December 12, 2018 • Dennis Ellingburg
The other day I was in Sunday School and we were discussing how often times the Sunday Sermon lines up with the Sunday School lesson and other Bible studies we have going on. I shared that this was completely God’s Sovereignty and was not the result of me scouring the Sunday School material before hand. I said, “I plan my preaching out ever November and December for the next year, so it is totally the work of God through the Word of God.
I was shocked when one of the men in the class said, “Well, I don’t agree with that! How can you know what needs to be preached a year ahead of time?” It wasn’t the first time I had been asked that question, but never in such a blatant and straightforward way. After telling the man that I appreciated his honesty, I then shared with him some reasons I feel preparing your preaching a year in advance is biblical and helpful.
If God is Omniscient then He knows our people’s needs
O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar… Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
First, if God is omniscient, then it is no stretch to believe that the man of God who prayerfully comes to the Word of God will not be given insight into the verses and sermons that our people will need. Yes, there is the issue of the pastor’s own sinful heart and sin’s effects on his ability to hear clearly, but this is just as much a danger the week of as it is even a year out. Additionally, preparing our preaching does not replace the weekly preparation of wrestling with the text, but simply gives us direction each week and helps us to be balanced in our preaching.
I have been amazed and encouraged as people have come to me and said, “Pastor, how did you know that I was going through this this week.” What a powerful moment for me and the member when I can say, “God knew 6 months ago that you would be going through this and he spoke to me so that I could give you this message when you needed it. What an awesome, sovereign God we serve!
Planning Keeps us From Too Much Repetition
for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
We all have theological topics and points of doctrine that we cherish. We know our people and we know that they have specific sins they are struggling with, spiritual disciplines they neglect, and topics that interest them. We should address these often and not neglect meeting our people where they are. But we must also recognize that our congregations are made up of various people at differing stages of spiritual maturity. We also need to remember that often it is by hearing the word of God preached that our people are stretched and encouraged to grow.
We are called to preach “the whole counsel of God” not just those topics and messages that we enjoy preaching. By planning my preaching I can take a list of essential doctrines, and important topics and see where they fit in the year of preaching I am planning. I preach through books of the Bible, but even so if I don’t plan my preaching I can get tunnel vision in a particular book and preach the same doctrines over and over again. Also, when I preach hard messages, or preach topics I’m unfamiliar or uncomfortable with it stretches and grows my faith. This is incredibly important. Remember pastor, you are not a finished product!
Planning Your Preaching Saves Time
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction.
2 Timothy 4:2
I remember when I first started preaching. Every week I would come into my office on Monday and panic would set in. “I have one week to prepare 3 sermons and I have no idea what I’m going to preach.” I would pray, “God speak to me” and then I would read several different passages hoping that a topic would hit me. Even when I was preaching through a book of the Bible, Mondays were stressful as I scoured the verse for something to say that was different or unique or fresh. Inevitably I would be rushing by Thursday, finishing up my AM and PM sermons, hoping it was effective.
Does this sound familiar? Planning our preaching takes that stress out of my preaching. Every November I begin to read through the books of the Bible I will preach through the next year and break down important themes and doctrines. Then I break the book into preaching units, come up with a title, and check to make sure my series is rounded and doctrinally sound. No more Thursday mornings rushing through the finishing touches on my sermon for Sunday morning. Now, I have the outline to my AM sermon done on Monday, and begin to put muscles and sinew on the bones by Tuesday, wrapping it up by putting in illustrations and stories on Saturday night. The same is true for my Wednesday and Sunday PM sermons.
Planning your Preaching helps you Prepare to Rest
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
H. B. Charles Jr. said this about rest and preaching, “It is not preaching that so drains preachers. It is the sermon preparation process. Sermons don’t grow on trees. If you take your preaching seriously, it will cost you labor in the study…The preacher’s health – both physically and spiritually – requires that he break the routine at intervals.” (1)
Pastors, preaching is hard work. It requires long hours, attention to detail, and tremendous mental focus. By planning your preaching, a pastor can also plan for those times he will not preach, which is just as important. Every year over 3,000 (2) ministers leave the ministry, the vast majority of them never to return. Though this is far less than the reported 1700 pastors who leave the ministry each month, this is still 250 men who leave the ministry for one reason or another. Burnout is a very real danger for anyone in pastoral ministry. Friendship, counseling and rest are some of the best ways to stave off burnout, but if we don’t plan for these, then we will find no time for these essentials to our mental health.
Each year I plan to be out of the pulpit no less than six times. That includes 2 weeks of vacation, 2 weeks of revivals, and 2 weeks to go on youth trips, revival and/or to have a special speaker in to preach. These are essential to my health and to the health of my ministry. A church that will not allow their pastor time to get away and recharge either does not understand the difficulties of pastoring or does not have their pastor’s best interest at heart.
Planning your preaching is not an easy process, but its a rewarding one. I have found my preaching to be much more deep, biblical and helpful to my people when I plan my preaching. This does not mean that adjustments to the circumstances of life do not and should not sometimes call us to adjust our plans, but a prayed over, well thought out preaching plan is immensely important, especially to a small church pastor without a staff.
- Charles, H. B. Jr., And Essential Part of Planning Your Preaching, online – July 25, 2013. https://www.hbcharlesjr.com/2013/07/25/an-essential-part-of-planning-your-preaching/
- Lisa Cannon Green, Despite Stresses, Few Pastors Give Up On Ministry, online – September 1, 2015. https://lifewayresearch.com/2015/09/01/despite-stresses-few-pastors-give-up-on-ministry/