These guidelines for planning the church pulpit year will be helpful for elders as well as for pastors. -Editor
Some preachers find it difficult to work out a pulpit schedule a year in advance. If you are dependent on planning 52 sermons that are unrelated to each other, it is complicated. If you take a broader view, and plan six to ten series, then it becomes much easier. Those who have preached a series on the Ten Commandments know that a certain rhythm and pace develops that is pleasing both to the congregation and the preacher. The struggle to be fresh and challenging forces the speaker to grow, and the congregation will grow with him.
A series has several advantages for the preacher.
The first three were just mentioned. It helps him plan his pulpit year. It gives him pace and rhythm. It forces him to research deeply into a subject, thereby giving him and the congregation growth. It allows him to cover a broader subject than one sermon would allow. It encourages the members to come regularly so they will not miss a sermon in the series. It makes advertising of the topic easier. It lets the congregation know in advance what to expect. It gives the congregation confidence that their pastor knows how to organize and how to lead them in Bible study.
There are some problems in a series that should be pointed out.
A long series can become tiresome. Three to six sermons are considered about right. If I preached the Ten commandments again, I would break them into two sections, preaching a four sermon series, and later, the other six.
A poorly-planned series can disrupt seasonal or denominational topics that should be covered. To disregard Thanksgiving, Christmas, Religious Liberty Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Spirit of Prophecy, or Educational Day, would be poor planning. With care, these special days can be worked into a series, or you can arrange your schedule so that these days fall between series.
A series should have some inherent and logical connection. To string sermons together like popcorn on a string is not what is meant. Do not stretch a topic that could be covered in one sermon into three. The idea is to take a topic that cannot be covered in one sermon and divide it into logical parts.
A series must be interesting to the congregation. Sermons on the sanctuary can wear thin if they do not relate to practical experience. Few people care what symbols or Greek words mean unless it helps them to better understand God or themselves. It is easy for pastors to ride hobbyhorses in a series, unless they are careful to avoid them.
Some of the highlights of my ministry have come from the series of sermons that I have preached.
Special ones that come to my mind are: Christ, our righteousness from the book of Romans (six sermons); lessons from the life of David (four sermons); highlights from the letters of Paul (six sermons taking the central theme of his letters to six churches); lessons from the Gospel of Luke (from Christmas to Easter); messages from the Minor Prophets (one sermon on each of the six prophets); the early history of the Seventhday Adventist church (four sermons); early leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Bates, James White, Ellen White, J. N. Andrews, Uriah Smith); and Christian stewardship (four sermons). You can see from these examples that these series have forced me to broaden my study habits. With each of the series above, the congregation felt they were either being reassured of old truths, or gaining insights into new ones.
When planning your pulpit year, try to cover major SDA doctrines during the year. Make our faith seem practical, inviting, and secure. Your preaching ministry will blossom, and your congregation will grow.
Ralph W. Martin was the head of the department of pastoral ministry in Oregon when he wrote this article.