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.
Influencers are leaders. So preachers are leaders. But how much do we lead in our preaching? Take the issue of preaching calendars, for example. At one extreme we have churches that have no calendar planned, or only preachers planned (but no subjects/texts). I suppose the ultimate example might be church that relies fully on visiting speakers who all choose their own message for each service. At the other extreme we have churches who carefully map out the entire year of preaching, so that you can know now what text will be preached the second Sunday of next October.
Some would hold that only the Holy Spirit should lead the church, and thus the random outside preacher approach is fine since God can work through whoever is preaching. I suppose we could all agree to that in principle, but at the same time, I want to graciously ask a question of that approach. Is there not the risk of simply presenting biblical truths without any sense of deliberately leading the church forward on its journey? How much opportunity is missed by “simply preaching” without really tapping into the broader reality of the growth of the local church?
Now for those who have a well-planned preaching calendar. Is it merely constructed by the gathering of series in some attempt to give a balanced diet? That’s a good start, but again, are we failing to lead as well as the opportunity affords? Do we fall into preaching collections of random messages strung together by the unity of a Bible book, or a series title, but fail to prayerfully plot the journey of the church? Or are we plotting a journey 16 months in advance and failing to take stock of where we actually have travelled several months into the year?
One further thought. Do we rely on one-hit messages to achieve change when really we would be far better with a cluster of messages approach? One-hit messages can be stand alone, or they can be a series that moves from one thing to the next, without the clustering power intended by a series.
Wherever our church sits on the scale of pre-planned preaching schedules, all of us are in danger of missing out on the opportunity to really lead the church as we preach. Let’s prayerfully consider how God would have us carry the burden of leadership, every time we plan a preaching schedule, and every time we preach.
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?
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!