3 to 8 months ahead. That’s how far ahead I plan out sermons. It sounds extreme, but it’s really not. I often line out an entire book of the Bible and then plan a rough outline 3 to 8 months ahead for each sermon. Take a moment and think about it. Your job as a pastor is to teach the Bible and disciple people. This is supposed to be a labor founded on a consistent relationship with the Word. Further, the Word is already written… you’re not having to wait for God to speak, He has spoken already! Therefore, it should be logical that you can be at least a few months ahead but would ideal to be about 8 months ahead. This is simply a matter of best practice. There is no excuse for pastors to wing it in any sphere of their work, especially in the teaching ministry.
To most pastors, preparing ahead is a foreign concept. It is not for lack of motivation that preachers fail in planning ahead, nor is it for lack of vision. Most pastors have a great deal of vision and motivation. I believe most pastors just don’t know better. They may have some idea of how to schedule or plan ahead, but the task seems so arduous that they cannot bring themselves to sit down to line out a plan.
To be fair, preparation is done in the heart first, not merely on paper. Many pastors prepare with great vigor the sermon from their heart and not on paper. That’s fine, consider the following two examples:
I stood next to a beloved pastor and friend as he exclaimed, “I never prepare a sermon until the day of! I ask the Lord what He wants me to say in the morning and then I go say it!” Two young men who were with me were stunned. This man is an honorable man who loves the Lord. He teaches well and engages his audience well. I believe he listens to the Lord and walks closely with Him.
Contrast that with another man of God who manuscripts his sermons and is always a year ahead in his preparation. When asked about the movement of the Spirit in his sermons he responded, “The Lord moves in my life every day and every time I meet with Him in my study. As I study the Word to prepare to teach, He speaks and I listen. What my people hear in my teaching is the result of the Spirit moving over long periods of listening and waiting.”
Both men are great teachers of the Word… both study, work, and pray hard… both men are engaging a lost world with the Gospel. One has a plan, the other is simply running. Personally, I prefer the plan and here is why:
- The plan gives me freedom. When I started in ministry I wrote each sermon the week of. It was exciting and often felt almost miraculous. Over time I noticed a peculiar result. No matter how hard I tried I could not find vision or think with a long term view. So I tried planning out text, topic, title, and basic outline of sermons. The result was a sudden freedom to look ahead and engage my people. Further, because it is planned out, I know what I am able to deviate from. It allows me the freedom to say, “The Lord is moving in a unique way this week, so we’ll just go with it.” Because I have planned ahead, I am free to deviate from that plan. If I have not planned out the work, I bear the stress of trying to hold on to the work of teaching. If I have planned, I’m free to relax and obey the Spirit joyfully and not out of anxiousness.
- The plan helps to ensure that I am not going to speak from my own selfish desires or pet issues from the week and forces me to look at what the Bible says. Too often modern preachers speak from a self-righteous condemnation of pet sins and political issues. Pastors will use their pulpits to address the problems they have during the week. The Lord has much more to say to the people than our opinionated nonsense. The Word speaks of much deeper things than our visions of or for the people. I am no better than the preachers who would use their pulpits to beat up on people over pet issues. So, recognizing my flaws, I plan ahead. When you have sat down months before and considered what the Word says, then you don’t know what you’re specifically going to be dealing with in the future. Therefore, your teaching is prepared with minimal bias.
- The plan is stress free! When you come into whatever sphere your teaching, it is wise to be prepared. When you have a regular place of teaching, it is best to be prepared extensively. Trust me, stress is minimized when you plan.
- The plan is more spiritual. Ok, now I am getting a little subjective, it’s fine to argue with me here. People will argue, albeit erroneously, that not preparing is somehow more an act of faith than planning out the work. As if the Lord prefers stressed out followers who fly by the seat of their pants over disciplined diligent workers. Planning out removes my own selfish desire to address current issues. It forces me to trust that the Lord will handle issues in His time and His way. Further, if I have been diligent to plan ahead, I am free from an obsessive desire to control what He wants to say to the people.
Here is a brief outline of how to do this:
- Read the entire book you are intending to teach over and over, praying for guidance, making notes, and identifying passages that stand out.
- Outline that book and divide it into teachable sections.
- Pray and repeat steps 1 and 2
- Walk through the teachable sections one at a time making a basic outline of each.
- Pray and examine the first passage and work up a more extensive outline
- If you manuscript, complete your manuscript
- Praying through the message identify application.
- 2 weeks before teaching the text, set aside some time to go through the teaching and add in any necessary application you may have missed.
- The week of preaching, reserve time the last few days of your week to go over your teaching.
So, what do you think… feel free to push back in comments.