Note: Download a sample Annual Preaching Calendar from Rob Hurtgen using the link to the right.
When summer rolls around, most of my congregation begins thinking about slowing down and taking vacations. For me, summer is the season to begin the next year's annual preaching calendar (APC). This is a preaching road map I develop through prayer, thought, and discipline. It outlines the direction in which God leads me to preach. A good annual preaching calendar provides a clear destination with the flexibility to take necessary detours.
Using an APC provides a number of benefits.
An APC provides you with clear leadership for the most important task of your week. Everything in a preaching ministry presses toward the main sermon you deliver. Your confident, compassionate handling of God's Word builds trust in your congregation. If they trust you to accurately handle the Word, they will trust you to lead them in other endeavors.
The APC creates confidence in yourself, your leadership team, and the people you shepherd. Because you know where you are headed you can more easily communicate to those who plan worship services. Thus, they can more confidently select songs, graphics, décor, and other elements to communicate a specific passage or theme. Such coordination won't happen every week, but when demanded it can contribute to beautiful experiences.
The best communicators and artists don't wait for a moment of. Their creativity flows out of the discipline of consistent work. The best writers obey self-imposed word counts. The greatest artists make sure to sketch or paint a certain number of subjects each day. It's through such discipline that they find moments of inspiration and creativity.
The same is true for sermon planning. If you wait for creative inspiration, you will often end up writing on Saturday nights. You will not be a good workman because you won't be offering your best, but only what you have on hand.
There are always two Sundays in a pastor's week: the one you are getting over and the one you are getting ready for. By planning ahead you will really be planning for both. An APC removes the haunting anxiety about what to preach next, because your plan is already in place.
The greatest resistance to using an annual preaching calendar is the question of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. How can the Holy Spirit lead if you plan everything ahead of time? This question is as much an issue of theology as it is of practicality. If your theological conclusion is that the Holy Spirit only sees the future as you do - clouded, speculative, and uncertain - your APC will be your work and your effort. But if you believe the Spirit leads, teaches and presses you into the future, you will see His leadership as assembling your entire preaching process. Countless times a sermon scheduled months in advance has spoken precisely to the issues men and women in the church were facing the day it was preached - even regarding newly emerging issues.
An APC doesn't limit the Holy Spirit. It more firmly places you, the pastor, in the position where you depend more deeply on Him and submit more willingly to His leading.
What goes into an annual preaching calendar?
Consider including the following elements in your APC. I highly recommend using an electronic spreadsheet, which allows for flexibility in editing and adapting as you move toward completion.
- Preaching dates. For most congregations these will be Sundays.
- Hard calendar dates. When is Easter, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Christmas? You don't have to preach according to these dates, but it helps to know where they fall.
- Sermon texts. Preaching is looking at the text that God has given and explaining what it says, what it means, and why anyone should care.
- If you preach sermon series, create two columns - one for the series title and the second for the series theme. If you cannot state the theme of your preaching series in two sentences, you likely have a collection of sermons and not a true series.
- The central theme of the message. Do the hard work of determining the one point of the sermon text. There may be a series that connects messages together, but know the central theme of your text for each day.
- Number of messages in the series. This is an accountability step for you. How many times do you need to address this passage?
- Biblical genre. This is an additional accountability item for you. If your goal is to ensure that you preach from all of Scripture rather than just a favourite book or section, this column serves as a memory tool to remind you of what you have already covered.
- Additional notes. Write down things you don't want to forget that may affect the order of service and the sermon. Keeping an eye on events such as special holidays or community activities helps you to more clearly focus on the coming Sunday.
Once you have developed your APC, your next step is to plug specific details into your plan. Here are some questions to consider.
- When will you take vacation? You and your family need it. This doesn't include the annual convention! Your church needs adequate time to find other preachers to fill the pulpit.
- What is your philosophical approach to preaching? Verse by verse from beginning to end, no matter what? Six to eight week series? Topical?
- What are the Scriptures, theological issues, and relational emphases God is leading you to address?
- What are the dates of any church-wide outreach events? Will these correspond with holidays?
- Which hard calendar dates do you plan to recognize? Will you speak to women on Mother's Day and men on Father's Day? Will you change your messages during the Christmas season? Will you preach about the resurrection on Easter?
- When do you expect to invite guest preachers?
Once you've answered these questions, form rough outlines from your sermon texts. Consider leaving a few Sundays for stand-alone messages. You don't know when your four-week series may expand to six because of what God will reveal to you in the text.
As you develop your APC, 49 or 50 weeks of preaching will become much more manageable and, prayerfully, more effective. It's a tool you can use to see where God is leading you and how you are leading the people He has called you to shepherd.