Summer is a great time to begin planning out sermons for the church year, which in a practical sense begins when school starts in the fall (even though the liturgical calendar says it begins with Advent). A sermon planning retreat is an effective use of your time when the program calendar is a little more relaxed.
First, let me suggest that you will need a copy of the latest and most highly perfected sermon planning tool. I searched year after year for the perfect sermon planning tool. After all, there must be a way to create a sequence of clever sermon topics along with a classic (must be published as a book!) sermon series or two that will transform thousands of lives.
Alas, after 30 years of bumping around, I found the perfect tool. It is extremely effective, always on track, and never varies more than a day every four years. I’m talking about your basic paper calendar. I used up my share of yellow legal pads, a few hundred Big Chief Tablets, along with an unknown number of pink erasers on yellow number two pencils only to find the tool of a lifetime hanging on the wall above my computer.
Now, what is the best way to use this creative and graphic presentation that covers one preaching month after another?
Step One: The first step involves finding a friend or two, setting a date, and deciding on a destination for your planning retreat. I like to work with others because they help to hold me accountable, they make me more productive, and they are likely to have some great ideas to share. Now, pack your bag, load the car, and set your GPS for your favorite retreat center or remote hotel. Don’t forget your calendar!
Step Two: Unpack your gear with special attention to new favorite sermon planning tool. Make a decision right away to enter into a significant time of prayer. Seek God’s will about the overall message you will proclaim over the next few months. Are you a lectionary based preacher or will you focus on topics, sequence, and a themed five week series or two? Highlight the significant days, special services, and liturgical seasons. You may want to build an annual framework around Advent and Lent as the central pillars of your plan.
Step Three: Ask the Holy Spirit to gather your thoughts, draw close to your soul, and inspire your fragile steps forward. Then…
- Work from themes that you already know your congregation needs to approach.
- Allow God to use the people around you to speak into your life as a preacher.
- Be sure to take time to walk outside with your thoughts turned toward creation.
- Work at a pace and time schedule that fits your personality, whether it’s in short bursts or long sessions.
- Write down every idea the Lord brings your way.
- Start refining and narrowing the field as you look for themes that will speak to your congregation’s current season and situation in ministry.
- Let the themes of discipleship, evangelism, and stewardship touch every series.
- Begin to block out time frames on your calendar with themes and sequence.
- Pencil in a plan for six months or a year, then go for another prayer walk to let it settle.
- Ultimately, you will have a plan. Just be sure it is not simply YOUR plan but the Lord’s plan
Perhaps the most significant thing any preacher can do is to create a strategy for continually growing your own personal spiritual journey. The depth of your journey will determine the wisdom of your preaching. Most of us get so consumed with the weekly expectation of sermon preparation and delivery that we let it supersede our own personal experience with the Lord. If we let the Lord come first, our preaching calendar will be just right.