“God tells me what to preach”
I did not argue with my new friend when he told me that, but neither did I believe him. Which of course is a subject for another day, about how God speaks to us.
But most of us have to grapple, analyze, and pray for wisdom as we plan our preaching calendar, so here we tackle ways to do that. In a day when people skip church a lot, and skip any personal Bible times more than ever, and skip around to different churches, and sometimes even skip the sermon if they just like their group or the music, what we preach and teach is mighty important.
The same pastor who told me God tells him what to preach—and he said it in front of eight other preaching pastors—then added, to our surprise and united silence, “Last week He changed it on me on my way walking to the pulpit.” Serious. I did not search for the recording, so I do not know how it went.
I do know that is not the way it works for most of us. We struggle to forecast a schedule, and stutter when deciding who is right about how many of 52 Sundays we should preach (and the range is wide, from 26 to 49, in the ones I have seen!).
Maybe the three of us, with varying habits all subject to change, can help you think about the ways you write your sermon map. We hope so.
God did tell us all to love and help each other!
For all three of us,
What process do you use, and why?
- I try to start with where the congregation and the community are. What are people dealing with in their everyday lives, and what questions are they asking of God in real-time?
- Then, take them to God’s Word, and you can take them deep into God’s Word, but you need to actually answer their questions instead of just throwing up an academic idea that has, in their minds, no relevance to life. Creatively take them down the thought process to that idea and then ground them in it.
- The unchurched people are asking, “Does it work? And if it works, it’s true.” Helping people see that there are biblical solutions to their life issues is huge.
- You should lead from your pulpit, asking, Where does the church need to go? and, Where do we need to develop and lead them in our preaching?
- Finally, there are times you’ll need to ask, Where are the essentials that have not been in the preaching schedule? We use the Nicene Creed as a foundation point and ask ourselves, Have we talked about these things? Then, make sure those are also being taught in the church.
- I do not plan a year in advance like some do. I generally have an idea of two sermon series, but I always prep in the week I am preaching.
- I work hard at praying and gauging where our people are and often plan a series or a book study that hits where we need it the most.
- I strive to make sure it is a combination of relevant, practical, and sound theology.
- If something significant is happening in our world or community I will pull away from the plan and address it that Sunday. We need to show our people how God’s Word is applicable to every life situation.
- In my planning I always ask this question, Who am I talking to this week? That question keeps you at the heartbeat of your church
- I try to have a balance between Old Testament and New Testament.
- I long to equip our people to be able to defend what they believe and not just give them information.
- I am constantly jotting down thoughts and ideas throughout the week that God is teaching me with hopes that I can utilize them in an upcoming sermon.
- I mapped out sermons for September – August the summer before, with most series being through a book in the Bible and with the idea I could change direction, of course. Also, with these guidelines in addition:
Christmas emphasis includes four to five sermons on the coming and life of our Savior—Christmas at church, unlike Easter, is not just one day. Easter season—Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Day—all dictate the texts to be used,
Cover one OT book and one NT book through the year—long books like Genesis, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Matthew, for instance, might be by themes but would still cover a paragraph of verses in context.
Insert theological coverage or interpretation of any overshadowing current event—we probably all did this the Sunday after 9/11, for instance. There are way too many regular tragedies, of course, but good judgment will help us know what is wise. I never thought I had to preach a particular emphasis on Mother’s Day or Memorial Day, the Fourth, or other holidays, but I certainly think we must acknowledge such national events. At least pray for mothers and all women, give God thanks for our country, etc. If everyone is thinking about a recent hurricane or local-team sports victory, we should not allow them to infer we live in a cave with Scripture and no news!
- I always felt expositional preaching would cover every topic dictated by headlines or cultural trends, and a speaker can insert other pertinent biblical statements as needed.
- Now as a guest-speaker or coach-speaker I either fit into their series or do a stand-alone appropriate for their church.
What are the dangers or cautions of any process?
- There is danger if you don’t preach the whole counsel of God… so if you tend to be more of a topical person, you must be disciplined to be sure you’re getting all the deep aspects of theology and doctrine taught as well.
- The danger of being exegetical is that you don’t do anything that’s practical or helpful for people and you get lost in the weeds instead of seeing the big picture of all God wants to do. The goal is to preach the whole counsel of God in a way that is challenging, encouraging, instructive, and relatable.
- If you get too rigid in your planning you can miss the moves of God.
- You can easily lose touch with that is happening in the world and miss the opportunity to show people how Jesus is the hero of every story.
- Lack of exegetical preaching can limit the rich truths in God’s Word.
- It’s always good to have an open discussion with someone you trust on your preaching and planning. Remain teachable and humble.
- You can lose creativity and a reliance on the Holy Spirit if you plan without praying.
- Going through a book—we can easily please a language prof and easily miss the average attender who wants to know how God wants her to live. Or we can be so redundant about the main themes of the book or so slow and pedantic about the progression through the chapters, that it is boring. As if knowing the content of the book is the main purpose, not life change.
- Self-help themes or short topics can easily dive off of a verse each week to give the pastor’s hopes on a current subject, rather than a personal look at what the Bible says—which is what God says. This is called expositional preaching. J
- Only four Sundays on every topic can have minds missing the inspired contexts of verses used.
- One person, the lead pastor, is sometimes the only one judging what will be preached. Good friends, fellow pastors, and strong advisors in the church can be good sounding boards for planning sermons. At the same time, the pastor is the one who “eats and sleeps” the place and the pulpit and should be the main determiner. I personally don’t think surveys help much.
What about the Old Testament, Andy?
- You should teach the Old Testament and Andy has a point. Andy said out loud what most of us wrestle with on the inside—that the Old Testament principles of genocide and go stone your children and women outside the camp—those things are difficult when they’re left alone to answer. When they’re put into the broad narrative of God, they’re not any more difficult than other truths that God teaches. We shouldn’t abandon them but use all of that to reveal the heart and the mind of God.
- Yes, yes to the Old Testament. It is loaded with rich biblical and life principles. We must always preach the whole counsel of God. There is danger when we don’t do a good job of explaining the context from which the Old Testament was written.
I agree to disagree with some stands Andy takes on preaching from the Old Testament, but he has some valid counsel on how it can be taken out of context for today’s New Testament believer or seeker.
- I personally love preaching from the Old Testament. Narrative preaching is so rich and connects well with people today.
- Well, I don’t know who this Andy is J, but I know Jesus really liked the Old Testament, taught from it, and seemed to think God does not contradict himself in His Testaments.
- To be fair, none of us who cherish grace likes to use the hell-before-its-time judgment wars on Israel’s enemies to persuade unbelievers to consider following Jesus Christ. But actually, the judgment common in Israel’s clearing out the land and all the difficult laws remind us, or should, about the need for forgiveness and grace.
The most severe judgment ever was put on Jesus at the cross—so God has not changed!
- When the “preach the Word” command was given, Paul’s listeners mostly had the Old Testament. But while careful study is necessary, because we are not under the law, we are confident to show some teachings and incidents as incentives to get us to the cross as quickly as possible. To grace! Even the Ten Commandments are a “school bus” to drive us to Jesus Christ and His mercy and grace. We need Him or we die! See Hebrews 12:18-24, a gorgeous reminder!
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Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit cenational.org/pastorpedia for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.