This book primarily answers three questions:
- Why do we preach?
- Why should we plan our preaching?
- How do we do (1) and (2)?
I like the way Gibson puts it when he talks about the goal of preaching. He says,
“We engage in what we do for the growth of men and women and boys and girls in the faith. We want to stretch believers to expand their faith and obedience as they grow in grace. Our goal is Christlikeness, and we know that believers in Jesus Christ will mature in their faith through faithful sermon planning and the preaching of God’s Word.” (13)
Notice he includes not just preaching, but also faithful sermon planning. Gibson reminds us, we want to provide food that’s both healthy and tasty, and while purposeful planning for preaching may take time, in the end it also saves time. So do it!
Scott M. Gibson believes, “For your preaching to reach the goal of maturing believers, you want to be purposeful – you want to have a strategy.” (107) In this book Gibson provides a framework to do just that – for purposeful preaching that moves men and women and boys and girls toward spiritual maturity, including a very helpful 15-step plan at the very end of the book that I plan on utilizing very soon. Gibson reminds us that for planning purposes – it isn’t very important how many people are in the pews – what is important is that we take note of where our congregants are at spiritually.
What are our strengths? weaknesses? idols? struggles? joys? sorrows? If each member of your congregation were placed on a bell-shaped curve, where are the majority of your people as regards to their spiritual states? Gibson says, preach to that! That way you aren’t just preaching what you want to preach, you are preaching what they need you to preach based on who they are and what their actual, current spiritual needs are at the moment.
While I look forward to utilizing Gibson’s prescribed process by which to plan sermons, I also appreciated reading about the different (legitimate) types of sermon series available. A few of these I’ve never seen and never tried myself (especially some of the ways to utilize different calendars for determining what to preach when). It was helpful for me just reading through the different options and thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of each one. As far as I saw it in this book, the six main options include:
- The Calendar Year Plan. This type of sermon series follows the calendar. One preacher in this mode begins his preaching calendar with Easter. Spring offers rich sermon topics (Easter is the big hook, drawing once-a-year visitors, and then there are relationship topics – Mother’s Day and Father’s Day), followed by Summer (creatively linked random topics), Fall (regrouping and spiritual life), Winter (the holidays and a strategic series that focuses on the mission and vision of the church), Bible book series (February and March, the longest series being ten weeks), and then what he calls “pre-Easter” (evangelistic focus, reminding people to invite friends to the Easter services). Other similar variations include:
- The Christian Calendar – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time, Etc.
- The Secular Calendar – January through December
- The School Calendar – Think in terms of “semesters” or “quarters”
- The Church Calendar – What activities is the church engaged in, and when? How should sermons be aligned with this?
- The Denominational calendar – Similar to above.
- The Preacher’s Personal Calendar – When will the preacher take vacation? What part of the year is most busy? Etc.
- The Bible Book Plan. This can include preaching verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, idea-by-idea or section-by-section. One preacher began in the first verse in Genesis and continued through the last verse in Revelation. Some preachers focus on particular genres. Martin Lloyd-Jones for example, favored preaching on the Epistles. He once preached on the book of Romans for fourteen years. Others, in an attempt at providing the congregation a well-balanced diet, will alternate between OT book and then NT Book. Another way of picking books may be to preach different genres throughout the year so as to provide a well rounded “menu.” Preach a prophet, then a law, then a narrative, then an epistle, than an apocalyptic, then a pastoral, etc.
- The Church Attendance Plan. In this format, sermons are placed at strategic points during the year, based on the specific audience in attendance.
- The Lectionary Plan. Usually utilizing the New Revised Common Lectionary, preachers follow the assigned years and preach from the texts already assigned.
- The Special Days Plan. [Technically this probably falls under another bullet point, but it is such a novel idea for me that I put it here as completely separate.] Instead of planning for one Thanksgiving sermon, one Christmas sermon, and one Easter sermon, for example, they plan for five of each, one for each of the next five years. This prevents them from falling into the bad habit of using the same approach to these special occasions each year, and at the same time makes for broader, more balanced, more comprehensive preaching. (121)
- The Topical Series Plan. This is when the preacher decides on a topic to talk about, how long s/he wants to talk about that topic, then picks passages to go with that topic. Gibson reminds us there are creative ways to do this, including:
- Preach the series on only one Sunday a month.
- A series may be sporadic. That is, say that you’re preaching through the Gospel of John intending to teach throughout the year about who Jesus is. But you want to vary the intake of the content with other series. Your intention to preach through John can be spread out over the year by preaching an eight-week series on John and then a different series. After the second series, you pick up the series on John for several more weeks.
- Spread the sermon series over a two-year period of time.
Typically, my own church goes back and forth between the topical series plan and the Bible book plan. Most of the times our series don’t go for longer than three months – although our most recent series on I Peter lasted 5 and 1/2 months. The church I attended before my current church followed the lectionary and I loved that as well. However, after reading this book I’m intrigued by the idea of calendar preaching and want to think about if that would ever make sense for the congregation I’m a part of.