Variety is the spice of life. This maxim certainly applies to our preaching. Good variety can keep the preacher fresh and the congregation more engaged, so build an annual preaching calendar with a good mix of sermon series. Here are a few options:
Traditional Days and Seasons
Some variety is already built in to the preaching year if we use the traditional Christian seasons of Advent and Lent to prepare our congregations for Christmas and Easter. Advent provides a natural opportunity to present theological grounding about the significance of the Incarnation, or to show the continuity of Christ with the Old Testament through some of the prophetic passages. Lent is a great time to preach on the call of discipleship, spiritual disciplines, or to deepen understanding of the cross.
Traditional holy days, such as Baptism of the Lord, Transfiguration, Pentecost, Trinity, and Christ the King Sundays are excellent opportunities to preach a stand-alone sermon on those events or topics, or to build a series off that special Sunday. Examples include using Baptism of the Lord Sunday to begin a series on Christian baptism or planning a series on the Holy Spirit that concludes on Pentecost and prepares the congregation to understand the significance of that Sunday afresh.
A friend once set aside several weeks to preach at the intersection of current events. He stood up in worship with a copy of the local paper each Sunday and announced that the next week’s message would come from something that had been on the front page. This demonstrated a clear connection between the scriptures, the gospel, Christian worldview and ethics, and the events of the day. And the people arrived with a heightened sense of anticipation each week.
In every day and age, contemporary issues and challenges need to be approached in order to address doubt, strengthen faith, and help people apply the gospel to daily life. There is clearly a connection here to current events as well. This may be a place to tackle a range of difficult ethical or political issues such as same sex marriage, abortion, or how Christians should respond to refugee crises. Wrestling with hard topics such as violence in the Old Testament or the relationship between science and the Christian faith can model a faithful engagement with tough questions.
There will always be a place for working through classic discipleship, pastoral care, ethics, and apologetic topics such as prayer, stewardship, Christianity and war, and the problem of evil and suffering. Once, I preached on generosity in January with the disclaimer that we had already collected people’s pledges in the fall. Now, we could discuss money simply from a spiritual formation perspective without the predictable context of leading up to “Consecration Sunday” at the end. One August (in Texas!), I preached on the topic of hell for three Sundays. I knew they were hearing or thinking about it and wanted to put in my two cents worth of biblical teaching and theological reflection on the subject.
New Testament letters are obviously conducive to a passage-by-passage approach. But other books can be explored as well by taking shorter sections, with an eye toward working through the whole over a period of several years. An example of this might be breaking down the book of Genesis into chapters 1-11 on creation and what’s wrong with the world, chapters 12-23 on God’s redemptive call and promise to Abraham, chapters 24-35 on the Jacob and Esau saga, and chapters 37-50 on Joseph and God’s providence. Even doing one of these series a year would guide a congregation systematically through this great, foundational book in a four-year span.
For a twist on book studies, character studies can be a fresh way to increase biblical literacy and work through the narrative of scripture. Many of our people will recognize the names of major biblical figures, even while lacking much familiarity with their lives apart from one or two key stories. Preaching a character study series can broaden people’s engagement with notable biblical figures. Be intentional within this approach to find ways to preach on women in the Bible and on less well-known characters too.
No one likes to eat the same thing for every meal. Why do the same thing every week with the sermon? Plan the preaching calendar year-to-year with good variety to give congregations a solid scriptural foundation that connects with faithful engagement of everyday life.