Raise your hand if you’ve ever decided on Saturday what to preach on Sunday. Now lower your head in deep, deep shame.
My hand is raised. My head is lowered.
In fact, I’m not sure I know a preacher who hasn’t, at some point, decided just the day before what he was going to share with a group of full-grown adult people who volunteered to give their finite time to listen to him speak on behalf of God, without interruption, for thirty to forty-five minutes. It’s pretty crazy.
When I was a younger preacher, I actually thought not planning ahead for sermons was holy. I wanted God to speak through me, so I was afraid to prepare much to say myself. Thankfully, a leader in my life said something to me I’ve never forgotten. He said, “The same Holy Spirit who works through your presentation can work through your preparation.”
It is ok to work ahead. In fact, it is wise. Here are three kingdom-shaping reasons to approach sermon prep through long-range planning.
1. Align more ministry to your messages.
The “pick your passage the morning of” method won’t stop the impact of God’s Word, but it can hurt the impact of many other ministries in your church. When you plan sermons six or twelve months out, you have time to line up the work of multiple ministries, leverage the creativity of multiple teams, and execute ideas with excellence.
When you know you are preaching a passage on biblical community in four months, you have four months to prepare the entire service to push people into new groups.
When you decide months in advance what you are going to preach, your groups ministry can plan content to complement the message.
Do you wish the worship leader would stop picking sermon response songs that might respond to some sermon somewhere, but don’t respond to sermon you just preached? Do you want slides with less clip art and more correctly spelled words?
Setting long-term teaching plans helps the church make informed and intentional ministry decisions with plenty of time to execute well.
2. Deliver balanced sermon content.
I had a childhood pastor who preached “Jesus is coming back and you need to be ready” every week, regardless of the passage he started with. And before I judge him too harshly, I need to confess that when I was a younger preacher every single sermon I “prepared” finished with some version of, “You should for sure have more quiet time.”
Most preachers have preferred topics and themes with which they are most comfortable. The problem with sermon non-planning is the tendency to rerun our favorites or fly to our comfort zones. This is not only boring for the body, but it leads to an imbalanced approach to the Bible. Our churches need God’s whole Word, and when we discipline ourselves to prepare months in advance, we lead ourselves to lead our people to a fuller biblical experience.
3. See the Holy Spirit at work.
We don’t know the future. That’s not a point of debate, but what can be is whether or not we should let our lack of omniscience impact our sermon planning. Since we don’t know what will happen in our world and in our church nine months from now, shouldn’t we wait and see before we plan and preach?
No. We don’t have to wait, because we don’t have to know. The God who lives within us as we plan holds the future in His hand.
The answer then is, don’t wait to prepare, but don’t prepare alone. Whether you work with other team members or alone at your desk, pray more than you plan. Ask God to lead your heart as He leads His church and you’ll be amazed how often the sermon you set the year in advance is right Word for the right hearts on the right day.
If you are interested in an easy way to approach long-range sermon planning, our team at LifeWay has a new resource called Gospel Foundations. This is a 42-week group study through the storyline of Scripture that shows how the whole Bible points to God’s plan to rescue us from sin through Jesus. As part of the Bible study, the Launch Kit includes free sermon outlines for each of the 42 Bible study sessions. So, you can have a plan to preach through the Bible and reinforce the message in your groups through Gospel Foundations Bible studies. If you are interested, you can find more information at lifeway.com/gospelfoundations.
Brandon Hiltibidal is a former church planter and multi-site pastor, and he is now part of the Groups Ministry team at LifeWay Christian Resources. He also serves as an elder and a member of the preaching team at The Bridge Church in Middle Tennessee.