If you preach regularly, you probably preach in sermon series. It creates efficiencies of sermon study, overlapping insights leading to greater depth, focuses the preaching plan for that season, and allows the listener to zero in on one area of their life instead of pin balling back and forth across many zones. It isn’t the only way to preach regularly and responsibly, but it is a good one. We regularly receive questions both in person and via email related to preaching in series. I have gathered insights from regularly preaching pastors, my own series preaching, texts on preaching in series, and some good old logic plus common sense. The result is 21 tips on preaching in series.
- Schedule a yearly sermon planning retreat. A lot of preachers find late July or early August to be a great time to do this. Many find that if they plan for October through September the sermon retreat doesn’t have as much pressure and gets them ahead of the game enough. Give significant time to listening prayer. Pastors do not get nearly enough time to listen to God deeply within their souls.
- Book guest or staff preachers surrounding the sermon planning retreat. You do not want the pressure of an up and coming Sunday blocking your creativity on your retreat. Get away, turn off the phone and email for blocks of time, and relive the creativity pressure for coming sermons.
- Use the church year, the civic year, the lectionary, expository series, and topical series to prevent you from getting into a rut. All of them have value. All of them have downfalls. Put another way…
- Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to the lectionary. Some people feel that if you are not using it you are not Christian. Silly.
- Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to the civic calendar. Some think if you use the lectionary you’re somehow off the ranch of the faith. Also silly.
- Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to topical preaching. Needs based preaching unchecked by another form ends up creating God in our own image. God asks questions we do not ask.
- Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to expository preaching. Preaching books of the bible is not the only legitimate form of series preaching. It is okay even good to preach toward people’s felt needs as long as you do it with faithful exegesis not motivational speaking.
- Create an easily accessible filing system for each sermon series. Think of it like having 10 crockpots cooking for the year. Keep throwing new materials into each crockpot to let it simmer whenever you find them. The longer the simmer the better the flavor.
- Choose your texts during the sermon planning retreat. 1/4th of preaching preparation time is wasted during the weeks leading up to the sermon anguishing over which text to preach. All of it is God breathed. Choose one, and preach on it!
- Get close to the focus of your sermon in your sermon planning retreat. You may say something different about the them than you thought you would, after all the text should rule the day. You may change the application direction. You may even have to change the theme occasionally. But having one directs the mind, focuses creativity, allows your team to help, and gets your brain started working while you sleep.
- Cut, clip, copy, paste, and do everything else you can to hoard up illustrations, ideas, insights, exegesis, and other sermon material in that sermon series’ file. Actively fill each crock-pot throughout the year. Some pastors find it helpful to use Evernote. I agree…it’s a great digital tool that you can clip right off the net into your file. Or snap a smartphone pic and drop it into that sermon series. Scan a page of a book and send it into the future three months.
- Only use verses topically that you have studying exegetically. That usually means 3 or 4 texts in a single sermon is the max no matter what some famous preachers do. If you buy sermons off of big name pastors be careful. They may believe something you do not. Given some pastors’ failing over the last few decades, you may not be getting truth. You might be buying misguided ideas.
- Keep review from previous sermons to the absolute minimum. Some pastors “review” introductions snowball into 10 minutes by the final sermon in a series. Just have them listen to the old ones online.
- 4 months out from the sermon series spend 2 hours a week on each message. The aim is to get to the point of clarity for your creative arts and worship team. If you do this regularly your preaching anxiety will drop immensely. It takes scheduling and discipline for a year. Then you will see the benefits and always want to schedule that discipline.
- Rarely work on just one sermon at a time. When you are truly stuck, switch passages. Creativity can hit a roadblock that the subconscious works on better than the conscious. Sermons often cross pollinate each other as well. So sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away, and come back fresh another day. So long as you are working ahead this isn’t procrastination.
- Remember that base hits win games. Avoid the temptation to make every sermon a home run. Move the listener one significant step closer each sermon in the series.
- Strategically map your application and decision moments so that they build upon the last sermon and catalyze the next. Start with applications that are foundational or catalytic at the beginning. Move toward greater leaps at the end.
- Avoid using a multitude of metaphors. A few metaphors are all that the series can handle. Keep them clear, concrete, and compelling.
- Listen to someone else preach on that text, topic, season…then write your own sermon. Preaching inspires preaching. You cross the line when you use their words, their illustrations, or their sermonic moves without credit. Just get inspired and write your own thing.
- Get another voice. In your sermon series, avoid carrying all the weight. If you can get one sermon handed off to someone who you can count on it will benefit the listener, the church, and you. You have blind spots in every sermon series you will ever preach.
- Practice 4, 3, 2, 1 rhythm for your sermons: 4 weeks out have a beginning outline you can work from even if you change it later. 3. weeks out have a story, an illustration, or an object that you can be excited about. 2 weeks out preach through the sermon for the first time and make necessary adjustments. 1 week out get down to polishing the sermon out loud.
These aren’t the only 21 tips we have for preaching in series, but they are 21 good ones. If you do these things you will be blessed in your preaching. Your anxiety will decrease. Your creativity will increase. Your teamwork will synergies. And best of all, God will be with you and made the work of your preaching fruitful.
© David B Ward, 2015