3 Tips for Cataloging Your Sermons


I recently guest-taught a four-part series. Given a short turnaround time and other commitments, I needed to draw from past sermons. 

The problem? My sermons were everywhere. 

Some were hiding in the deep recesses of my external hard drive. Others were lodged in my Sent folder. One never even made it there—I found it as a half-finished draft that I must’ve printed and finished on paper.  [Read more…]

8 Principles for Planning Your Preaching Calendar

Look into the future, and you see a blank calendar you need to fill. People are coming through the doors—some for the first time, some for the thousandth—and you have to deliver sermons that meet them where they are, week after week after week. 

It’s a wonderful but difficult privilege. Here are eight tips, drawn from interviews with four pastors, that will help you fill that calendar wisely, coherently, and without burdening yourself too heavily.

1. Plan at least one year out.

All four pastors I spoke with know what they will be preaching a year from now. They may not know the exact text or topic, but they know what book or series they’ll be in. 

And this only makes sense. When you think of all the responsibilities and surprises a pastor handles in any given week, you don’t want to add “decide what to preach this Sunday” to the list. Not only does that put you under the tyranny of the urgent, it gives the congregation whiplash. 

Structure is good for your schedule and your congregation. When you know what’s next, you can settle in for a while. 

You can also prepare your sermons more strategically. Preaching through a Pauline Epistle? Read a biography on Paul or a book on the new perspective to add background to your study. Preaching through Isaiah? Spend some time sharpening your Hebrew skills. Or if you’re preaching a topical series, you can have your eye out for good texts or illustrations to work into the series. 

Planning helps you prepare for the long haul.

2. Don’t plan more than 3 years out.

While plans are good, there’s futility in planning too far into the future. 

“In my experience, your average church is rebirthed every 3–5 years,” says Drew Buell, pastor of Cool Community Church in Cool, CA. “There’s always a core of people who are always there, but with how much people move, new people are always coming and going. So I can’t look 10 years down the road and know what I’ll preach, because I don’t know who will be there.”

You just can’t know what your congregation will need in five years, because you don’t know who that congregation is.

3. Preach a balanced diet.

All four of the preachers I spoke with had this as the primary guiding principle for their preaching schedule. A balanced preaching diet means a variety of:

  • Old and New Testament books
  • Literary genre
  • Theological topics
  • Points of application
  • Series length and intensity

For example, after a three-year series in Romans, you might not launch right into a five-year series in Isaiah. Or you may not do all four Gospels back to back. 

Rather, try to represent the variety of themes and genres of Scripture year to year. And keep a sense of your congregation’s stamina. 

For example, Rob Berreth, pastor of Redeemer Church in Bellingham, WA, likes to balance the intensity of his series. “If we come off a heavy discipleship series—for example, 40 weeks on the Sermon on the Mount—we follow up with a light outreach series, like: 7 Weeks on Neighboring.”

4. Plan for the audience you have, not the audience you imagine.

This principle was also unanimous among the four preachers. No one planned without first asking, “What does my congregation need?” 

It could be encouragement. For example, when Buell first came to his church, the congregation had been through a difficult season. They needed help understanding their suffering, so he preached through Philippians. 

It could be theological discernment. For example, after the Obergefell decision, Buell noticed that the sense of Christians living as exiles was heightened, so he preached through Daniel. (And since they were primed for the genre, he took them pretty quickly through Revelation just after that.)

Whatever you do, don’t preach to who isn’t there. Your congregation may not need to know the intricate arguments for Pauline authorship of Ephesians, or why Schleiermacher is wrong about biblical inerrancy. Maybe they just need to know that their suffering has meaning.

5. Mind the seasons.

With how much people travel in the summer, summers are a good time to break from a lengthy series and do shorter books (like 1 John) or topical series. The same goes for the winter holidays. Pay attention to the natural rhythms of a year to break up your series with little breathers.

6. Don’t create work for yourself.

One easy way to throw off the burden of coming up with a preaching topic is to get one handed to you. 

