9 Ways to Create a Bad Preaching Calendar (What Not to Do)

We know, we know- the last thing you really want to learn is how to create a bad preaching calendar.  But there’s a method to our madness.  Our hope is that, by telling you how to create a bad preaching calendar, we’ll enable you to create a good one.  

We’ve both been creating preaching calendars for many years on both a personal and professional level, so this episode is basically a compilation of “Do as I say, not as I’ve done” moments.  We’ve learned from our failures and mistakes, and we want to pass those lessons on to you.

Speaking of learning from our own mistakes, on October 7th we’re releasing our new preaching calendars at Ministry Pass- and they’re the best ones yet!  Every year, we work alongside our staff and pastors from different contexts to develop these calendars, and then send them out to our writers who are also Christian pastors and educators in the church space.  We spend the entire year praying and planning out these 52-week calendars, and our members love them!

This year, we are releasing four adult sermon calendars, plus our youth and children’s calendars.  Here are the options you’ll have to choose from:

  • A topical calendar, centered around timely topics for your church.
  • An expository calendar, based preaching through books of the Bible or biblical passages. 
  • A Lectionary calendar, built on the revised common lectionary, year B.
  • The Gospel Story calendar, which is a 52-week calendar that will allow you to preach through the Bible in a year. (1 year through the Bible!)  Amazing artwork.  
  • Our youth calendar
  • Our children’s calendars.  

Our calendars are only available for MinistryPass members, and they come with amazing series artwork and background notes and research done for you.  We’ve created these as roadmaps so that you have more time to attend to ministry, actual sermon prep, and family time.  

So, as we were saying earlier, we’ve learned a LOT of lessons about creating preaching calendars along the way.  If you want to create a bad preaching calendar, follow these 9 tips.  If you want to create a good one, avoid them.

1. Use limited scope in topics

Don’t focus only on the topics or stories you like. Over the course of a year, you should be speaking on a wide variety of topics.  Alternatively, if you’ve set a goal for yourself or have a vision for your year (see tip #9), you need to be sure you’re going to hit that goal.  

Don’t ask, “What’s a cool thing to talk about?” or “What’s an easy thing to talk about?” as you’re planning.  Instead, take advantage of the fact that you have the chance to really see what the year is going to look like, and view your sermon preparation from a high-enough level to see how all the pieces will fit together.  

2. Don’t take the seasons of the year into account

When we think of the calendar year, we think of Christmas and Easter- but it’s really so much more than that!  For example, if you want to preach on evangelism, you shouldn’t just pick any time of year to do it.  That may seem shocking- after all, shouldn’t we always be encouraging people to share the gospel?- but hear us out.

Before you plan a series, you need to consider what your audience is likely to need at that point of the year.  If you’re in a high-attendance, high-visitor month like October, it’s not the right time to preach on evangelism, because you’ll be preaching a series that is more applicable to your spiritually mature members.  If someone doesn’t know or understand Jesus yet for themselves, it’s unlikely that they’re going to be sharing the gospel with someone else.  So, in October, it’s better to preach a series that will explain the gospel and what Christianity is, and save your evangelism series for the summer when you’re less likely to have new people.  

3. Be the only person who has input

When you’re the only one planning your preaching calendar, you’re limited by your own personality, preferences, and views.  Even though it’s tempting to try to do it all yourself, don’t try to be the lone hero.  We say this in love, but the topics that are important to you may not be the only topic important enough to be covered.  That’s why it’s so helpful to get input from outside sources.   

If you’re not sure who to ask, ask people from other churches to see what they’re talking about.  Then, have discussions with people in your congregation to see if the topics you’ve chosen resonate or if there are other things they’d love for you to talk about.

4. Be afraid of revisiting old messages

While you don’t want to limit your scope, you shouldn’t feel pressured to NEVER repeat a passage or message that you’ve preached before.  Popular topics are popular for a reason.  If it’s been a year since you hit an important point, it might be time to hit it again- just in a different way.  For example, evergreen, super-relevant topics like relationships, family, and marriage can be talked about every single year- and probably should be, because these are things that affect our lives and faith in very important ways.  

One of Wayne’s pastors (who also happened to be a preaching professor) once told him this: “Sometimes, you can pull out a sermon from 3 years ago, change out the illustrations, some of the wording of the applications, and present it without people even realizing it’s a repeat.”  This tip is effective because while people remember stories- they don’t always remember content. 

Obviously, you’re going to be talking about Jesus and the gospel every single week.  But there are other topics that are worth revisiting every year, too- you just have to be careful to make sure they don’t sound stale.

