may be superior to the seminary model we currently have which in many cases is more concerned with degrees and academia than ministry.
    By the way, I am not against seminary, I plan on attending once I retire from the military. But I do think that we have over professionalized the pastorate and ministry and find it a shame that seminary grads many times know more about “culture” and programs than they do the scriptures.
    Terry Thomas
    Del City, OK, USA

    • Also not wanting to criticize all seminaries equally, but 2Tim.3:16-17 does come to mind . . . “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

  18. I might also add that there is an increasing number of churches that are adopting a “train locally” in the local church model which I think more closely reflects the first century. John Piper and the Bethlehem Institute becoming a church based seminary, Sovereign Grace Ministries Pastors College.

    Again Seminary is fine but I would suggest that the brothers in the Home Church movement in China are learning all of the “relational” tasks you mentioned as they live, study and prepare in that context.

  19. >> TERRY: I would suggest that the brothers in the Home Church movement in China are learning all of the “relational” tasks you mentioned as they live, study and prepare in that context.

    I am skeptical of such a claim, in part because I was part of a college parachurch ministry that reviled normal seminary, and put many young men into leadership, something scripture warns against. Now, perhaps these men would have been better equipped to minister having had at least the training you mention above. Needless to say, they were intolerant, controlling, insecure, and spiritually abusive.

    I also suggest that, again, the problem with American churches, though it may stem from the leadership on down, may not be a problem that could be solved with shorter, ‘bible only’ education and church structure.

    In fact, I think our church structure IS part of the problem, but not the problem you are supposing that this education solves.

    In fact, I think that proposing longer sermons EXACERBATES one of our main problems, that of passive learning in church members rather than giving them more time to actively participate in ministry.

    Rather than spoon feeding them every week, we should be training them to feed themselves, and spend more of our corporate time in corporate *ministry* rather than pretending that paying attention to hour long sermons will make us more spiritual.

    I am all for LEADERS being subjected to long training and education, but again, with a bias for action, not mere preaching.

    I think that one of the reasons that the Apostle Paul may have spent lots of time in sermonizing is because there was no New Testament, and someone had to continually explain the new revelation and it’s relation to the OT. I don’t think he was necessarily giving us the only or best model for post-canon church.

    Sure, we still need teachers, though not with the heavy emphasis we give in our current church structure of weekly Sunday services full of spectators and passive students.

    To me, enthusiasm for this simplistic approach may reflect some of our own needs and failures in the west, but I maintain that such training, and the supposition that longer sermons make for better disciples and churches, is really off the mark, and will NOT produce the results of growing churches with active disciples that those high on this model think it will.

    >> TERRY: there is an increasing number of churches that are adopting a “train locally” in the local church model which I think more closely reflects the first century.

    I have seen this for the last couple of decades at least, where local seminaries, esp. lay seminaries, are created, and leaders are developed from within. This is definitely more efficient and perhaps even superior to creating Professional Christians in our seminaries.

    However, as someone who would like to make pastoring my full time paid occupation, I would like to have both passion, a full education, AND professional organizational skills in order to do a good job.

    I know that the anointing and obedience are of primary importance, but I still want to do my best to give people the best, most balanced leadership I can.

  20. danielg,
    With all due respect (and I really do mean that), I think you’ve spent too much time reading books on current pastoral models which are a reaction to some previous bad models. There are many healthy churches that have preachers who proclaim the word for an hour, but see it as more than education; it’s transformative. The Christians in those churches are doing an excellent job of reaching their cities for Christ and living godly lives.

    I think that there is always a danger of following some like an Andy Stanley (or a Mark Dever!) and think they are golden in all they say, when in reality their models of ministry have problems too.

    Perhaps we should also stop and think about much more some of these Chinese Christians are learning, growing, gathering, gospeling like the early church?

    I’ve “the million a year” from more than one place. I think that number takes into consideration the underground believers that are coming to Christ without any clear, public records. Most recently I heard one million a year as an estimate from D. A. Carson, which I consider to be a pretty reliable source 🙂


  21. John – you can get the “million a year” from lots of sources, including me (although I wouldn’t claim to be as authoritative a source on everything as D.A.Carson). However, if you’ll look back over the comments, you’ll find yourself quoting “Lewsta” and both of you referring to “a million converts daily.” Slight difference and hence my correction for the sake of accuracy 🙂 Thanks for engaging with this post brother, much appreciated!

  22. Preaching is about 10% of the ministry. But in regards to preaching in and of itself, it should never be done without faith being present.

    Much of the debating over preaching comes from a pure intellectual standpoint only and not from a heart basis. The old saying, “You can’t give what you don’t have” would most likely be appropriate to say.

    Jesus could not do much of anything in his hometown because the absence of faith on the part of those who were hearing him (preach or teach).

    Regardless of the style of delivery and preparation I have found it imperative to build faith in the atmosphere before launching out on the waters of preaching. As a matter of fact I will not preach or teach where there is no faith. China has built a solid foundation of faith and I believe the rigourous preparation of ministers at the end of the year is to be able to effectively meet the faith level of that nation.

    Paul Palmer

  23. Pingback: Route 66: Introduction

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