Collaborative Sermon Prep & Delivery (Part 1)
At Brainerd Baptist Church, where I serve as Senior Pastor, we strongly believe in collaborative sermon preparation and delivery. We believe the church is best served when a collection of voices are speaking together into the preparation and delivery of the preaching ministry of the church. We are often asked how this works in practice, and so I thought it might help if we wrote a couple of blog posts to outline how we go about approaching this task. In this first post I want to outline how we lay out our sermon calendar for the upcoming year.
Collaborative sermon preparation takes time and it takes intentionality. It requires some planning and advance effort. The payoff, in my estimation, is more than worth it. As I write this, we are in the middle of our annual Sermon Planning retreat. In truth, it's not really a retreat. It's simply a day and a half that we set aside to plan for the following year. We get away to a building where we won't be bothered and we gather together a group of people from the church. Some are paid pastors and staff. Some are laypeople. All are interested in preaching and sermon preparation. The group is pretty diverse and helps us think about interpretation, application and even illustration from a variety of perspectives. We use a whiteboard to help initially outline some elements of the year that we know are going to be consistent. We always have a series on vision at the beginning of the year, we always have a series on stewardship at the end of the year, we always end the year with Advent and, of course, Easter is always a priority. Once we have penciled in those series, we whiteboard out the books and topics we want to address over the coming year. We usually come in to the meeting with a desire to focus on some specific texts and topics. We call these core series. These are the foundational series that will be preached during our highest attended portions of the year. We have looked over these books and the topics that we want to teach through, so we usually have a basic idea how many weeks we will need to devote to each series to complete them. We generally have a rule of thumb that we prefer series to not last more than 8 weeks. If a book is going to require more than 8 weeks, we break that book up into segments and turn each segment into a different series. 8 weeks is a helpful length to maintain focus and for content to continue to feel fresh.
Once we have divided up our series, we calendar them out in between the standing series that we intially began with (vision, stewardship, Advent, etc.). We also are careful to always leave 3-4 weekends unscheduled so that we have the ability to flex our schedule in case we find that a certain passage needs to be split up into a couple of weeks, or we have an unplanned opportunity to have a key guest speaker. We usually schedule those unscheduled weekends in August or September so that they're far enough into the year that we can flex them. Keeping a few weekends open is key. We put all of this in a document that records who is preaching, what the text is, what the series is and any special mitigating factors for each week of the year. Because we have multiple campuses and venues our document reflects who is preaching in what space. You can download a copy of this document for your own use by clicking here.
Once we have the calendar laid out for the year, we begin to do the longer and harder work of framing out each individual series. While the process up to this point has been collaborative, everyone joining in and sharing thoughts/opinions/etc., the truly collaborative part begins here. We take each series and we work together through the book or the topic, identifying the primary thrust of the book or theme of the larger series. We then divide the texts up among the people in the collaborative community, and ask each person or pair to evaluate that text, and help us understand the primary thrust of each specific text. We spend time doing that for each series. Once we have spent time focusing on that, each person or pair reports back to the group. It's important to note that this is not intense exegesis. This is a quick examination of the text to evaluate prominent themes. We use a document that outlines all the series for the year, including some basic information about the series in general, and then we add 2-3 dominant themes for each specific sermon based on the text that we are planning to preach. This document provides for extended planning by others including those who help shape Life Group (Sunday School/small group) curriculum, those who help us develop sermon graphics, etc.. Having all this well in advance allows us to plan more effectively. You can download a copy of that document by clicking here.
We do all of this for every series for the year. And that's it. It's really not that complex. It requires planning, but the payoff is significant. At the end of the day and a half, we will know what we are preaching for the year, what our primary themes will be in each series and sermon, and how long each series will last. Our weekly sermon prep is significantly aided by this. In another post I'll further outline who we go about doing the actual weekly sermon prep, which is another activity that we in collaboration every week.