In the execution of the pastor’s multiple duties, preaching must rank as number one. It is the responsibility, burden, privilege, calling, joy, agony, and ecstasy which must weigh most heavily upon the messenger of God at all times. Therefore, every preacher must strive to perform this sacred task with excellence.
Hopefully, on any given Sunday, excellence is present in the pulpit. But what about the long-term quality of the preacher’s pulpit ministry? Questions of maintaining integrity to the task and maintaining balance in the overall, long-term pulpit ministry come to the surface and demand attention.
A proper understanding of the rationale and methodology of planned preaching will greatly assist the preacher in this responsibility.
The Rationale of Planned Preaching
Planned preaching is necessary for two major reasons. First, planning saves time. The preacher who does not know what he is preaching until Saturday night has invariably fretted and sweated away much valuable time during the previous week. Principles of stewardship dictate that there is a better way. Andrew W. Blackwood summarized it beautifully in the opening lines of his book, Planning a Year’s Pulpit Work.
The wise minister preaches according to a program. He makes it himself and is free to change it at will. He thinks of himself as a gardener who is appointed by the King to feed several hundred people throughout the year. The gardener keeps a succession of plants growing in various beds. He can water them all in the time that a novice would devote to a single corner.1
God Himself is a long-range planner. Recall that your place in His kingdom was selected before the world was even created. “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world” (Eph. 1:4, NIV). Indeed, God’s Church is one large, long-range plan!
When the preacher has already selected sermon texts or ideas ahead of time and slated these for specific dates, then he has automatically initiated a rich incubation period. As Blackwood further asserts,
A living sermon matures slowly, but at length it may ripen quickly. In order to give each message time to develop, according to the spirit of life in its seed, the pastor should have in his homiletical garden sermons in various stages of growth. Herein lies the essence of a plan for pulpit work.2
As Ian Pitt-Watson has observed, “sermons are more like babies than buildings. We do not really construct them — they grow in us.”3 All the more reason for a plan.
The plan provides the substrate upon which the sermons can develop by the Holy Spirit. During the weeks or months leading up to a particular sermon, the preacher will find that illustrations, outlines, ideas, and thoughts can be filed with that sermon. Thus, when the preacher sits down to put the sermon together he will find that he already possesses an abundance of useful materials.
The Apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus, “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27, NIV). He charged Timothy, “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2, NIV). Thus, a second reason for planned preaching is the preacher’s awesome responsibility to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word.
Although the preacher is equipped with a divine calling and anointing to preach, he is still infected with and affected by his frail humanity. Therefore, if preachers do not place themselves under the discipline and control of a long-range preaching schedule, they will ultimately allow preaching to be dictated by personal likes and dislikes. They will gravitate toward those sections of Scripture and those topics they enjoy most and will shy away from those sections of Scripture and those topics they have difficulty handling.
With a carefully constructed, long-range preaching schedule, preachers can have the confidence their preaching is not simply a reflection of personal likes and dislikes. For years this approach has been taken regarding Sunday school curriculum; it’s about time that preachers implemented the same wisdom.
A few years ago, shortly after implementing a planned preaching program into his own pulpit ministry, William L. Self declared, “There is now a sense of wholeness about my preaching ministry — in contrast to the shotgun approach of my earlier ministry. I grieve over the wasted years when I did not do this.”4
Thus, stewardship of time and the need for doctrinal balance provide strong support for planned preaching.
The Methodology of Planned Preaching
Mechanically, it is necessary to set up some sort of a filing system in which to hold your future sermons under various stages of development. I have chosen to use manila folders which are generically dated for a full calendar year of Sundays so that they are reuseable each year. Thus, my first several folders are labeled as follows:
January, week 1, Sunday a.m.
January, week 1, Sunday p.m.
January, week 2, Sunday a.m.
January, week 2, Sunday p.m.
January, week 3, Sunday a.m.
January, week 3, Sunday p.m.
January, week 4, Sunday a.m.
January, week 4, Sunday p.m.
January, week 5, Sunday a.m.
January, week 5, Sunday p.m.
February, week 1, Sunday a.m.
February, week 1, Sunday p.m.
Etc.
Having prepared a full calendar year of sermon folders as described, I then prepared a second set of folders using a different color ink (or folder) to distinguish it from the first set. The entire second set of folders sits behind the first set. Having the two sets of complete calendar years allows me to always be planning and working into the next year without disrupting or colliding with the current year’s work. It is a simple matter of flip-flopping between the two sets of folders on an annual basis.
