#4 of 09: Planning a Preaching Calendar

Ironically, how we plan our preaching calendar at Revolution is one of the most common questions I get from other pastors. In fact, in the last 2 weeks I’ve been asked about it almost a dozen times that I thought I would share how we decide what we preach on and how far out we plan and why we do it this way.

First off, plan ahead. I am stunned by how little planning goes into some churches. You would think that pastors don’t care what is happening in their churches. Naturally, I am a planner, so this is easier for me and actually more comforting when it is done. For example, the other day I talked to a pastor that said, “It’s Thursday and all I have is a title.” That’s like saying, “All I need is a chip and a chair.” We need better odds than that when it comes to preaching. Now, before you get on my case, God does speak at the end of the week, God does change what we are to see while we are walking up to the stage. It has happened to me and it is exciting and scary all at the same time, but this cannot be our normal practice.

At Revolution, we have decided that the best way for us to reach our mission and target is to preach through books of the Bible. This does not mean we are against topical (that’s a bad discussion in my opinion), we just like doing it this way.

We split series up into two categories:  attractional and missional. Attractional will feel more topical, felt needs, but are based on a book of the Bible. Some examples:  Song of Solomon, 30 Days to Live (which was topical, see we aren’t against it), The Sermon on the Mount. The other category is missional which tends to be more formation, doctrine, theology. Some examples:  Becoming, Jonah, and Hebrews.

We also try to alternate between Old and New Testament books of the Bible. What we are trying to do is to make sure we are giving our church a healthy balance not only of books of the Bible, but also styles and feel.

After the sermon on the mount, we are planning to kick 2010 off by preaching through Nehemiah which is a very mission/leadership focused book.

One thing that we preach on every year is marriage, dating and relationships. For our target and culture, this makes sense. You can check out the series we are starting in 2 weeks here: www.iwantanewmarriage.org.

What about length?

We haven’t bought into doing a 3 – 6 week series only. Hebrews took 18 weeks and Nehemiah will take 22 weeks. For the sermon on the mount, we decided to break it up into 4 smaller series to create more on ramps for our church and guests this fall. The length of the series is not that big of a deal as long as the speaker is up for it. Long series are draining. We try to stay away from doing long series back to back as that is draining on me, our team and our church. After the serious feel of Hebrews, we did a video teaching series with Dave Ramsey which felt completely different.

How far out do we plan?

We look about 12 months ahead when it comes to thinking through topics. This is where so many pastors do themseles a disservice. The other day I was reading a leadership book and the author was quoting and pointing to the book of Nehemiah all over the place. Without knowing that I wanted to preach through this book, I would have missed a ton of great information. Could I have remembered it and gone back to it? Sure, but that is risky.

My point is, plan ahead in some way. By planning ahead we are able to do a lot more creatively as opposed to go week to week.

Are we flexible?

Yes. Just because we are planning something does not mean it is written in stone and unchangable. Over the summer we were actually planning to preach through Habakkuk but decided about 4 weeks out to do the life of Elijah instead, which proved to be the right move. Before making the change though, our creative team let me know we had not gone far enough into the creative process for that series. It is important to not waste your team’s time.

For our creative process, we look 6 – 8 weeks out as we think through atmosphere, visuals, video clips, dramas, cover songs. As we get closer, Paul takes us through a process of honing in on what we will use and how it will flow.

How long would this take? Not very long. In fact, if you sat down right now and made a list of topics you would like to teach on in the next 6 – 12 months you would be well on your way.

When I started preaching through books of the Bible, I picked James to start out with because it was my favorite book of the Bible. Not very spiritual, I know, but it worked and I started to get used to it.

The point is, plan ahead. Way too much is at stake to go week to week.

Now I’ve told you how we do it, how do you plan your series? How do you decide what to preach on?

Planning a Preaching Calendar

Ironically, how we plan our preaching calendar at Revolution is one of the most common questions I get from other pastors. In fact, in the last 2 weeks I’ve been asked about it almost a dozen times that I thought I would share how we decide what we preach on and how far out we plan and why we do it this way.

First off, plan ahead. I am stunned by how little planning goes into some churches. You would think that pastors don’t care what is happening in their churches. Naturally, I am a planner, so this is easier for me and actually more comforting when it is done. For example, the other day I talked to a pastor that said, “It’s Thursday and all I have is a title.” That’s like saying, “All I need is a chip and a chair.” We need better odds than that when it comes to preaching. Now, before you get on my case, God does speak at the end of the week, God does change what we are to see while we are walking up to the stage. It has happened to me and it is exciting and scary all at the same time, but this cannot be our normal practice.

