Janus, the mythological Roman god gifted with two faces, always looked both ways on the threshold of each new year. Near the beginning of your planning retreat, you will need to play the part of Janus, looking into the past so that you can decide your direction for the future. Retrospection can be helpful if you have the right motive for looking back and if you are looking for the correct things One of the keys to success in planning your preaching is ruthless self-evaluation. Keeping that in mind, review your preaching from the previous year.
With a copy of last year's preaching schedule in front of you, ask yourself the following questions.
• What were some of the general themes on which you preached last year? • How do those themes correspond to the overarching theological themes of the Bible? • Did you give significant attention to preaching through biblical books last year? • What types of sermonic material came from the biblical books through which you preached? • Was your preaching balanced in its use of the Old and New Testaments? • Did the pattern of last year's sermons provide for variety without confusion and unity without repetition? • Of the messages that you preached last year, did any elicit a strong enough response from the congregation to merit preaching more extensively on that or similar subjects in the future? • What theological ideas from the Scripture did you fail to address last year? • What aspects of last year's plan fell short of exposing your people to the whole counsel of the Word of God?
Asking such questions as you look back over last year's preaching will help you to identify "holes" in the themes and subjects that you have addressed. Additionally, looking back will help you to create a new plan that has continuity with the previous year. Reviewing your past year's sermons will also make you aware of any theological hobbyhorses that you are prone to ride so that you can guard against preaching extensively on certain themes at the expense of others.
After you have reviewed your preaching calendar from the previous year and analyzed your audience, you need to articulate your goals and priorities for preaching in the coming year.
Planning Sermon Series
One great advantage of planning your preaching ahead of time is that it allows you to make careful preparation for extended series of sermons. Two types of series are available to the preacher: the book series and the thematic series.
Book series. A book series is a sequence of messages through a book of the Bible. When scheduling a year's preaching, it is possible to plan for at least two book series, allowing for at least one series from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. To plan a book series, begin by considering the needs of your audience. Prayerfully determine which book of the Bible will speak best to those needs. After selecting the Bible book, read through the book several times to grasp the themes and emphases of the biblical writer. Choose an overall theme for the series that reflects the major theme of the book. Ideally, this theme should relate to a need you have identified in the congregation. Divide the book into passages that can serve as sermon text units, and then assign a working title to each preaching unit. In some cases, you might choose to preach a series from a section of a book or from selected portions within a book rather than preaching through an entire book of the Bible.