How do you plan your preaching? Do you select sermon titles on Mondays? Do you work on sermons two or three weeks ahead? For me, summer was the time to work on the whole year’s sermons. While other activities slowed down, I could find time in my schedule to look at the upcoming year and plan accordingly. To be sure, the best laid plans can sometimes come undone: There will always be two or three Sundays that will need to be changed over the year, but usually 90% of the sermons planned will go forward with little change.
When I explain this to younger clergy, they find it hard to believe. So, let me explain that there is a way to do this and it can be tremendously freeing. So, here goes …
First, create a sermon calendar. [Click here to download a 2016-2017 preaching calendar.]
I’ve put one together for you for next year. Take time to look at the Sundays and high Holy Days for the full year. When does Christmas fall? Is Advent on top of Thanksgiving? How early is Easter? When do we start Lent? What special Sundays do we observe in our church? (If you are “St. Andrew’s”, do you have an annual celebration of St. Andrew’s Day on November 30 or the closest Sunday, which often is the First Sunday in Advent as well.) Are there special community events which need to be added to the calendar: Rodeo Weekend, County Fair, Harvest Sunday, Community Picnic, others? All of these will have some effect on the minds of the congregation and should be taken into consideration as you plan worship.
Next is to cast about for themes. You can plan a full year of Sunday stand-alone sermons. You can also preach with every month having a special theme, or even a special theme for the whole year. There is no right or wrong way to select themes. Be creative. Be sensitive to the spiritual needs of the community or the country. Steal creatively – if you liked what another preacher did with a sermon series feel free to adapt it to your situation, and give credit in the first sermon, then make it your own. However, your people will find it easier to latch on to what you are doing if you share with them that you are working from a theme.
Use the Revised Common Lectionary creatively. It’s not cast in stone; it is not required; it is just a suggestion for preachers who are challenged creatively. There are lots of resources available to prime the pump if you start with the lectionary. There are several versions available on line. Some have preaching helps, some include the weekly liturgical readings, some even provide hymn suggestions. Use these with caution. Just as they can kick start creativity, they can blunt your creativity if you come to rely on them too much. Some are excellent and, frankly, some need to be avoided.
Keep in mind that Methodist preachers enjoy the “freedom of the pulpit”. We are free to speak out as we feel guided by the Holy Spirit — the prophetic utterance, the call to action, the acts of contrition, the passionate pleadings — are all available to the preacher. But the congregation is also free to vote with their feet. As you comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, you also must pay the bills and keep the heat and air conditioning on. You must educate and entertain, enlighten and encourage, and get everyone home in a timely manner.
The next task is to pick the hymns. I’ve generally picked my own hymns. I know the hymnal better than most choir directors, and I know what people will sing. But, if you aren’t that musical, you can always hand off that task to the choir director. Feel free to make your suggestions on the calendar if there are hymns you really want included on that day. If you know that you want to sing “For All the Saints” as your first hymn on All Saints Sunday, put that on the calendar; if you don’t, then the choir director may use it for an Introit.
I find it helpful to have an office hymnal that sits on my desk. As I select a hymn for a service, I write in the date in pencil at the top of the page. I try not to sing a hymn more than once or twice a year. I pick hymns that are first topical and second seasonal, with a strong bent toward singable. Feel free to introduce new hymns, but make sure the choir is well rehearsed and have them sing the first verse so everyone can hear it before they sing it.
If you are fortunate to have more than one musical option, you will want to give some attention to how often and on what occasion these groups will sing. I always tried to have the Children’s Choir sing on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Sometimes a Men’s Choir would also sing on Mother’s Day and a Women’s Ensemble would sing on Father’s Day. However your church sings, have a plan for how to do it well.
Finally, give some attention to your liturgist/readers. Who are the best in the church? Make sure to schedule them early for the biggest Sundays.
Give yourself some time to get into a good flow with it all. It may take several days to lay out the sermons for the whole year. But, when you are done, you have saved yourself a lot of time every week going forward. Some of those weeks, when you get slammed with several emergencies all at once, you will be really thankful that you have done this preliminary work.
When your sermon planning is done, it would be wise to share copies (electronic or printed) with everyone who has anything to do with worship for the next year: choir director(s), worship committee chair, liturgist coordinator, secretary, administrative assistant, associate pastors, then they can plan ahead to work with you.
Copyright 2016 by Steve Petty