Topositional Preaching by Pastor Rick Kavanaugh

My wife and I missed the TV series 24. We were living in the north Maine woods where cable and satellite were unavailable. After the first two seasons were aired, we bought the DVDs for Season One. We were hooked. In fact, we now laugh about going to work red-eyed and groggy because each night we stayed up until 2am saying, “Let’s watch just one more episode.” 24 created a series where each show was like a chapter in a book. The story line moved from show to show. I now like watching TV series better than movies. A movie has to cram an entire plot into one showing. A TV series can develop character and plot over many episodes.

Preaching is much the same. A stand-alone sermon is like a movie. Everything pertinent to the message has to be said in that one sitting. And because we only have 30 minuets or so, we spend as much time cutting material as we did researching it. A sermon series, however, is more like a TV series. We can develop theme, plot lines and character over a number of weeks. That’s why I am committed to preaching in series.

So every year I have worked to create a preaching calendar, which has led to another problem. Dietrich Bonheoffer said that preaching the Word of God is the Word of God. He meant that when we expound the Scriptures, Christ, through His Spirit, is incarnated in the congregation. The implications of that statement are far reaching. One is that an incarnational sermon is one that moves from text to topic. But the typical preaching calendar tips calls us to move from topic to text. We are encouraged to think about the needs of our church and plan various sermon series accordingly. Each year we need to be sure and include a series on marriage, sex, finances, parenting, relationships and vision. Those are the issues people are thinking about when they walk through our doors.

The most pragmatic way to do that is to develop topical sermon series. But if Bonheoffer was right, then moving from topic to text is potentially dangerous. If I do not exposit a text, but instead, hang a verse on a point, then I am not preaching the Word of God. I am using the Word of God to support my ideas. If I am not preaching the Word of God, then my preaching is not the Word of God. It is human wisdom. Paul had some harsh things to say about that in 1 Corinthians.

That leads to my struggle in creating preaching calendars. Moving from felt needs to Biblical text makes the sermons appear relevant. And moving from text to topic threatens to make the message seem disconnected from life. How can we create an expositional preaching calendar that feels like a needs-based sermon series? If I introduce a 37 part sermon series through the book of Joshua people will check out. But if I stay exclusively with topically based sermon series, I may hinder the work of the Holy Spirit.

This year I created a preaching calendar that appears to be topical and relevant, but is in fact, expositional. I started by blocking out specific dates—Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, guest speakers, vacations, etc. I also blocked out specific times when I need to preach a stand alone sermon, or a topical mini-series. Yes, I do still preach some topical messages, but it is the exception. When I do preach that type of sermon I preach what I call a “topositional” sermon. (That’s another article). I then looked at the blocks of weeks between those dates. For example, from the first of January until Palm Sunday are 14 Sundays. The first three Sundays I am preaching a series on finances. Then I have a guest speaker on January 26. So my first open block of weeks starts in February.

I have 10 weeks open from the first of February until Palm Sunday. This year I feel led to preach through the book of 1 Corinthians. I am going to divide the book up into separate sermon series and brand them as such. So my first installment will be a four-part series. The second will also be a four-part, and the last two weeks will be a two part mini series. That will take me to Easter. Then after Easter, I will continue through 1 Corinthians. Though I will preach systematically through 1 Corinthians, I will not promote it in that way. Instead, I have taken each preaching segment and have studied it to discover the controlling theme. Then, I have sought a way to advertise it that connects with the felt needs of our congregation.

For example, the first preaching segment will be 1 Corinthians 1:1-31. I have divided this chapter into four parts; 1:1-9, 1:10-17, 1:18-25 and 1:26-31. The theme of this section is for the church to live in unity. Paul talks about fellowship and fighting. I decided to craft the theme around the movie, The Lord of the Rings. My personal notes, to direct me in sermon preparation are listed below.

Series Title: The Fellowship of the Ring—This series will focus on the need for the church to be in unity; that we need to be united in heart and mission and that our allegiance must be on the One true leader of the church—Jesus Christ

  1. Feb 2—The Mission of the Ring1:1-9—This passage establishes the foundational importance of unity—it focuses on the fact that we all have to be united in heart, mind and mission. I will draw from the movie the idea that everyone engaged in the mission, though coming from a different background, all had to work together or the mission would fail.
  2. Feb 9—Everyone wants the Ring1:10-17—There are often divisions and fights in the church because people engage in politics, pushing various agendas and leaders. Jesus hates politics in the church, because there is only one leader (Jesus) and one agenda (His mission). In the movie, various characters were fighting to possess the ring. I will use that for the tie-in to the movie.
  3. Feb 16—The Lord of the Ring1:18-25—people are drawn to powerful leaders but Christ is the Lord of our fellowship and He is our focus and message.
  4. Feb 23—A Simple Hobbit1:26-31—God doesn’t call superstars, just ordinary people transformed by the gospel.

list_page66_item1Pastor Rick Kavanaugh has been at First Wesleyan Church in High Point, NC since July, 2008 and came from Presque Isle, Maine, where he served as a Senior Pastor for 22 years. He and his wife, Marcia, have been married for 30 years. They have 2 kids and a granddaughter and a grandson.

 

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