At Revolution, we have decided that the best way for us to reach our mission and target is to preach through books of the Bible. This does not mean we are against topical (that’s a bad discussion in my opinion), we just like doing it this way.

We split series up into two categories:  attractional and missional. Attractional will feel more topical, felt needs, but are based on a book of the Bible. Some examples:  Song of Solomon, 30 Days to Live (which was topical, see we aren’t against it), The Sermon on the Mount. The other category is missional which tends to be more formation, doctrine, theology. Some examples:  Becoming, Jonah, and Hebrews.

We also try to alternate between Old and New Testament books of the Bible. What we are trying to do is to make sure we are giving our church a healthy balance not only of books of the Bible, but also styles and feel.

After the sermon on the mount, we are planning to kick 2010 off by preaching through Nehemiah which is a very mission/leadership focused book.

One thing that we preach on every year is marriage, dating and relationships. For our target and culture, this makes sense. You can check out the series we are starting in 2 weeks here: www.iwantanewmarriage.org.

What about length?

We haven’t bought into doing a 3 – 6 week series only. Hebrews took 18 weeks and Nehemiah will take 22 weeks. For the sermon on the mount, we decided to break it up into 4 smaller series to create more on ramps for our church and guests this fall. The length of the series is not that big of a deal as long as the speaker is up for it. Long series are draining. We try to stay away from doing long series back to back as that is draining on me, our team and our church. After the serious feel of Hebrews, we did a video teaching series with Dave Ramsey which felt completely different.

How far out do we plan?

We look about 12 months ahead when it comes to thinking through topics. This is where so many pastors do themseles a disservice. The other day I was reading a leadership book and the author was quoting and pointing to the book of Nehemiah all over the place. Without knowing that I wanted to preach through this book, I would have missed a ton of great information. Could I have remembered it and gone back to it? Sure, but that is risky.

My point is, plan ahead in some way. By planning ahead we are able to do a lot more creatively as opposed to go week to week.

Are we flexible?

Yes. Just because we are planning something does not mean it is written in stone and unchangable. Over the summer we were actually planning to preach through Habakkuk but decided about 4 weeks out to do the life of Elijah instead, which proved to be the right move. Before making the change though, our creative team let me know we had not gone far enough into the creative process for that series. It is important to not waste your team’s time.

For our creative process, we look 6 – 8 weeks out as we think through atmosphere, visuals, video clips, dramas, cover songs. As we get closer, Paul takes us through a process of honing in on what we will use and how it will flow.

How long would this take? Not very long. In fact, if you sat down right now and made a list of topics you would like to teach on in the next 6 – 12 months you would be well on your way.

When I started preaching through books of the Bible, I picked James to start out with because it was my favorite book of the Bible. Not very spiritual, I know, but it worked and I started to get used to it.

The point is, plan ahead. Way too much is at stake to go week to week.

Now I’ve told you how we do it, how do you plan your series? How do you decide what to preach on?

Preaching through Hebrews

Saturday, I finished our almost 5 month series Reveal through the book of Hebrews. What God has done over the last 5 months at Revolution has been amazing.

When we plan our series out, we think in two categories: attractional or missional.

Attractional are series that hit more felt needs. Examples are the series Pure Sex (Song of Solomon),  30 Days to Live and our next series, Life. Money. Hope. with Dave Ramsey.

The other type of series is missional. This series is designed to have more depth, spiritual formation, discipleship. Examples would be Becoming, The Journey of JonahReveal and our series in August, Elijah.

While both series overlap and hit both areas (if we do our job right) it helps us in keeping balance. Both types of series are for people who know Jesus and those who don’t. We always make sure that we present the gospel and how people can take their next step with God.

We want to make sure we are alternating and that we aren’t doing 4 attractional series in a row or 4 missional series in a row. Balance.

One of the things that I learned through this series is that whether or not you have a church background, you want spiritual depth. People come to church because they want to know what the Bible says. One of the things we do is act like a church, you drove by the sign on your way in, so you know you are there. I get so tired of pastors who seem to be embarassed of Jesus, preaching tough topics (sin, depression, pain, suffering, tragedy). One of the things that is good about preaching through books of the Bible is you can’t skip verses, you have to hit the hard stuff. But that is what people come back for, because you talk about what they are struggling with.

The other aspect that is great about preaching through books of the Bible is the story. The Bible is the story of God and how he works in and through normal people to bring about his purposes. When preaching through books of the Bible, people see themselves in that story and they want to come back next week to see what happens.

