Space: Dreaming and Planning

This week I’ve been pondering space, which seems to be increasingly hard to find.  Our world seems to be getting noisier and busier, but also ministry demands tend to increase over time for preachers too (presumably demand drops off eventually!)  In the midst of the busy schedule of the immediate, we need to get time to dream and to plan.

1. Planning future preaching.  Somewhere in the schedule it is worth making time to think through ideas for preaching beyond the present series or preferred sections.  It is easy to get repetitive, or even stuck, when there is no space to pull back, look up and look ahead.  Some preachers take a week out each year and sketch out a rough plan for a year’s worth of preaching.  For others it might not be so organised, but there is still benefit to thinking through where you might do well to go in your preaching.  Obviously circumstances change, the needs of the church change, there has to be room for change.  But it isn’t good leadership to always be in a purely reactive mode.  What sections of the canon have you not touched for a while, or ever?  What types of preaching have you not used in a while, or ever?  What subjects would stretch you, and others?

2. Planning future ministry.  There is more to ministry than preaching.  But if we live in the cycle of deadlines, we can easily fall into just preaching.  But what about training others?  That doesn’t happen accidentally.  You won’t mentor and launch others, or mentor to replace yourself, if you don’t put some planning into it.  What about writing?  Some should stop trying.  Others should create time to make it happen.  What about training I should be getting now for ministry in the future?  That could be as informal as reading on a subject, or as formal as pursuing a degree in an area.  None of this happens by accident.

3. Dreaming future ministry.  Somehow planning isn’t enough.  God is able to do abundantly more than we ask or even imagine.  Do we dare to dream?  For some of us, God doesn’t have much to do to surpass our imaginations!  We need to create space to dream of what could be, what should be, what might be.  I know this seems crazy, but imagine if . . . and if God would . . . then maybe . . .   It is hard to quantify what might happen if we all took time to pray and dream, chasing the desires of our hearts with a God who delights to give in line with the yearning He has birthed in us.

Natural Born Series

Some preachers plan series in a relatively simple manner.  They select a book of the Bible and then preach, unit by unit, through the book, or through a section.  Others select a topic and select appropriate passages to organize a topical series.  I am not critiquing either approach, but want to offer another option too.

Just as we are in danger of reading the Bible to look for a message, so we can fall into reading the Bible to look for a series.  One way this manifests itself is in the sections we dismiss, as much as those we select.  For instance, what if we were looking in the Psalms and were drawn to a section like the Psalms of Ascent?  Well, fifteen weeks might be too long for a series, so we are tempted to look elsewhere.

As often as possible we should simply soak in the text.  Like taking a leisurely bath rather than a quick shower, we should take every opportunity to be saturated by a section.  Something happens once it gets into you.  Let’s push the analogy and say that the skin of our soul becomes wrinkly . . . even when you step out the evidence remains.

So for example, I was preparing a synopsis of a longer study on Psalms 107-118 (the section before the Ascent Psalms).  A dozen psalms that present a unified and powerful message.  If I had been looking for a series, I would have gone elsewhere because 12 weeks is probably too long.  (Or settled for the more obvious Egyptian Hallel of 113-118, missing the blessing of the first part of the sequence.)  But after soaking in this text for a while, I can’t help but find myself thinking of creative ways to present the message of this section.  Combining psalms, summarizing a block of three with a focus on one, perhaps even preaching a message that traces the flow through all twelve.

I soaked and now the wrinkly skin of my soul is looking for an opportunity to preach the section . . . in one message, in three, in five.  I suppose, like a leisurely bath, there is probably a fragrance that lingers from this kind of study, too.

Sometimes we have to plan very pragmatically.  Let’s be sure we also create space for soaking, slow, text-saturated, natural born series.

Congregational Calendar Input

When planning a preaching calendar, don’t forget a key resource – your target audience.  I heard of one pastor who would ask his congregation for passages or doctrines they found hard to understand, then would schedule a series responding to those subjects the following summer.  The advantages included that people felt their needs were taken seriously, they attended purposefully in the summer (rather than slacking in attendance), and it forced the preacher to go where he might naturally steer clear.

It’s an intriguing idea.  Have you ever done something similar?  How did it go?

Invest Some Time to Save Hours

Perhaps you are in charge of the preaching calendar.  Perhaps you are not, but sometimes get called on to preach.  Either way, it is worth investing time ahead of time to plan out some preaching plans.  Considering the needs of the people and how those might best be addressed from the Bible is an exercise well worth the effort and prayer you’ll put in.  Equally, listing out a set of sermons that you would like to prepare and preach is worth it even if you are only an occasional preacher.

Consider the alternative.  Without a preaching calendar you’ll find that Monday brings an impending sense of pressure.  Without a list of future sermons, an invitation to preach brings a tightness to the chest.  So many preachers waste so much time stressing about what they should preach next.  That time could better be invested in the next message’s preparation.  Whether you are picking a text or preparing to preach that text, you should be leaning on the Holy Spirit – so surely it is better to be preparing the message?  Whether you plan a year out or a week out, either way you should be relying on the Spirit of God to help you.

So don’t act like those hours of stress is a spiritual approach to an otherwise cold and professional approach.  Instead prayerfully plan ahead, thereby giving the Spirit more time to help you be ready when that Sunday finally arrives.  You can always change plans closer to the time, but changing plans is different than having no plans and all the stress that comes with it!