According to the teaching calendar, one year from now I will be preaching a message on wisdom and how we use our tongues from James 3:1-18 in a teaching series walking through the book of James.
Yes, I know what I will be preaching a year from now.
Here is why advanced sermon planning works for me practically and why I believe I have the freedom to work this way both biblically and theologically.
Being advanced in sermon planning enables our team to align the planning of worship services and coordinated discipleship opportunities around what we will be studying. And it is good for me too. A blank page on a Monday morning would be debilitating to me. And overwhelming. Knowing what I am teaching many months in advance helps me see life through the lens of passages and topics I will be teaching. Illustrations come more easily as I know what I am looking for. Time spent driving and exercising are more easily maximized as I can choose podcasts and sermons to listen to that are aligned to where I am going. If I believed my preference violated Scripture or the character of God, I hope I would have the faith to discard my preference. But biblically and theologically I believe I have the freedom to operate this way.
The Apostle Paul used the metaphor of “a skilled master builder” to describe his approach to ministry (1 Corinthians 3:10). A skilled builder does not wing the project being constructed. There is ample time for planning, designing, and executing a project.
Because God exists outside of time, He is able to lead me months out with the same clarity that He is able to lead me in the moment. Being led by His Spirit can happen months out, moments before, and within the moment. If a person equates spontaneity with spirituality, the person likely disagrees with how I plan our church’s teaching calendar. Because I don’t equate being Spirit-led with being spontaneous, I don’t live with the pressure of having to prove myself to be spiritual by being spontaneous. Of course, there are times we pivot, change our calendar, or adjust a sermon because we seek to stay sensitive to His leading through the whole process.
So what is the process?
People commonly ask me and people on our team about our planning process for preaching/teaching. Below is a snapshot: During my annual study break, I map out the teaching calendar for the next calendar year—typically 7-8 teaching series a year. I return from the annual study break with a series brief for each sermon series. Weekly, I meet with a team to look at a teaching manuscript for an upcoming sermon.
- Teaching Calendar: An Excel spreadsheet that is an overview of 12 months, the teaching series within those 12 months, and the message/teacher within each teaching series.
- Series Brief: A 3-to-4-page Word document that is an overview of a teaching series. The brief contains goals for the series, opportunities for alignment across different ministry areas, and a 4-5 sentence summary of each sermon in the series. These are refreshed and distributed to teams 2-3 months before the series begins.
- Teaching Manuscript: A manuscript of a message within a teaching series that is reviewed with a teaching team before it is delivered to receive feedback and coordinate illustrations, slides, songs, etc. This meeting typically happens 3-4 weeks before the message is delivered.
I am most involved in the beginning and the ending of the process. Meaning, I do not delegate the responsibility to set the overall teaching calendar (what we will be feeding our people) and the preparation and development of messages I teach, but there is a TON of work that happens with our creative team, worship, and content teams after the sermon briefs are distributed. I am not even in the majority of those meetings. I am not the best person on our team to even ask about those meetings. I benefit, like the rest of our church, from the work of those teams. They design the graphics and how we will communicate the teaching series, choose stories of how God is working in the lives of people we shepherd that we will share in our services, design the worship sets, coordinate discipleship and connection opportunities within the teaching series, etc.
I don’t believe every pastor/teacher needs to live with the advanced sermon prep expectation or approach, but I am thankful I have the freedom to do so, because it works best for me and for our team. Some friends tell me it would not work for them, and I believe they are free to plan and prepare as God has gifted and directed them. All this to say, if it practically helps you and your team to plan your teaching calendar way in advance, you are free to do so! It is not unspiritual.