There are benefits to putting together a teaching calendar to assist you in your sermon preparation, study time, and vision. Planning ahead can provide you the opportunity to take some weekends off from teaching, which is very needed for many pastors. Allowing others to step in and preach for you certain weeks of the year will give you some rest and refreshment so that you can come back and continue to serve your congregation the remainder of the year.
What is the longest you’ve gone without preaching on a Sunday? Is it time to plan a break?
Taking an extended sabbatical can be one of the best things for your leadership and church in the long run. Perhaps not for a brand new church or a struggling church, but taking a break is a gift to yourself, your family, and your church. In the end, it can help your church to realize that everything doesn’t depend on you alone. There is an entire body of people that is the church and can help run the church. This is a really great lesson every church can learn if the lead pastor is willing to plan for it.
How do you plan for it? A practical way is to create a Sermon Calendar. Let’s explore some details on why it’s useful, what it typically contains, and how to start.
Preaching with a Sermon Calendar
Some preachers prefer to depend solely on being filled by the Holy Spirit as they preach off the cuff.
In our opinion, no matter how often you preach, knowing what you’re going to be preaching on ahead of time is an important thing – to do diligence on the passage of text and to be prepared in the way you’re going to communicate and draw insights.
The Holy Spirit can lead you in the moment, and the Holy Spirit can lead you a year and a half in advance. He is not limited. Having preparation is advantageous in many ways.
Ministry Pass Survey Results
Ministry Pass surveyed over 600 pastors. Questions they asked included:
- Does writing a sermon add stress to your life?
- How many Sundays do you preach per year?
Does writing a sermon add stress to your life?
What percentage do you think answered “yes”?
It was 50%. Half of preachers feel stressed about writing sermons. Does that include you?
How many weeks do you preach per year?
- 60.7% of pastors said they preach 40 weeks per year or more (Teaching about 80% of the year with 11-12 weeks off per year.)
- Of those, 44.5% preach 45 weeks per year or more (Almost half of pastors have 7 or less weekends off per year.)
- And out of that 44.5%, 15% preach 50-52 weeks per year (At most, only 2 weekends off per year!)
Wow, 15% are teaching every weekend? Or have only 1-2 weekends off per year? That’s preaching too much. One pastor can’t be good every single week.
Benefits of Using a Teaching Calendar
There are probably other people in your church that have teaching gifts. And to tap into using that resource, you need to have a plan. Planning ahead will allow you to invite others in.
If you’re going to take time off, you need to schedule that time off. It’s not going to just organically happen. Deciding to do it at the last second is not likely. Don’t wait and hope it happens organically. You’ve got to put your vacation time on your calendar as priority.
When you utilize a sermon calendar, it’s much easier to incorporate other resources for your people to engage with through the week.
Knowing what’s coming gives you the chance to work with your team to create things like videos for social media, a reading plan, or other extra resources that coincide with your sermon series theme.
The Planning Debate
There is a lot of resistance to this idea of creating a sermon calendar. Some people see the benefits of using one and some think it’s better to just “wing it with the Spirit.” Check out some of the comments found on social media on this topic.
Objections to Using a Sermon Calendar
From TikTok’s “The Comment Section,” the following comments were found on YouTube and Twitter regarding planning out your sermon calendar. Which is your favorite?
- “Every Bible has a sermon calendar already. It’s called the Table of Contents.”
- “Jesus Christ never prepped for a sermon.” (The Bible doesn’t tell us if he prepared for sermons or not. He may have!)
- “You don’t need to plan your sermons. Isn’t that what the Holy Spirit is for?”
- “When you use a preaching calendar, you’re not leaving much for the direction or the movement of the Spirit of God. The more I plan, the more likely He is to give me something different at 5am Sunday morning.”
- “Not my kind of pastor. God makes the plan, not a preacher.”
If the Holy Spirit can lead you at 5am with a fresh idea, why can’t He arrange it so you “happen” to be preaching on the very thing that your church is going through now from the plan He gave you a year ago?
What we appreciate about the above instinct is we don’t want to rely on the plan alone.
“I don’t think power is in the plan. I don’t think the power is in the preparation.
The power is in the Spirit.” – Luke Simmons
But the Spirit uses a plan and He uses preparedness. If you want to be a preacher that doesn’t have to preach 52 weeks a year, then having a sermon calendar is not only helpful, but essential.
Sermon Calendar Planning Process
How Far Ahead Should I Plan?
We recommend planning ahead at least 6-12 months. Some plan out 18 months or even a couple of years ahead.
