Preaching: How do you plan your strategy in terms of what you are going to do in preaching?
Warren: I have a preaching team I meet with. When you start a church you literally do everything. I set it up; I took it down; I stored all the stuff in my garage. From the beginning of the church it has been my goal to work myself out of a job. As the church grew, I began to give the ministry away to more and more people – to lay people and to staff and on and on. About 10 years ago I realized I finally had given up everything I was doing except two things, the feeding and the leading. I was still doing that myself, so I began to start building a staff of other leaders and feeders. I now have a preaching team of six pastors who share the pastoral teaching and preaching.
This year, for the first time, I will be preaching 26 of the 52 weeks at Saddleback. Now why is that? Well, several reasons. Number one, most people never have done five weekend services, and they don’t know what a toll it takes on your body. I want to live a long time. Because we are doing five, we probably will go to six. I will preach in one month what some guys will preach in a year just because of multiple services.
More than that, I believe you need to hear God’s word from more than just one personality. I think that is healthy. I think for a lot of people, if they hear a guy for about six or seven years, he has shot his wad. You’ve heard what he has got to say, and you either have to start hearing the same stuff over again or move to a different church. I want people to stay at Saddleback for 30 or 40 years, so I’ve built a team of different preachers with different personalities – I do believe preaching is truth through personality, like Brooks said.
It doesn’t bother me at all if somebody likes another pastor’s preaching better. “Well, I like his style.” That’s fine. I think that is good. They hear it and stay here, and as long as they are growing and happy and are being built on the purposes of moving them out into ministry and mission I am happy about it.
I take that team and we do planning. I am a collector of ideas, collecting future sermon series and ideas. There are some series I’ve been collecting for 20 years that I still haven’t preached on. For instance, I did a series through
Then as it gets toward the end of the year, I will pick about a dozen of those that I think, “This is where God wants the church to go in the next year,” and we prayerfully go away on a retreat. We pray and say, “What direction does God want the church to go? What needs to be done?” I’ll tell you one of the ways you know what needs to be done: Name the five biggest sins in your church. If divorce is a big sin in your church, guess what you haven’t preaching on? If materialism is a big sin in your church, guess what you haven’t been preaching on? So, looking at just the sins of the people in your church and in your area, you can come up with a lot of pretty good wisdom.
I believe the audience determines God’s will for what you are supposed to preach on. In other words, do I believe in the sovereignty of God? Absolutely. Do I believe in the foreknowledge of God? Absolutely. God already knows who is coming next Sunday before I do. Why would God the Sovereign give me a message totally irrelevant to the person He is planning on bringing? He wouldn’t. So I start saying, “God, who is coming?” If I’m dealing with teenagers, that is one kind of message. If I’m dealing with seekers, that is another kind of message. If I am dealing with mature believers, that is another kind of message. If I am dealing with people who need to be mobilized for ministry … We look at that, we pray, then we will do a tentative outline of the series for the year.
We try to balance it in several ways. I try to give purpose balance. I will always do a series, somehow, dealing with worship, a series on evangelism, a series on discipleship, a series on ministry, and a series on fellowship. I will cover those five things every year because that is the purpose of the church in someway. Now I can do that with a book series, I can do it with a biographical series, I can do it with a topical, thematic approach. It doesn’t matter the style, but I will balance the purposes. I will balance the difference between comfort and challenge – afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted – I will balance that. I like to balance Old Testament and New Testament. I like to balance a little biographical, a little didactic, a little doctrinal.
What I love to do is teach theology to non-believers without ever telling them it is theology or using theological terms. For instance, I once did an eight-week series on sanctification and never used the term. I did a four-week series on the incarnation and never used the term. I did a 12-week series on the attributes of God – the omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence – and never used the terms. I just called it “Getting to Know God.”
I finish a series and then say, “Which one, Lord, do You want to do next?” We will pick it out, do it next, then we will ask, “Which one, Lord, do You want us to do next?” So there is planning and spontaneity at the same time. It allows God to move us in the middle of the year. I know some guys for whom it doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas, they are going to stay on that book! To me that’s silly. If suddenly next week America was in war, does God have a word about it? Absolutely! We would stop and talk about what the Bible says about war.
Preaching: How long is a typical series?
Warren: I think the ideal series is four to six weeks. I often have stretched it to 10 weeks. Obviously the Ten Commandments are 10 weeks. I did a 10-week series on the doctrine of grace. But really, if you go more than four or six weeks on a series, people start wondering, “Does he know anything else?” There is a fatigue factor. One lady said, “My pastor has been in Daniel 70 weeks longer than Daniel!” So I think the best series would be a month series of four, 12 a year would be ideal. We almost never do that because you get into it and you want to go another two weeks because there is still more material.
(Adapted from a Preaching magazine interview with Rick Warren.)