Five Steps to Take in Moving Ahead

Every August, I start over. I begin again.

Charlotte and I have lived in Waco, Texas, for sixteen years this August. During this time, I have worked with one church. My role with this church includes aspects of preaching/teaching, leadership, and care for these people both in this church and outside the church. Each summer, I think and pray about my ministry here in these roles. I think about and plan my preaching/teaching for the next ten months.

For sixteen years, I have been away each July. Two weeks are vacation. Two weeks are spent in study and preparation for the next school year. I usually come back refreshed and ready to go to work. The preparation for this new year actually begins before I leave in July. Typically, I begin working toward this in May.

The following are five steps that I take during the summer to get ready for the fall:

1. Think about what is next in terms of preaching/teaching.

Each summer, I decide on a major series, theme, or text to use the following year. The most difficult decision is deciding upon a text. Generally, I will spend a significant time over the next year in one book of the Bible. This is not necessarily one long series. In fact, it may turn out to be several shorter series.

What goes into this decision? Much prayer over a period of months. I talk with people in our church. I observe the morale and thinking of people in our church. I make no decision based upon one conversation or any one person’s input. Rather, it comes after months of pondering this.  

2. Think about what is next in terms of our overall ministry as a church.

During the summer, I think about what is next for us as a church. Where does God seem to be leading us? What doors are open? What could this church and this ministry look like in several years? This is a time to think, pray, and dream about our future possibilities as a church.

3. Gather and sift through possible resources.

I typically begin collecting resources in May. For example, this next year, I plan to spend some time with our church on 2 Corinthians. Much of this book has to do with the nature of authentic ministry. So, I have been gathering for the last few weeks. I have gathered key commentaries, a number of articles, and some other resources. Lately, I have corresponded with several people, asking them to suggest key resources on this book. I am not looking for a large quantity of resources but rather the best quality resources that might be helpful in preaching/teaching. This week, for example, I have been listening to a podcast of several special lectures on 2 Corinthians. This is early preparation and it takes time.

4. Saturate.

Thirty minutes ago, I read the entire book of 2 Corinthians. I will do this again and again for the next few months. I will read through the book using different English translations. I will also read through the book paying attention to the original language. At some point, I will read through the book underlining key words and phrases. There is no substitute for simply reading and saturating oneself with Scripture.

As I read through the book, I think about the message and possible applications. I think about both my own life and the life of the church.

In addition to the preaching/teaching preparation that I am describing here, I will usually read a couple of books, which helps me think about our church and our ministry here. There are some books that help me look forward. I have been amazed through the years, at some of the books that trigger my thinking, dreaming, etc.

This might be a good moment to mention that I am careful to write down my thoughts, feelings, insights, quotes, etc. from this time period. I am particularly conscious about doing this in July. Whether I think something has any practical relevance or not, I write it down. For example, I might see a commercial on television or read an interesting quote. I write it down if it triggers a thought.

5. Map it out.

By the end of July, I will have spent much time with this material. I intend to have a longer series mapped out and several shorter series mapped out as well. When I go back to my office on August 1, I want to have these plotted on a calendar. Then, I will put a manila folder with the title of each series in my desk so that I can begin collecting ideas, stories, and possibilities throughout the year (or until it is time to begin that series).

Perhaps some of you will find this interesting. Some may even find it useful.

What do you do as you think, plan, and dream about the year to come? Has any practice been particularly helpful?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “Five Steps to Take in Moving Ahead

  1. Sounds like a great idea. I'm glad the congregation there has the foresight to allow you that time off. I'm sure they've reaped the benefits a hundred times over.

    Grace and peace,

  2. This is a great post, Jim. I hope it will inspire other preachers and teachers to do (or to keep doing) the hard work of planting the seeds of study and reflection. Those seeds grow up into something wholesome and, one hopes, delicious too.

    Something specific about 2 Cor: Maybe you've already noticed this, but I'm convinced that the English translation tradition has strengthened the clergy-laity distinction. In most all translations of that letter, if Paul or someone from his team does something, it's translated "ministry." But if what we might call an ordinary Christian does something, it's called "service." That is to say, in the translations, apostles and missionaries do "ministry" while locals at Corinth do "service." But the terms for the activities of both groups are typically those Greek words that begin with dik or diak. Check this out with a Greek concordance and one of the standard translations. It's striking.

  3. Frank,
    I like your language here. Preaching/teaching is really enabled when we allow time (and daily nourishment) so that seeds can grow. In the past, I have been guilty of preaching before the seed was hardly in the ground! Yes, this is sometimes brought on by time demands. Still— I think it would do us all well to be intentional about our seed planting.

    Thanks for the insight. I was not aware of this distinction. I will follow up on this.

  4. I gotta tell you, Jim, I don't miss that at all! But I think you are wise in your approach. I remember for years watching my father-in-law flip through some sermon outline book on a Saturday night to pick out his sermon for the next morning! And during my first few years of preaching (before I started at Harding Grad School), I didn't know any better so I did the same thing.

  5. I have audio from Richard Oster on 2 Corinthians if that is helpful. I would have a look at Wrights "For Everyone" on 2 Corinthians and Be Witherington's Socio-Rhetorical. Those are both great.

  6. Interesting, Frank. Now I'll have to go check that out this evening, too.

    Jim, thanks for another great post. In particular, I appreciate your words about simply saturating ourselves with scripture. No substitute. It reminds me of advice Alistair Begg once gave in one of his broadcasts on the subject of preaching, which has since stuck out in my mind: "Pray yourself empty, read yourself full, and then write yourself clearly."