One of the most helpful ways to preach faithfully to a local congregation is to have a long-term plan. It doesn’t limit the Holy Spirit, but I think the process connects you even more to Him in your preparation and delivery.
As a pastor, I have a burden to share God’s Word with God’s people. I never want to shrink back from preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) meaning that I work to give a balanced, biblical diet of what our specific congregation needs.
I also know that the further out I can plan, the more helpful sermons can be. If you stay week to week, it is difficult to coordinate helpful resources, follow-up programs, or next steps. Typically, I spend some time in the fall of every year to pray, plan, and prepare a preaching guide for the next calendar year. The goal is to have every passage, title, and 2-sentence description for all 52 weeks by October.
If that seems daunting to you, it really doesn’t have to be. Here are 4 questions to ask to get you started.
#1. Where are our people spiritually?
You must shepherd the flock that is among you (1 Pet. 5:2). Where are they drifting? Where do they need protecting? What is going on in the world or their world that needs to be addressed with the Bible? I typically start by evaluating where our congregation is and acknowledging the most legitimate needs for their sanctification.
#2. What part of the Bible speaks to that best?
Once I know the need, I go looking for the best place to address it. If contentious politics is an issue, I go to Daniel. If suffering is a problem, I go to 1 Peter. If spiritual fervor is waning, I go to the Psalms. If anxiety is rising and joy is lacking, I go to Philippians.
#3. How many weeks will it take to preach through that?
Once I determine the best books or sections to help address those needs, I study to see how long it will actually take me to preach through it. It might be 5 weeks scattered in Proverbs addressing financial wisdom or it might be 52 weeks going through the Gospel of Mark learning how to follow Jesus.
#4. What is the best time of year to address it?
You don’t have to be led by the seasons and holidays, but you do need to be aware of them. When you plan according to the ebb and flow of the year, it helps you address holidays (Christmas, Resurrection Sunday, Mother’s Day, etc.), helps you strategize for when would be the best time to launch a vision type of series (typically beginning of school or after 1st of the year is the best), and prepares for lulls in attendance where it is difficult to build on a narrative week to week (like the summer or rough patches of winter in some areas).
The Simple Process
I love using a whiteboard, notepad, calendar, but ultimately, I end up on a spreadsheet.
With the dates in far left column, I will type out passages in the next column and simple phrase to describe it, and I will move that list around on the dates to try to make it work best to address all needs and maximize all opportunities.
After a general guide, I sit on it for a while. I talk with folks and get feedback or affirmation. And then I know what books to budget for, how to coordinate our plans as a church to work with the pulpit and not isolated from it, and it keeps me meditating on those passages throughout the year leading up to it.
I was never taught how to do long-term sermon planning, but I am getting more comfortable with it every year.
So, I am not saying this way is the best, but it is the only one I know. Maybe it could help you plan a preaching calendar or line up something else in your life.
What I love is that I see the Holy Spirit working through the planning and the preaching.
I was confident back in 2019 of a few things that we needed to address as a church. Looking back, I am so thankful that the Spirit led me into what I thought was a wise plan but was a necessary one.
- I preached through Financial Proverbs right before an economic downturn.
- I was preaching through Philippians with a Christian physically separated from the church he loved when quarantine hit.
- I preached through a group of Psalms to help guide our emotions and reprioritize worship.
- I am finishing preaching through Daniel which highlights the struggles of political pressure and religious devotion during the most contentious political time in our lives.
I pray that the Holy Spirit uses me in the pulpit, but I also believe He can use me in the study.
Maybe these four questions can help you position yourself to hear from Him as well.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Distinctive Discipleship. He is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. Travis graduated from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Christian Studies and earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with his doctoral focus on family discipleship.