While going through Hebrews, we saw God almost double our church. It was crazy. Essentially, the first 12 chapters are about what faith is and isn’t and who Jesus and why he is greater than Moses, angels and the law. I joked with our creative team that I now know why people rarely preach through Hebrews. I found a lot of sermons online of people preaching Hebrews 1 – 4, 11 – 12. Chapters 5 – 10 is why no one preaches through Hebrews. Why? Chapters 5 – 10 are essentially one sermon, it is the same topic. It was fun (and difficult trying to make 7 messages sound different, as well as coming up with creative elements to go with them, but our creative team rocks).

There is also the difficulty of the fact that Hebrews was written to people who grew up Jewish, going to the temple, seeing the sacrifices, understanding the Day of Atonement, knowing who Moses is and why he is important. The leap from Hebrews to our world is a huge leap, an important one, but a huge leap.

Also, Hebrews was written to a church that was experiencing extreme persecution, going to jail, being killed for their faith. They wanted to go underground because of this. We want to go underground with our faith because it gets in our way. This is where Hebrews is so relevant to our world. I know that for many Hebrews is the book where the debate of whether or not you can lose your salvation often rests. As I preached through it, the verses where it talks about “falling away” it became pretty clear to me that the writer isn’t even discussing losing your salvation. He’s talking about a completely different thing.

A few more thoughts. If you are a preacher, don’t be afraid to do a series longer than 6 weeks. God can work through a longer series. Don’t shy away from preaching through hard texts or books of the Bible. While Hebrews is difficult, weighty, meaty and any other word that means hard, it is a beautiful book. There is so many needed messages in it that our churches need to hear. Chapter 11 and 12 were awesome to preach through because I had preached through chapters 1 – 10, it brought so much more life to those passages knowing what the author had already covered.

This was the longest series we have ever gone through at Revolution, but it was great. Next spring, we will spend almost 6 months going through Nehemiah, which is going to be just as great.

Preach as If It’s Your Last

A few months ago I did a series at Revolution called 30 Days to Live. I was thinking about it the other day as I’ve had several conversations in our church about what that series did in the lives of people. It’s been awesome to hear some of the things people are stepping out and doing, some of the things people are praying about as a result of that series.

For me, I had a personal takeaway.

The idea of how would your life change if you found out you had only 30 days left to live. For me, I want to preach every week as if it is my last sermon.

It puts a different spin on my sermon prep, the way I deliver it, the passion and urgency that I feel when I get up to preach on a Saturday night. This might be the last time. What do I want to say? What do I have to say? What do I need to do to not have any regrets after preaching?

How would you change the way you prepare, what you preach, how you preach if you knew you would never get to do it again?

Saturday Night Mind Dump…

  • Crazy night tonight
  • A lot of energy in the room
  • I have absolutely loved this series
  • We did a Q & A tonight, always fun when we do that, I feel like we need to do that more than what we do
  • The band was awesome tonight
  • Love the song “There will be a day” what a great song, it was a perfect way to end our gathering
  • So many different elements and the flow tonight was a little different, but our team is awesome and they pulled it off like pros
  • Nights like tonight remind me why I am so excited about 2009
  • Revolution, I want you to get what God is up to in our midst. In the last 5 months we have doubled in size, it is awesome to see how God is moving
  • There is such a buzz in our church right now, it is awesome to be a part of
  • So many challenging things have happened in our church because of this series, so many great conversations and life change has happened as people asked this question, “Would my life change if I found out I had only 30 days left to live?”
  • Tonight is one of my favorite moments, I put all the books from our last series on my shelf and get out all my research for our new series, love that feeling
  • I am so excited to dive into the book of Jonah for the next 4 weeks @ Revolution
  • Tonight we had some people who came in because they saw the sign, love when that happens
  • All our small groups started this past week, and from all reports, it was a great start
  • Love that over 65% of our church is connected in small groups right now, that is awesome
  • Started watching the new show, Lie to Me this week, awesome show
  • Here is an interesting sermon from Mark Driscoll on the topic of heaven and hell
  • If you have questions about tonight’s talk, here are some books to check out:  Heaven, Hell under Fire, Surprised by Hope, Things Unseen (this is the book I pulled the story from at the end) 
  • We had our first elder meeting tonight, so excited about having some other guys to help carry the load
  • I’m glad that there is no football game on tomorrow, I can relax tomorrow
  • We had our first FUEL gathering this week, I love being together with other leaders
  • I got to go with Ava to gymnastics this past week, crazy that she is almost 4
  • I love watching her do things she likes doing
  • We are less than 2 weeks away from the due date, ready for him to be born
  • Katie’s watching The Real Housewives of Orange County right now, it is the most ridiculous show, they all hate each other
  • We’re gonna finish this and then watch some SNL, always a good way to end Saturday
  • Click here to join our online discussion on tonight’s topic

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

book-cover5As I’m getting ready for part 5 of our series 30 Days to Live one of the books I read was N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope. If you have questions about the afterlife, heaven and hell, the second coming of Jesus, resurrection, this is the book to pick up. Not only does it cover those topics, but it gets into why they matter. This is one of the things that sets this book apart from other books on the topic.

