I am sitting in the library at Heritage Seminary for the next couple of days working on my 2009-10 preaching calendar. It sure does bring back a lot of good memories looking out the library window at Liquidation World across the street.
This process which I am starting today and won't finish for at least another month is somewhat like trying to hold on to water in just the palm of your hands. By the end of tomorrow I will have a number of what I think are good ideas but by the end of June many of them will have leaked right through only to be replaced by some others. I consider this journey a spiritual discipline which engages multiple relationships with listening ears. It is a time of deep questions and the expending of much mental energy. Preparing for the preaching the "whole counsel of God" should take nothing less.
So what is the process?
Informally it is ongoing, all the time. Formally . . .
It always begins with a series of significant questions that I engage in prayer over. Where are we in the life of our church? In this question I am attempting to reflect on where we have come from the past year or two as a church in the area of our mission, vision, values. I will attempt to ponder whether there are any significant obstacles that need to be addressed as related to these things. What is going on in my life? I don't solely rely on myself and how I am feeling to develop my preaching calendar but I do sense that the burdens I have in my life are most of the time tied very closely to life needs in our church family. What are the spiritual maturity needs in our church family?
It's not like I have a checklist of questions but I take the time to create a story of where we are as a church. For example, we have just finished what I think is a chapter in the life of our church, I call it chapter one. We have just completed a building expansion, are engaged significantly in ministry in Uganda, and we are embarking on reaching single moms and their children in our region. The last three years has been a push to the point we are at and God has done some very cool things in the life of our church. We are now at the end of this first phase and it just feels like we are starting chapter two. Even the change in our staffing has sort of solidified this for us. So I am sensing a need to revisit some of our core values next year in our preaching. Before we get too far into chapter two we want to make sure we know who we are and what we have been called to be.
I try to engage as many people as possible in the process. Our elders know what I am doing and they will interact with my initial work in June, as well as feed me ideas along the way. Our ministry staff is praying for me and has total freedom to blow up my ideas and to give me their great ideas (and yes it works both ways). I will engage our church community via email asking for their input with no promises.
I am guided by principles. A number of years ago I developed a guiding principle document for making choices with my preaching. It is a guide and I can tell you I have many times broken rank with this document. However, every year I find it very helpful to return to it and rehearse what I sense is important in the content of preaching for our church family. I think every communicator should be able to articulate what guides them in their choices.
I map my ideas out in broad strokes. I have been wrestling with a desire to preach through Romans. This would be a huge thing for our church. Most of our series are at the max 8 or 9 weeks. Preaching Romans 1-11 would take me a long time even if I made it more topical or split it up into three different series on the same biblical book. But I try not to get bogged down with that at this point. If I think Romans would be a good idea I put it down along with all the other ideas that I think would be beneficial along with justification for my thoughts.
I critique my rationale. Is preaching through Romans this year really a good idea? Does it fit with where we are at as a church family? What critical need does doing this meet?
After I do that I try to make some initial picks and some very general research for the purpose of outlining timing and themes. I already know that I will be doing a six week series on Spiritual Gifts in the fall. We know this is a critical need in the life of our church as we move forward in our ministry objectives for the next three years. So I will try to by the end of June come up with a list of passages and themes for the six weeks related to that series which starts after Thanksgiving 09.
So by the end of June I should have a good idea of what I think the year should look like from a Sunday morning preaching perspective. I will let our ministry team and elders give me feedback on what I have done to this point. I do view this as a team effort. To this point this works well for us but I could envision the day when we are even more collaborative in the process.
I will spend a week either in July or early August preparing in more detail the outline of series and collecting information. Hopefully this gets us headed in the right direction and we will banter about more of the details in the office week to week as we move forward together throughout the year.
I hold on to all of this loosely. Every year we change something. Almost always making the change was definitely the right thing to do. But starting with a plan has always been a superior idea.
This process is not purely an exercise of my mind it also is one that engages my heart. I will spend signficant time listening over the course of this month. I do believe the Spirit impresses things on our hearts and I am watching for that in my life . . . much of the time in silence.
To the glory of God.