Archive for March, 2014

Why a Preaching Calendar? Part 4

In this series of blogs, we have discussed the advantages of planning your preaching and identified a process for doing so. We ended our last conversation, having considered the kinds of messages and sermon series you would schedule. But how do you schedule them?

Again, our first step is to seek God’s direction. We certainly want His help in scheduling the portions of His Word we will share with the people. He, alone, knows the challenges and issues your people will encounter, and He will guide us to just the right words in just the right moments.

As He guides you, consider the strategic opportunities of the coming year. Are there ministry moments on the calendar that would benefit from a close connection to your preaching? For example, wouldn’t a mission-focused series fit just ahead of your outreach plans? Knowing what your congregation will be doing this year allows you to schedule your preaching in a way that contributes to their efforts.

Let’s call this a “strategic” calendar. Really, it’s just a merger of your “event” and “preaching” calendars. When you combine your preaching with an event that gives feet to your words, the truths can naturally drive deeper into your people’s lives. So in places where your planned preaching can be an asset to congregational activity, it makes sense to align your schedule.

Also, you’ll want to bring balance to your themes. If you spend 6-8 weeks on doctrinal themes, you’ll likely want to follow that series with preaching that’s more application focused. Back-to-back doctrinal studies or Bible-book studies that come from similar settings may end up feeling like one long series. Using a varied approach probably means not following a series from Galatians with a series from Colossians. Yes, there are differences (significant ones), but you may need to be a Bible scholar to keep those differences clear in your mind–and your audience can’t be counted on for such historical clarity. Mix it up!

Finally, consider your congregation’s attendance patterns. Every church has months where attendance is high, and we all have those other months too. Plan your most important series–like a vision series, a Christian living series, a missional series, or even a stewardship series, for high attendance times. Use high attendance times for those things you believe God is most clearly speaking to your people. Of course, that doesn’t mean those other Sundays are less important, but match the messages you believe are most needed with the times when most of your congregation will be there to receive them.

Finally, scheduling your special guests, missionary speakers, etc. is a great way to become more intentional in giving focus to these moments. If you simply wait for the phone to ring to think about a guest speaker, you’re missing a chance to be more intentional. Knowing what month you want a missionary speaker means you can initiate the contact with the individual you want to impact your congregation.

Ultimately, the preaching calendar allows you to be more intentional and involve more people in helping you communicate the truths of God’s Word. Certainly, you can always maintain the flexibility necessary to adjust your plan if a clear need arises, but now you know the what and when of your preaching so other ministry leaders can bring their communication gifts (music, drama, media, decor) alongside to enhance your ministry efforts.

ONE FINAL NOTE: Many pastors say that their first efforts at a preaching calendar didn’t feel successful. They found themselves changing the plan frequently throughout their year so they just gave up and went back to their older approaches. Give yourself time to adapt to a new way of doing things. You may need a year or two before new habits become comfortable. Don’t hold yourself to an unrealistic standard. Just make a new effort and grow into your new approach. The lessons you learn along the way are often what make the journey as worthwhile as the ultimate destination.

If you have questions or ideas to share, just respond to this blog. We look forward to hearing from you…

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 126

126. “Now what do you say?” (John 8:5).

There are signature moments for leaders, when they are confronted with the implications of their own words. Anytime you choose a direction, you’ll be confronted with the alternative. Stand for what you believe in and you’ll have to face what others choose to believe in. Or, as here, proclaim a new way and you’ll be forced to face down the old way. Enemies will always draw lines in the sand. They will always look to box you into a corner where few will choose to join you. This is perhaps the greatest type of conflict the leader will face–the right to lead and the revelation of where that leadership will take you. These moments are challenges, but these defining moments also can establish us, for they reveal the reason our leadership has come most clearly into focus.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

The Brotherhood – Part 136

The Brotherhood of the Second Cross was established on Father’s Day 2005 where 160 men stood before their wives and children to pledge themselves to purity, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and excellence. Today, hundreds more have joined the commitment.

How do you manage your energy?

Okay, I understand how odd that question sounds. Many of us have been watching basketball recently, and–like most sporting events teach us–we know that you give all you’ve got. Mainly because you have the entire off-season to recover.

But there’s no off-season in life.

Burning the candle at both ends leaves you with a waxy mess. If you don’t figure out a way to refuel, to manage your daily energy, you won’t be able to maintain your pace for long.

