During my days as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, Carol and I attended Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, TX. Pastor Jim Rose met with seminary students and his wife, Phyllis, met with seminary wives to offer their insights and perspectives on ministry.
On one occasion, Jim Rose shared how he planned his sermon calendar three years in advance. Year one was what he was currently studying and preaching. Year two was what he was having his devotions in at present. Year three was what he was thinking about and collecting information about. We all marveled and wondered how you could ever plan that far ahead.
After 30+ years of ministry and almost 13 as a senior pastor, I find myself doing that very thing. I typically lay out my sermon calendar 3-12 months at a time. I give the list to our worship leaders to aid them in planning the services and picking appropriate music for the passage, if possible.
My approach to preaching is to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). I am committed to expository preaching, explaining what the text means and how to apply it in daily life. As I lay out my calendar, I try to balance Old Testament books, New Testament books, and topical series. With the Old Testament, sometimes I preach through a whole book and sometimes I focus on one character (Abraham, Joseph) and preach through the section of the book that deals with their life.
This past week, I laid out my plan for the next 18 months. I am currently preaching through the life of Moses (portions of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). We will follow that series with a study of the 7 “I AM” statements of Jesus, a vision series on the church (Revelation 1-3), 1 Peter, and the book of Joshua. Over the next year and a half, we will talk about character, marriage, leadership, culture, suffering, work, anger, how to live in today’s world, and much, much more.
One of the challenges in planning a sermon calendar is what to with Christmas and Easter, namely, how to avoid repeating yourself. My approach is to use a 3-4 year cycle of messages. While I do repeat myself, it’s not every year. Christmas/Advent: (1) Mary, Joseph, Wise men, Shepherds; (2) Anna, Simeon, Mary’s song of joy, Isaiah 9:6; (3) Isaiah’s prophecies, Isaiah 9:1-7, 11:1-16, 40:1-11, 52:13-53:12; (4) 7 “I AM’s” of Jesus. Palm Sunday: (1) Matthew 21:1-11; (2) Matthew 21:12-22; (3) John 12:12-26. Easter: (1) Luke 24:1-12; (2) Luke 24:13-35; (3) 1 Corinthians 15:1-19; (4) Luke 24:36-49 (I will add this one in future years).
Having a sermon calendar aids me in a number of ways. It ensures I don’t just tackle easy, familiar, favorite topics. I have to preach the next paragraph in line. It provides a sense of balance over time. It exposes me and the congregation to the entire word of God rather than one slice (gospels, epistles, etc.). It helps me to know where I’m going. When other staff take my place when I’m gone, they continue the series by taking the next passage, which helps maintain continuity as well as giving the congregation a different “voice.” It also reinforces the conviction that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
I’m grateful for Jim Rose’s model and encouragement. I’ve found it to be very beneficial.