For example, Nate Walker, pastor of Christ Church Bellingham, roughly follows the Church calendar. For the fall (“before Christ”), he chooses an Old Testament book, rotating yearly between the Pentateuch, historical books, and Wisdom Literature and prophets. From Christmas to Pentecost (“after Christ”), he’s in a Gospel or Acts. And from Pentecost through August, he’s in a New Testament letter. This process does most of the choosing for him. 

Kyle Edwards, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, has a similar commitment to expository preaching. “I’d much rather be assigned a text to preach than to have a blank slate to preach on a topic of my choosing, which would require a kind of creativity that I don’t have.”

7. Preach to your strengths.

One simple way to decide what to preach next is to know your strength as a preacher. I know of one preacher who said he wouldn’t preach Romans until he turned 50, because he didn’t think he’d be ready as a preacher until then.

Berreth was the same. “As a newer preacher, I just didn’t have the skill or experience to do some of the more complicated texts. The entire Bible is stunning and helpful, but it’s definitely not all as easy to preach.” Early on he stuck to Pauline letters and shorter Old Testament books, where he felt more comfortable. 

Buell has learned to occasionally preach what he needs as a pastor, whether that’s to take a breather from more challenging books or choose one that will sharpen certain tools, like Greek.

8. Abandon the plan.

Lastly, step out of the plan when you need to. 

One obvious reason to do this is to address tragedy. Drew Buell remembers doing this after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. “It was on everyone’s minds and I couldn’t get it off my mind. I had my sermon done for that week already, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so Saturday I prepared a new sermon on ‘Rachel weeping for her children’ [from Matthew 2].” The same would apply to local tragedy or an event in your congregation. 

Another good reason to step out of the plan is to address a theological topic. For example, when Buell was preparing to preach through John, he realized that priming the series with a few weeks on the hypostatic union and Trinity was important, so he did a four-week theological prelude. 

You could boil all of this down to two main takeaways: know your audience, and feed them a balanced diet. Ultimately it all comes down to keeping a close watch of your congregation’s needs and knowing what Scripture will meet them. From there, the schedule is simply a tool for feeding your flock. 

Matthew Boffey is a licensed minister and an editor for Lexham Press at Faithlife.

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Faithlife Sermons Helps You Think Ahead

Where do you store that perfect sermon idea or illustration when it hits you? Try Faithlife Sermons: a sermon database dedicated solely to sermon prep and storage. Add an idea, clipping, article link, you name it, and then tag it so you can easily find it with a simple search. 

From there, the process continues seamlessly: 

Sermon prep

Search from thousands of items to help you prepare your sermon, including thematic and topical outlines, sermon illustrations, other preachers’ sermons, and sermon visuals.

Preaching

Send your sermon art to Faithlife Proclaim, or transfer it manually to a different presentation program. 

Sharing

Get your sermons online with a click. Faithlife Sermons automatically posts your sermon to your other Faithlife products, such as Faithlife Sites and Faithlife Groups. You can also post your sermon manually elsewhere.  

Archiving

Simplify your sermon archives. Store all your sermons, including audio and automatically generated transcripts, in one place. And with smart search capabilities, your sermons are easy to find, organize, and reuse. 

Start a free trial at Sermons.Faithlife.com.

 

Are You Using the Same Preaching Illustrations Over and Over?

By Matthew Kim, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

I once sat under the preaching ministry of a pastor who loved his people. He cared about them. Everyone knew it. Everyone felt it. But after years of listening to his sermons, it was overtly clear that his illustrations came primarily from one source: quotations.

He would share lengthy quotes from his favorite preachers, famous pastors, and other well-known people. Those quotations served as the source of his illustrative material. He seldom deviated from using quotations.

Now there’s nothing wrong with using quotations. They can really shine light into a particular moment. Those exact words need to be expressed. But we know that illustrations could use some diversifying. I want to encourage you to diversify your illustrations.