Now, I must confess that I’m writing this blog in the midst of a four-month stretch of seven day work weeks. Office life all week coupled with work-related travel on weekends has left me fighting an early Spring head cold, and a weariness no cold medication can touch. Once again, I am ready to confess my vincibility, or whatever you call a lack of its opposite.

God knew we’d have days like this. That’s why He more than suggested the idea of Sabbath. His command for a day of rest, reflection, AND NO WORK, underscores something the Creator knows about life–our batteries must be recharged every six days.

So how do you do that?

Do you have a pattern for rest? Is sleep something you give 4-5 hours to each night or do you recognize your need of more? Many Americans struggle to sleep well, and I have to wonder if it’s because we’ve short-changed our bodies for so long that now we have a cellular-level revolt on our hands.

How many days of your vacation does it take to unwind? I’m guessing that the right answer should be “one” but it isn’t for most of us. If we drive hard all year, it makes sense that shifting into neutral for a couple of weeks is going to grind the gears for awhile.

In my arena, sabbaticals are the rage among ministry leaders. These three-month stints of study and rest are aimed at refueling the ministry-worn, but more than a few have led to new career moves. Why? ‘Cause we’re worn out!

In our finances, we often speak of “living within our means” and we know that failure to do so lands us in debt-laden struggles. Perhaps we should take the same wise approach with our physical strength. Maybe observing a real Sabbath every week would keep us from the massive debt payments we’ll soon start making to our bodies.

It makes sense that God would know this. He’s the One who designed and originally coiled the spring in our step. He’s the One who knows our limits, and He knows they don’t evaporate no matter how we try to ignore them. So, perhaps we should listen to His command here.

Pick a day and shut down the engine. 

You may say, “Mike, I can’t afford a whole day!” Well, that sounds a bit like the guy who can’t tithe a full 10% doesn’t it? Ultimately, the issue isn’t our workload, but our obedience. If we can’t do as God has told us, then clearly our trust in Him needs questioning.

So pick a day…and hurry!

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 125

125. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives (John 8:1).

The leader must go places others do not. While the disciples went to their own homes, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray. And he spent the night there, emerging the next morning for another extraordinary day. Leaders must reach further and go deeper if they are to lead others well. They must sacrifice and more determinedly seek direction. Jesus spent the night in prayer while His disciples spent the night in the bosom of their families. The stark difference reveals a leader that isn’t pursuing His own agenda, but seeks to receive from the Father. Hard to believe that no one followed Him or truly wanted to stay awake and experience such a moment–even from a distance. But that’s the role of a leader. He must go where others don’t desire to go.



Categories: Leadership Journeys

Why a Preaching Calendar? – Part 3

As we continue our series on the why and how-to of a preaching calendar, we are now ready for the “nuts and bolts” of assembling our plan. Once you have set yourself apart from a time of reflection and planning, and have focused your attention  upward, where God has your undivided attention, you’re now ready to listen and respond.

First, decide that your congregation is on a journey. You are not simply providing fifty-two opportunities each year to “start your week right.” The preaching plan says “we are headed somewhere–on purpose!” So what are the most critical steps in that journey?

1. Vision–where are we going?

If you are going to move in a direction as a church, people need to know where we are going. I’d suggest that Sundays be given every year to shaping or “casting” vision for the church. Typically, this can involve multiple Sundays, where you might present the big picture purposes of the Church, the unique manner in which your local church lives that out, and the specific steps we wil take in the year ahead. There’s much to share in a “vision month” including your church values, and a clear presentation of how they are lived out Monday through Saturday. Without vision, people perish (the idea is that they scatter their own way in the desert and they die)!

2. Biblical Living

Consider which larger portions of the Bible you will study together this year. Think of these sermon series as the best fuel for your congregation’s journey. Many who use preaching plans prefer an expositor approach to preaching where they tackle one book of the Bible at a time. How deep they go determines how long the series lasts. While there are no clear “thou shalts” when it comes to the best length for a sermon series, I would recommend 4-12 weeks for most of us. Some go longer, but if you’re in your 43rd week in the book of Leviticus, you better be a really good speaker 🙂

For most of us, choosing 2-3 books of the Bible each year as foundations for sermon series is the best place to get started. When preaching such series, consider an outline for each message that reveals–What does it say? Why does it matter? What does it look like? Studying the Bible for historical context and understanding alone will help you figure out Moses’ journey, but not your as a local church. The point of such preaching is to bring the text’s proven wisdom into my world and show me how to live it on Tuesdays.

