9 reasons to plan your preaching


How far ahead do you you plan your sermons? Someone asked me this week, and was rather surprised when I said that my pattern in church was eighteen months ahead. Why so long? Here were my reasons

Authenticity. I need to get inside this Biblical book and let it read me, repeatedly. I need to know every paragraph, every turn of phrase, and be able to pick it up at any point and know where I am. Wear that part of your Bible out.

Relevance. I want this part of God’s Word to burn into me so I know what he is saying to his people, and why I have to preach it. I see how it connects with a range of individuals in church, with this church as a whole, and with the wider plan of God. Then I know how I’m praying as I prepare.

Resources. I need some time to get hold of the best commentaries. I start with some commentary surveys, check out the reviews of some from reliable series, and ask around. And once I’ve got the two or three new friends (or dusted off the of ones). I get inside them. I read the commentaries through and mark them up ahead of the series.

Consistency. If you’re the only preacher in the series this is easy, but if it’s shared you’ll want to make sure the team is all on the same page theologically, and aware of how key issues will be handled. Prepare a briefing paper to show how and why the series works.

Balance. Not every sermon has to do everything. So if you’ve a series on Joshua planned, work out which will be the one with the map and the timeline, which will do the heavy lifting on biblical theology, which will tackle the ethical issues of the slaughter of the Canaanites – and so on

Quality. Set up a Manila file for each sermon (OK, an Evernote notebook if you can), and chuck anything in there that’s relevant over the next few months. News stories, quotes, a movie clip, someone you want to interview, a song you sang at a conference where verse 3 really hit you – whatever.

Depth. As you come up with a difficult issue spend some unpressed time researching it ahead of time. What is the right answer about the slaughter of the Caanonites? And be ready to pass on some resources to the keen listeners who want to know more.

Focus. Planning to integrate the home groups, discipleship, prayer meetings?  Planning a three month campaign.  The sermons are the spine, so build out from that.

Design. Give your creatives the space to plan the artwork – perhaps the design of a consistent set of templates for the Powerpoints for the series, or a banner, or leaflets. And allow the people who plan the services the time to assemble songs, prayers, readings, responses – whatever you put in there.

And then, as you crack open your Bible on Monday morning, you’ve some idea where your heading.

Finishing. You poured a lot of time and heart into that series, and people no doubt said how helpful they’d found it – so why not publish it? I don’t mean the full on, old style publishing – but write an e-book to give away on your blog. Self publish with lulu.com to produce just enough to have available at your church.

Then, do it again!

4 comments on “9 reasons to plan your preaching”

  1. I like this, it leaves me with one question, what do I preach for the first eighteen months in a new post? As I write those words I have another question: What do I preach if I am higher or lower (depending on how you feel about the Anglican church structure) in the food chain?

    I would confess to a four month planning cycle, might aim for this.

    1. Hi woody – I’d aim for some simple and straightforward stuff: a gospel, some psalms, an epistle without too many problems (Philippians, perhaps). While you’re doing those, think about your first really demanding series in about a year’s time. see my reply to Andy Bleach on planning – but I realise that may not suit you!

  2. Good thoughts Chris but I too have the same question. How do you get to that point of being so far ahead?


    1. Good question, Bleachy. So here’s the deal: like mountaineering, a clear view of the summit is only achieved by a tough journey to get there. So I am told.

      Here’s what you do.

      1. Right now, grab your diary and identify a day in about six weeks’ time when you’re going to do some serious planning. Put it in the diary and let nothing move it – this is your staff meeting with yourself. Also put in the diary a couple of days in about two month’s time with similar ring-fencing.

      2. On that day, you want first to plan an annual rhythm. So put in the diary (a) that two-day block when you know you can be quiet – this is for your serious annual planning, (b) four mornings, once every three months for your quarterly review, and (c) an hour a week for your weekly review. Plan these for the next couple of years, but aim for your first annual review to happen asap. If you’re digital, set them up as regularly occurring events and then you’re sorted.

      3. Next, take a hard look at the next six months and identify every talk or sermon you’re going to be giving. Set up a paper and/or virtual notebook for each one (I use Evernote) – if you need to go to buy some files, do so.

      4. If you use an electronic planner, set up one calendar just for talks and sermons – in that we you can review and add to your talks list with ease, and always have an overview to hand.

      5. As you review that list (and this is still on that first day, remember) flag up any talks or series that really will need extra prep, and put that in the diary ahead of time. Plan any purchases of commentaries

      6. Take a deep breath and make sure that you’ve got the next six months covered; you’ve not started some momentum and bought yourself some time.

      7. Before you have your 48 hours thinking time, get your head around this long-term planning cycle. If you are a book person, I strongly recommend ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen; if you prefer online, I suggest you subscribe to the email list for MichaelHyatt.com (a Christian) and use the free planning guide he suggests. Your goal on the 48 hours is to do the planning – your task before you get there, is to be familiar enough with what you’re going to have to do that you can hit the ground running.

      8. And set up a paper/virtual file for that 48 hours and chuck in any ideas or things you want to remember.

      9. See if you can get away, at least for the daytime (know any nice cafes near a beach?) Especially, see if you can get away from emails and web surfing.

      That should get you started on the planning rhythm.


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