I have always appreciated Wright’s books as they challenge what “I’ve always known” and made me think through why my beliefs matter. While I don’t always agree with his answers, I always walk away challenged and better for it.

This book is no different.

One of the ideas I am still trying to wrap my head around is “Life after Life after death.”

The problem for many people is that we think we know what the Bible teaches on heaven, hell and the afterlife, but what we often have believed is not always in the Bible. This is true about more than just the afterlife.

But if we do have it right, what difference does it make? How does that change the church? The mission of the church? Our role in bringing the kingdom of God to earth?

These are some of the things that Wright tries to get to the bottom of.

Here are a few things that jumped out:

  • Often people assume that Christians are simply committed to a belief in “life after death” in the most general terms and have no idea how the more specific notions of resurrection, judgment, the second coming of Jesus, and so on fit together and make any sense – let alone how they relate to the urgent concerns of today’s real world.
  • In general the mood is that traditional beliefs, both in judgment and hell and in resurrection, are actually offensive to modern sensibilities.
  • Death is important; it is an enemy, but for the Christian, it is a beaten enemy.
  • It comes as something of a shock, in fact, when people are told what is in fact the case:  that there is very little in the Bible about “going to heaven when you die” and not a lot about a postmortem hell either…”God’s kingdom” in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming “on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • What we say about death and resurrection gives shape and color to everything else.
  • The robust Christian doctrine of the resurrection, as part of God’s new creation, gives more value, not less, to the present world and to our present bodies.
  • Resurrection in the first century meant someone physically, thoroughly dead becoming physically, thoroughly alive again, not simply surviving or entering a “purely spiritual” world, whatever that might be.

One of the most interesting quotes on the resurrection was:  But when people say, “But that can’t have happened because we know that that sort of thing doesn’t actually happen,” they are appealing to a would-be scientific principle of history, namely, the principle of analogy. The problem with analogy is that it never quite gets you far enough. History is full of unlikely things that happened once and once only, with the result that the analogies are often at best partial. In any case, if someone declares that certain kinds of events “don’t normally happen,” that merely invites the retort, “Who says?” And indeed, in the case in point, we should note as an obvious but often overlooked point the fact that the early Christians did not think that Jesus’s resurrection was one instance of something that happened from time to time elsewhere. Granted, they saw it as the first, advance instance of something that would eventually happen to everyone else. But they didn’t employ that future hope as an analogy from which to argue backward that it had happened already in this instance (“It’s going to happen to everyone eventually, so that shows it’s all right for it to have happened this once in advance”).

All in all, definitely a fascinating book. Definitely worth reading.

This Weekend: Life Doesn’t End Here

Saturday, we are wrapping up our series 30 Days to Live. This has been an unbelievable series and quite possibly one of my favorites that I have ever preached.

To wrap it up, we are going to talk about the end of life, how what “we do do on earth echoes in eternity.”

You do not want to miss this night. We are doing a Q&A at the end, so come prepared with some good questions.

See you at 5pm!