3. Doctrinal Themes

Most churches and denominational groups have doctrinal statements they adhere to on some level. And there are key themes that define a local church and shape its values. So perhaps you will want to include a short (4-6 week) series that walks through your most critical beliefs. Again, be sure to do more than inform. Help people see how these fundamental beliefs shape daily life.

4. Christian Living

You may want to include some “topical-textual” series that give guidance for specific needs on the journey. By “topical-textual” we mean sermon series that address specific topics, but do so from a clear Biblical foundation that uses passages which speak clearly to the topic. This is not a potpourri of proof-texting, where random Scriptures may be separated from their context and true meaning, but the Biblical writers tackled topics, and you should too.

So, here you may want to provide a series on stewardship, or the elements of the fruit of the Spirit, or the characteristics of Biblical leadership, or some other set of subjects you believe your people need to strengthen the journey. These type of series usually work best in the 4-8 sermon range.

5. Special events

Of course, you’ll want to plan for special events, guests speakers, and holiday observances. These include missions conventions and services, advent/Christmas celebrations, Easter series, and perhaps a community-focused event or two. While you may not be certain of the exact Sundays where a guest speaker will be scheduled, plan for it and you’ll have a basis for saying “yes” or “no” to the request.

When it comes to holidays, don’t feel obligated to provide an extended celebration of every holiday every year. Perhaps you could prepare a 4-week Easter series this year and a 4-week Christmas series next year. One year, you may preach to moms on Mother’s Day while the next year you choose to spend that Sunday in the series you’re currently preaching. (You don’t have to let Hallmark and the cultural calendar dictate half of your preaching year. Your church can celebrate these holidays effectively, even if your sermon isn’t a part of that celebration.)

Once you have identified the series pieces and individual sermons of your upcoming year, now you’re ready to place them on the calendar. We’ll discuss this next step in Part 4 of our series next week.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 124

124. “You will find that a prophet does not come from Galilee (John 7:52).

We think we have all the answers. We take our interpretations–our understanding of the way things work–and we build fences against evidence to the contrary. These religious leaders couldn’t see Jesus apart from their religious constructs. They couldn’t evaluate Him on the evidence of His life because they blinded themselves with “the way things work.” How often do we close our eyes to truth because it doesn’t come in the wrapping we’re used to? When we decide the way things are supposed to be, we close ourselves from good things that might come from another direction. And when that good thing is eternal life, we have made a tragic choice.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

The Brotherhood – Part 135

The Brotherhood of the Second Cross was established on Father’s Day 2005 where 160 men stood before their wives and children to pledge themselves to purity, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and excellence. Today, hundreds more have joined the commitment.

What gets your best?

Men spend their best in many different places. For some, their work gets the lion share of their energy and focus. Others reserve their best for hobbies. Many store up their energy until game time and then exert their full attention on their favorite sports teams, while others channel their attention toward a few of their relationships. Somewhere nestled in our thoughts and behaviors is a priority list, even if we choose not to look at it too closely.

Many have said that men aren’t really multi-taskers. We may have many things going on, but we function best when we are tackling them one at a time. I’m not fully convinced of such insights, but I admit that plowing through the to-do list one step at a time usually feels best.

So, if we spend our best in only a few places, which do we choose? We can argue that our financial responsibilities nudge work toward the top. But how many guys have to lose everything else in the chase for more dollars before we question their priorities–and ours?

Spending our best energy on our hobbies or sports teams seems like a lot of fun, but that starts looking rather self-centered after awhile, doesn’t it?

It seems that giving our best to our most critical relationships has the greatest potential for bringing the life we want. The older I get, the more those relationships seem to matter–even to define life itself. A happy marriage, good times with my children, and amazing moments with my granddaughter currently dominate life’s highlight reel. Yes, I want to give great effort for those who purchase a 40-hour per week piece of me, but I do that so I can do something else–live!

Though it seems to cut against the grain of a man’s programming, relationships are the real stuff of life. For many, it takes a few decades of adult life to make such a discovery, but it proves true nonetheless. Sadly many learn the lesson after the relationships they once had are no more.

Yes, you can give your best to more than one setting, but be sure that your relationships to God, your wife, and your kids top the charts. These are the essential kings of your mountain so don’t let something else knock them from that perch.

Sacrificial commitment for those you love is the real stuff of manhood. Nothing on your business card will ever matter like that.