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Preparing a Sermon Series
By Mark Witas
About three times a year I wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of a nightmare. The nightmare usually has something to do with me at church, standing up behind the pulpit and realizing that I haven't prepared anything to say. That moment of panic is enough to interrupt any conscientious pastor from a peaceful night's sleep.
So how do I prevent my nightmares from entering the realms of reality? I take very seriously the preparation and progression of an annual sermon calendar. This sermon calendar then leads me into preparing individual sermon series, which make the preparation of weekly sermons an easier task.
In preparing an annual sermon calendar I always consider what I want to teach my church during that calendar year. Standard fare in each year's curriculum are: 1) Adventist doctrine and standards; 2) Intentional stewardship; 3) Practical theology; 4) Bible knowledge and 5) Natural topics for the season (Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day...). All of these are centered in and plugged into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I usually prepare and then update my calendars in six month increments (May and December) each year so that I can publish them for my secretary, church elders and conference office. Some examples of series this year at the PUC church are: Women of the Bible, Men of the Bible, What We Believe (A six week series on Adventist doctrine), Being Saved (The theology and practice of salvation, a three week series) and the Psalms. Each of these topics is assigned a three to six week spot in our calendar. And each series will incorporate the goals I set for my curriculum to some extent.
As the lead pastor for my church, I feel it is my responsibility to seek God's leading in preparing these series. As I prepare, I do so prayerfully. I also ask my elders what they feel the church needs to hear and respond to in the coming calendar year. And finally, I look to see what has been taught in previous years so that I don't duplicate topics or series too soon.
Honing the Sermon Series
After I know the themes of a series I began to narrow down the topic for each week. For instance, in a recent series on Adventist beliefs I narrowed my six weeks down to: Three Angel's messages (part one and two), Sabbath, Death, Hell and Remnant. Knowing that these series were coming up, I'd have a file set aside for each one (a computer file for me, some prefer paper) so that when I'd run into a story, a text, an idea or a web reference I could add that to the file so that by the week of the sermon, I'd have fuel for thinking and writing.
Each individual series will, of course, have a different goal. In the Adventist belief series, my goal was to accent the idea that each of our doctrines gives us a glimpse into the loving character of God. We would start all of our teachings in that series with the reminder that God is Love. And end each teaching reminding each listener that God's love, as revealed in Jesus, is behind every teaching and doctrine in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In a series I did in a previous church, the goal was quite different (although God's loving character is certainly a theme present in every teaching...or at least it should be). The series was called Minor Prophets. In this series a minor goal was to acquaint my church with a group of books that are mostly glossed over by faithful Bible readers. The major goal, of course, was to show the extreme length God went to in order to get the attention of His people. God tried desperately to avoid the disasters of Assyria and Babylon captivity. This series was packed with practical life lessons that could be applied directly to each believer's daily life.
Of course, the big question that needs to be answered at the end of every series and at the end of every sermon is, "So what?" Another way to ask the same question is, "How will the sermon I preach on Sabbath affect my church members on Tuesday?"
Each sermon needs to carry with it a challenge for the coming week. It doesn't have to be a list or a particular "thing" for someone to do, but it should have a pragmatic element to it.
I was in a church once where the pastor did a sermon on the effects of television watching on the family. At the end of his sermon he handed each family a TV guide and challenged each family that evening to sit down together, pray about their choices of news and entertainment and then highlight each TV show they were going to watch. The overriding challenge then, was to only watch what was highlighted. This had a dramatic affect on what people decided to watch and not watch together.
Standing in front of God's people and delivering something meaningful each week is no easy task. But with good long term planning, focused series and Spirit led weekly preparation, I believe our pulpits can be a key vehicle for revival and spiritual growth in our churches.
Mark Witas is lead pastor for the Pacific Union College Church