5. Avoid controversial topics

If you’re not talking about what’s happening in the world, you’re missing the opportunity to show your people how the gospel changes every aspect of our world & life.  You want to avoid having a sheltered worldview coming from the pulpit in your church.  The gospel is glorious and strong enough to inform many of the issues that are happening in our world and communities.  Failing to address or acknowledge what’s happening outside of the church will mean it’s harder for your people to see how their faith should affect their lives.

6. Always talk about popular topics or current cultural moments

This is sort of the opposite side of the coin from point #5.  You can’t be preaching on pop cultural moments all the time.  Please note: we’re not saying you should never preach on pop culture!  We’re just saying that, while there’s a time and place to capture people’s attention through culture, don’t feel like you always have to be on the cutting edge.  Sometimes, it’s refreshing to go to church and hear a pastor just preaching a timeless message from the Bible.  

7. Don’t be Jesus-centered

This applies to every message, regardless of what we’re talking about.  If you find yourself preaching on self-help topics with some pop-cultural references thrown in, you’re doing your people a disservice.  Every message should make a beeline back to Jesus and the gospel, so people understand how their faith is affecting every aspect of their lives.  Nothing can imbalance your preaching calendar faster than preparing messages that don’t focus on the person of Jesus Christ.

It’s so important to assess what you’re talking about, and your preaching calendar will help you spot potential pitfalls.  For instance, you’re probably going have some sermon series that address morality, right?  Moral issues can be great things to preach about- not out of legalism, but because you’re helping people follow the example of Christ.  But, if we’re not careful and we find ourselves always talking about what people “need to do,” without sharing the beauty of the gospel, then our messages really aren’t Jesus-centered.  

8. Look no further than two weeks ahead

If you’re not looking more than two weeks ahead, you don’t have a calendar.  You have an archive.  And failing to really plan in advance is a huge mistake.  If you don’t plan ahead, you may think you’re allowing yourself to follow the Spirit’s leading, but you could just as easily be missing His leading because you’re too rushed to really seek His face.  At the same time, you’ll find yourself neglecting certain books and themes of Scripture because you don’t have time to adequately research your topics.  A good preaching calendar will help you increase your understanding & be intentional about spiritual discipleship.

So often, we talk about the Bible and are passionate about it.  But do we actually read what it says? To reference an over-used sermon illustration, there was once a young man- a pastor’s son- who was going to seminary.   He’s going to more of a mainline seminary, so his dad keeps telling him, “I want you to know that the book of Jonah actually happened.”  Every break, every time he comes home, his dad reminds him of the fact that the book of Jonah actually happened.

Eventually, the son says, “You know, I actually think the book of Jonah is more of a metaphor, I don’t think it happened.”  

His dad is shocked and says, “But I told you to remember that it happened!  How did you not understand that?”  

The young man says, “Yes, you told me it actually happened.  But how many times have you  preached over Jonah?”  

The dad had to admit, he’d never preached over the book of Jonah.  So, of course, his son believed the first person who actually took the time to explain the book of Jonah to him.  If we don’t want our culture telling people what to believe about God and the Bible, we need to make sure we’re preaching on passages that are difficult or take more time to adequately research and understand. 

9. Don’t have a vision over your year

If you have no goals for discipleship at your church, you probably won’t see consistent spiritual growth.  Even if you have a vision, you may have no clear plan for implementing it.  If you don’t have a preaching calendar or you aren’t trying to create a plan, you’re likely to fall short of your mission to preach the gospel and equip the saints.  

So, seek the Lord.  Ask Him to reveal needs in your church, and passages He wants you to preach on in the upcoming year. Then, intentionally plan your year to address the needs and passages He brings to your attention while you’re planning your calendar.  You’ll be encouraged to see the difference that a little bit of planning can make toward the fulfillment of the vision God has given you.

We’ve tried to take these lessons and apply them to our MinistryPass preaching calendars.  Whether you use our new calendars (releasing October 7 for our members) or not, we hope these principles are helpful to you.  

However, we’re less concerned with whether or not you use a MinistryPass calendar- but whether you use one of ours or not, PLEASE create one.  It’s going to make a huge difference in the impact that your messages have.  Your preaching calendar will also enable you to add other voices to your preaching team without losing sight of the vision.  We could go on- the benefits just keep building. 

At the end of the day, it boils down to this: let’s be intentional about what we’re preaching by planning ahead.  When we’re keeping our entire year Jesus-centered and focused on the vision God has given, it will make our churches and the world a better place.