Saturday Night Mind Dump…

  • Awesome night tonight
  • I say that every week, but tonight was flippin awesome
  • Tonight was our 2nd highest attendance ever, we broke last week’s, awesome the way God is moving in our church
  • Almost back to our launch number, which is huge
  • We finished our sign ups for our spring semester of small groups, over 60% of our church signed up
  • This is huge because the national average is 25%
  • Loved the topic tonight:  legacy, what we’ll be remembered for
  • It’s haunting when you think about some of the things people could possibly say about you and me at our funerals
  • This series has been one of my favorites that I have ever preached, the way it has challenged our church has been awesome
  • Next week is gonna be awesome, talking about eternity, heaven, what happens after you die, should be fun
  • Our first FUEL is this Tuesday, this is for all volunteers at Revolution, DO NOT MISS THIS!
  • This book is really working on me right now, really challenging and thought provoking
  • Someone tonight who came for the 2nd time, brought someone for the first time, awesome
  • Met with my spiritual director this past week, always good
  • I’m planning a spiritual retreat in a few weeks, going through a lot of transitions in my life that I feel like I need to get a handle on and see what God has in store for the next season of my life
  • Got to meet with some church planters this past week who are launching this fall, love hearing the stories of guys stepping out on the limb to build the kingdom and help people find their way back to God
  • Met a rapper tonight at church, that would be stinkin awesome to incorporate at Revolution
  • Almost 3 weeks from the due date, starting to kind of freak out, ready for him to get here, but I bet Katie is a little more ready than I am
  • I’ve been doing some prep for our next series and it is going to be awesome
  • Huge Steelers game tomorrow, one more game to the Super Bowl
  • Burgers tomorrow, good food and a huge win
  • Click here to join the conversation on our discussion blog
  • I’m beat, so I’m gonna watch some TV and head to bed
  • Revolution, you have seen nothing yet, so get ready for the ride that God is getting ready to take us on

This Weekend: Leave a Mark

So, you’re dead, laying in your casket. What do people say about you? What will they remember?

All of us leave things behind, we pass this on. What will you pass on, what will you leave behind? This is what we will uncover on Saturday night. It is going to be a powerful night that you do not want to miss!

See you Saturday at 5.

Saturday Night Mind Dump…

  • Amazing night tonight
  • Loved the topic, loved how we did the flow of the night
  • Tonight was our 2nd highest attendance in the history of Revolution
  • Awesome to see how God is at work in our church
  • Pretty overwhelming to be a part of it
  • I am so excited about what God has in store for us for 2009
  • Great passage to work through:  1 Samuel 14:1 – 12, one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament
  • Tonight was one of the most personal messages I ever gave
  • Pulled some ideas tonight from Wide Awake by Erwin McManus
  • I think if all of us got this idea and actually lived today to the fullest instead of putting things off until someday, there is so much that God would do in our world
  • This quote sums up my entire talk tonight
  • I had a great meeting with our small group leaders & hosts this past week, our groups are going to rock this semester
  • If you aren’t signed, you need to sign up for a group
  • If you are a leader at Revolution, mark your calendar for January 20, that is our first FUEL gathering, which is our leadership gathering @ 6:30, YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS THIS!
  • So many great conversations tonight about how God is using this series in our church, love hearing those stories
  • Click here to join the discussion on our online blog
  • I’m sure there will be some pictures of me in my goggles filtering out somewhere on the web, which would be funny
  • That idea came from Ava this morning, love how God speaks through different ways
  • I have a meeting with my spiritual director this week, always good to process things and talk about what God is doing in my heart, definitely needed as we are growing and adding leaders as a church
  • God is really challenging me through the book of Jonah right now as I’m getting ready for our next series
  • Great guys night out this past week, good times to hang out with some guys, watch football and eat some wings
  • Although I have to say, the manager at Buffalo Wild Wings is one of the meanest and worst managers I’ve ever encountered at a restaraunt, just my opinion
  • Getting together with some other church planters this week, I’m excited to hear what God is doing around Tucson and how things are going
  • Had a massage this week, it always feels good
  • 24 starts tomorrow, by far my favorite show on TV
  • I won my college bowl pick em league
  • The funny thing about that is I watched about 15 minutes of college football before the bowl season and there were some serious college football fans in the league, yep, I rock
  • Katie and the kids rocked the Steelers shirts with me, love having a wife that is into my favorite football team
  • HUGE, HUGE Steelers game tomorrow
  • Sitting and watching the games from tonight right now, made it out of church without finding out who won
  • We’re watching the games tomorrow with some friends, should be a good time
  • I’m really feeling the crunch as far as schoolwork goes, so much to get done before the middle of March, but that’s how I get a lot done
  • We are less than 1 month away from the Ashton’s due date, pretty excited about our family expanding to 5
  • Getting my haircut this week, pretty excited about that, but I’m thinking about growing it out
  • We’re having dinner with Katie’s aunt and uncle from Denver this week, always good to see them, they’re pretty fun to hang out with
  • Ava starts gymnastics this week, it will be fun to see her do that, I think she is going to love it
  • Ugly Betty is back on, it’s one of Katie’s favorite shows and it drives me nuts, reminds me of too many people I know, I get so mad at the show
  • Don’t miss next week, we’re talking about legacy, leaving a mark, how people will remember you
  • Speaking of next week, we are having a welcome dinner for the Ingram’s after church next week after church, some good food planned
  • Below is the video from the song the band did tonight