For many this may be irrelevant material, however, for those of you in our congregation, you may not realize the particular approach I (and the other pastors, to one degree or another) take in choosing what I will preach each Sunday.
Planning My Preaching
Until my studies in the Doctor of Ministry program, I did not give much time and attention to long range planning for my preaching. I would merely take off and cover what I thought I should from week to week. The benefit in this approach is that I can pause a series of messages at any time to address a particular need in the congregation or move slower or faster in how much material we cover each week. The downside to this approach is that I tended not to vary my preaching in any other genre of biblical material than the particular book we are studying. Neither I nor our congregation was exposed to a vast amount of material within the Bible.
After attending a Weekender at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, I heard Mark Dever discuss his personal approach to preaching and he made the statement that whatever he was doing in his preaching, he wanted to expose his congregation to every form of biblical genre every year. While I have not adopted his approach in the particulars, I have tried to address this issue in my own preaching.
I now plan my preaching three months at a time. I do not publicize this plan (as Dever does), giving me the liberty to adjust it as I see fit. However, I do plan to preach through many types of genre throughout the year.
While I say that I plan three months at a time, I recently had to complete an assignment of planning one year’s worth of sermons. The process was both painful and insightful for me personally. It felt a tad presumptuous, but it did make me think through how and when I would preach various genre and where I would plan any breaks away from my regular expositions. While this annual schedule is subject to change, I have planned to preach through Romans 4-8 during 2007. I have scattered a few Old Testament narrative, poetic and even a prophetic texts in through the course of the year. I will do a doctrinal message on mortifying sin in between Romans 6 and 7. I plan to preach a message (which I do every year) on how to listen to a sermon. I will also preach a few Lord’s Supper services. In February, I will preach on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. In August, I will preach through Psalm 32 and confession of sin. I also need to plan when our two interns will be preaching this year (8 times between the two of them). I work with them in the preparation of their messages, so knowing far in advance is a help to them and me. My wife has enjoyed the fact that we have now planned when we will take our vacations for the year. However, these are merely plans, the Lord will direct our steps.
Choosing a Sermon Series
My approach in choosing a series of messages to preach is tied to my ministry context in the co-pastorate. Our team has determined that Sunday morning and evening will primarily be biblical expositions while our Wednesday evening ministry focuses on discipleship training and covers a number of topical and theological subjects. Our Sunday School ministry aims to use a more dialogue teaching approach through inductive studies in biblical books. Therefore, in our Sunday morning and evening services, we generally preach lengthy and detailed expository messages through books of the Bible.
Choosing a Sermon Text
Once I have chosen a biblical book to preach, I generally study one paragraph or pericope at a time. I wish I could say that I study ahead few weeks in advance for a particular sermon, but that rarely if ever happens. What I study during the week is what I preach on Sunday. This does not always mean that each sermon will consist of the paragraph or pericope with which I’ve been working. The pericope could provide a mini-series of messages.
For example, I have recently begun preaching through the book of Romans. After an introductory message on the entire book, detailing its purpose and how we should approach listening to messages from Romans, I began studying 1:1-7 as a single unit, but preached three sermons from this section, entitled, “Set Apart for the Gospel” (really clever, huh?). I studied the next section, 1:8-15, and preached this in one sermon. Often, I might plan to preach a paragraph or chapter in one sermon, but find as I am preparing the message or sometimes, even as I am preaching the message, that I need to break it into more than one sermon.
I realize that it may be easy to become bogged down in a book or text, but I have also found that our people tend to have a desire to know more than merely the general ideas of a biblical text. They have been exposed to general and survey type preaching for many years and have not necessarily objected to the lengthy approach. As a matter of fact, we packaged all 77 sermons from the Revelation series into seven different audio binders and it has been the most requested audio series to date in our church.
In my next few posts I will begin to detail the actual study process I follow for developing a message.