This post is a response to a comment by Frank who asked me recently to elaborate on how I plan my preaching/teaching over the next year. I decided to answer this in a post because it gives me the opportunity to think through this.
Every July, I am gone. I take two weeks of vacation and two weeks of study time. (I am away during those two weeks — often out of town.) When I came to this church, almost fourteen years ago, I was on empty. I sensed that I needed a time each year during which I could recharge, take another look at my work, and then come back ready to move ahead. This church graciously allowed me to be gone in July. So, either before or after vacation, I take a couple of weeks to think, plan, and take a hard look at the coming year. Let me quickly say that if you are a church leader/minister/pastor/etc. and you need to plan your preaching/teaching for the year, you don’t have to have two weeks away to do so. I planned messages in advance for many years without having two weeks out of the office to do so.
What I am about to describe is not a formula. This is simply what works for me.
1. I always anticipate spending some time (length will vary) in some book or several books of the Bible over the course of a year. This year that book has been Mark. I am not talking about a verse by verse study. Rather, I want to immerse myself and the church in the message of a particular book. For me, the greatest advantage of this is that I find myself speaking to the church what I know I would otherwise have not said if it were not in that text. Right now, I am thinking about what those texts might be for next year. (By the way, I plan by school year rather than calendar year. It just works better for me.)
2. I pray that God will guide me and direct me through whatever I plan. I pray that he will guide me in everything from the selection of texts to an overall emphasis for the year, etc. I pray that I will say the things he really wants said to this group of people over the next year.
3. I have with me a calendar of every Sunday that I am going to preach over the school year. I make note of anticipated special occasions, etc. When I am finished planning, I would like to have a rough title or subject matter for each week from August 2007 until the last week of June 2008. This will have a few large series and several smaller series throughout the year.
4. It is very helpful to look through the titles or subject matter of sermon messages of the previous four or five years. So often, I will begin to see gaps. (I remember thinking once, "Wow it has been a long time since I have said much from the Old Testament." One year it occurred to me since I had even mentioned one or two major themes in the Bible. I think about some of the "big" themes of Scripture: God, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, Creation, Sin, Grace, Faith, the Church, etc. How long has it been since I have addressed some of these? What about the larger story of what God has done? Have I been attentive to the larger story line in Scripture? Anyway, I am looking for gaps.
5. As I plan the year, I try to keep in mind the importance of variation. (Steak and fish are great for dinner but not every night of the week.) If a short series is particularly heavy and thick, I will probably want to preach something that feels very different at the conclusion of that series. Sometimes preachers get stuck in the swamp and every sermon begins to sound like every other sermon. (Sort of like eating at a Chinese buffet where the food seems to all run together. It all tastes the same. Nothing really distinctive.) Just as Mark sounds and feels very different from Romans, these messages need some variety as well.