Illustrations do primarily three things. They function to explain, prove, or apply, as Haddon Robinson explains in Biblical Preaching.

Some concepts need to be explained. Therefore, we’re going to use an illustration that explains the text.

Sometimes we want to persuade our listeners. We want to prove that the biblical concept or event actually occurred and validate its accuracy. So in those moments, we want to persuade or prove. To do so, we might tell a story from life to bolster persuasion.

Lastly, we want to apply the text. We want to help listeners put into practice exactly what is being taught. So we find an illustration from life that applies the concept.

Now where do we get illustrations? Illustrations can come from any source. You can think of personal examples. Think of the moment when you were driving down the highway and someone cut you off. Share with your listeners the things that you wanted to say, but couldn’t say or didn’t say. Give them examples of showing restraint in a moment of anger or frustration. You can think of a story that you tell your children at bedtime. Stories are powerful ways to illustrate what we’re trying to communicate.

We can also use movie clips with discernment. Sometimes a clip from a movie will convey what we’re trying to communicate in the sermon. We can create hypothetical situations. We can find them in newspapers or by observing people and how they interact with one another. Illustrations can come from statistics or novels. 

Simply put, illustrations can come from any source when we use our creativity. Instead of relying on one form alone, diversify your illustrations. Find creative ways to illustrate your points as you explain, prove, and apply the text. Diversify your illustrations.

Note: The Sermon Starter Guide in Logos is a great way to find new illustrations. It pulls illustrations, quotations, and more from your resources for passages and themes. Learn more and watch the video below.

This post is adapted from “Preach to one person at a time,” by Matthew Kim in Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry, edited by Scott M. Gibson (Lexham Press, 2016).

Intentionally Not Verse by Verse: Why the Paideia Commentary Goes by Pericope

Breeze through the Paideia commentary series description and you might miss its distinguishing mark:

The Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament approaches each text in its final, canonical form, proceeding by sense units (pericopes) rather than word by word or verse by verse. Thus, each commentary follows the original train of thought as indicated by the author instead of modern artificial distinctions. (Emphasis mine) [Read more…]

5 Things We Wish We’d Done in Seminary

seminary

A couple years ago, we asked some of our team members who attended seminary to share some of their experiences—what is the one piece of advice each one would want to leave for current seminarians. I hope the reflections are helpful to you. Many of them mention our book on this topic, Surviving and Thriving in Seminary.  [Read more…]

3 Reasons to Get Logos if You’re a Bible Study Leader (4 if You Include This Sale)

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<p>If you’ve never owned Logos before, now is a good time to take the leap—especially if you’re a small group leader. <strong>For just a little while longer, </strong><a href=

If you’ve never owned Logos before, now is a good time to take the leap—especially if you’re a small group leader. For just a little while longer, take up to $200 off of a Logos package!

Ideal for Bible study and small group leaders, these libraries prepare you to answer the tough questions before they’re even asked.  [Read more…]

The Disease of Modern Preaching That Will Kill Its Power

By Scott M. Gibson, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

Charles Gore, formerly bishop of Worcester, Birmingham, and finally Oxford, wrote more than a century ago, “The disease of modern preaching is its search after popularity.” [Read more…]

3 Days, 21 Libraries, Thousands of Books

The Logos library expansion sale is a scholar’s dream, and it ends in three days.

It features 21 library expansions of four sizes each, so you can find just the right addition to your own library. [Read more…]

Massive Tomes. Bigger Savings.

Announcing the IVP sale: up to 30% off major collections this month only.

As we wrote in a different post, IVP is one of those names. Those names in biblical studies everyone knows. [Read more…]

One of the Greatest Apologists of Our Time, Norman Geisler, Dead at 86

This morning the great apologist Norman Geisler passed away. It was announced on his ministry page, but I saw the news from my colleague Scott Lindsey, who knew Dr. Geisler personally.

Scott has permitted me to share his reflection here, which reveals a side of Dr. Geisler many weren’t privileged to see. [Read more…]