Regarding the actual content of a planned preaching schedule the methodology is almost as varied as the preacher is. The preacher could choose to preach through the Bible verse by verse, beginning with Genesis 1:1. He could choose to randomly select books of the Bible and preach through them, working in this manner until he eventually preaches through the entire Bible.
The preacher could choose to preach thematically via the Church year. The preacher could follow the schedule of texts in a published lectionary.
Whatever plan is chosen, let it be chosen with great care, prayer, fore-thought, and analysis. It will serve as your base line for years to come; therefore it must be sound. An excellent and stimulating resource to consult on this matter is J. Winston Pearce’s book, Planning Your Preaching (Broadman Press). Pearce not only discusses the reasons for planned preaching but goes on to provide numerous types of plans for the preacher to consider.
An important thought to keep in mind when developing your plan is that no plan will be perfect. Obviously, each preaching plan will have its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. What is important is that the plan will provide a valid approach to covering the whole counsel of God’s Word and that you feel comfortable with it.
Another important item to remember is that the preaching plan is your servant and not your master. Never allow yourself to feel slavishly bound to the plan.
A good preaching plan has flexibility built into it. Put “holes” into your preaching plans here and there so that you will always have the opportunity to preach those messages that the Holy Spirit spontaneously births within your spirit. You will also need the “holes” for holidays, missionaries, evangelists, special emphases, and other special events.
In order to illustrate some of what has been discussed above, I will outline the preaching plan developed for my own pulpit ministry. Certainly, I do not make any claim that this particular plan is the best nor do I recommend it for every preacher. It is simply the preaching plan I have chosen to develop and implement after my own study and prayer on the matter. It is one example of how planned preaching could be executed. My prayer is that your thinking will be challenged and stimulated in a greater way so that you can then develop your own unique plan.
Fundamental guidelines of the preaching plan are as follows:
1. Sunday morning sermons are treated as a separate track from Sunday evening sermons. Consequently, whatever plan and approach is used for Sunday evening should be designed to complement and supplement the Sunday morning plan and approach.
2. The structure of the plan for Sunday morning is a staggered, textual one while the structure of the plan for Sunday evening is an alternation between book and series sermons and topical and miscellaneous sermons.
3. Textual selections are made with a slightly greater emphasis upon the New Testament rather than the Old Testament.
4. Preaching segments are chosen with the intention that the majority of the sermons will be expository, a minority will be textual, and a still smaller minority will be topical.
For purposes of further illustration the Sunday morning track will be examined in detail.
The base line for the Sunday morning track is constructed by first splitting the Bible into its ten logical sections: Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Literature, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, Gospels, Acts, Pauline Epistles, General Epistles, and Revelation. Then, a master list of preaching segments is produced by taking preaching segments from each of these ten sections in a systematic manner. Thus, my base line of preaching segments starts out as follows:
Matthew 1:1-17
Matthew 1:18-25
Matthew 2:1-12
Matthew 2:13-23
Genesis 1:1-5
Acts 1:1-11
Acts 1:12-14
Joshua 1:1-18
Romans 1:1-7
Romans 1:8-13
Romans 1:14-17
Romans 1:18-20
Job 1:1-5
James 1:1-4
Etc.
The base line of preaching segments need only be developed to cover the time period which is being planned. Typically, I plan my preaching segments for a calendar year in the preceding summer or fall.
An essential feature to note regarding this base line is that over a lifetime of preaching, there will be a systematic coverage of the entire Bible. As indicated previously, this is a major goal in any preaching plan.
As I have placed myself under the discipline and control of a long-range preaching schedule, I have been amazed at how God has used it to His glory. Time and again I observed that the sermon text entered in my sermon logbook six to eighteen months ahead of time was indeed the message for the hour when it came time for it to be preached. As Ross W. Marrs has observed, “It is always interesting how many things seem to be on target no matter how far in advance we have planned.”5 The Holy Spirit is truly a long-range planner.
I encourage you to carefully and prayerfully develop a long-range preaching schedule. The long-range, cooperative relationship between the preacher, the Word, and the Holy Spirit will produce results that are always superior to any “Saturday night special.”
Let us conscientiously receive Paul’s charge to Timothy, “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV). Let us preach the whole counsel of God’s Word!
1. Andrew W. Blackwood, Planning a Year’s Pulpit Work (n.p., Whitmore and Stone, 1942; paperback ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), p. 15.
2. Ibid., p. 16.
3. Ian Pitt-Watson, A Primer for Preachers (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), p. 56.
4. William L. Self, “Preaching to Joe Secular: An Interview with William L. Self,” Preaching IV (November-December 1988):6.
5. Ross W. Marrs, “Sermon Preparation: Projection and Planning,” The Clergy Journal LXVI (November-December 1989):15.

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