All churches were thrown off any sort of plan they had when COVID-19 hit. Everyone had to pivot.
That’s the great thing about having a plan. You can adapt it. Having a plan doesn’t mean you can’t adjust, it just means you have a guide and if you want to tweak it, you can.
Process for Creating a Sermon Calendar
Start by creating a spreadsheet with every weekend date of the year listed, plus holidays.
The first thing to put on the calendar is your own vacation time. If you don’t do that right away, you’ll always find a reason not to add it later. There will always be something that’s needed, or you’ll think, I’ll have to be here to do that.
Go to your board or leadership team and ask them what the minimum amount of weeks you can preach would be. Not because you want to get out of it, but because it’ll give you something to base your planning on.
At the same time, you want to ask: What would NOT be enough?
You can preach too much as a lead pastor, and you can preach too little. So ask the board: What is the most I should preach, and what is the least I should preach? Give me a range that I should be at the pulpit.
Inquire about the best weekends for you to be gone as well. There are certain dates that it wouldn’t be noticed or felt as much by your people that you are absent. But do plan to be there when it’s prime time (like Easter and Christmas).
You may find that they are supportive and want to create budgeted resources to bring in other speakers on the weeks you’re off. It’s a conversation worth having. And if it isn’t approved right away, it can be a goal worth working toward.
A Healthy Rhythm
Having a list of people with the right skills and experience to preach for you in your absence is imperative. Whether it’s youth pastors or young adult pastors within your own church, or contacts from the community who lead elsewhere, you will be glad you have a strong bullpen to pull from.
Not only does that help you cover the teaching portion of your job when you’re off, but it gives other pastors the opportunity to use their gifts for the larger Church body.
Using a teaching calendar is something many pastors establish right out of the gate. When you acknowledge that you’re in this for the long haul, it will give you a revived perspective on making vacation time a priority.
And if you have been preaching for quite some time, you’ve most likely been feeling the need for a break.
It could be that you are feeling burnt out because you didn’t know to reserve vacation time at the beginning of your ministerial career.
It’s never too late to establish a healthy rhythm for yourself.
Holidays and Themes
Be sure to add these dates into your preaching calendar right after your own time off. For example, Christmas and Easter are obvious big holidays for churches.
But also, what are key days for your community? It could be back to school time, Mother’s Day, or other key weekends that you know will be big for your people. Those are good times to start a new series.
Once you identify those big themes, mark them down in your sermon calendar spreadsheet, and you’re ready to start brainstorming types of series you’d like to do.
Types of Series and Rotation
- Topical or Thematic
- Expository (sequential through books of the Bible)
- A mix of both
A simple guideline of a mixed series rotation could be to preach on something from the Old Testament, something from the New Testament (like an epistle), a topic, then a sermon series on the gospel.
Then repeat a version of that year after year.
It doesn’t mean you have to teach an entire book of the Bible. It could be a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, the Upper Room discourse, or a part of Isaiah, as examples.
Length of Series
After getting your basic annual rotation of themes down, think about how long you would like your various series to be.
Would you like to do several 4-6 week series, or one big series that is a year long?
For instance, if you’re preaching through the book of Romans, you can do it in 1 week, 16 weeks, or stretch it out over a decade! (But probably not ideal for your people. It’s healthy to mix things up.)
Brainstorming for Sermon Series
A helpful way to go about this is to consider what you’re passionate about.
- What in my time with the Lord has come alive?
- What are some themes, topics, or issues we haven’t hit yet?
- What are some things we know we want to revisit each year? (Parenting, our vision, finances, etc.)
Once you get everything you’d love to do down on paper, block them out on the spreadsheet.
Making Your Plan
This requires a little work. It’s best to set aside time to get away from your normal routine and place of work to map this out for a few hours.
It can also be beneficial to look at what other churches have done, and the sermon calendars Ministry Pass has put together. They have options that are topical, books of the Bible, and even a lectionary calendar (covers everything in scripture over the span of 3 years).
Some pastors have a vision or goal of getting through the entire Bible in three years, some have a cyclical plan they use every 5 years – repackaging the themes by changing series titles and such.
What to Include
When attempting to decide how to plan out your sermons for the year, ask, Is my congregation getting a balanced diet?
You don’t want to stay in Romans for two years, Galatians for 6 months, and then the doctrine of justification for another few months. There is the entire remainder of the Bible you can feed your people from! Keep variety at the forefront of your planning.
Meet with your team and discuss what books of the Bible they would like to see your church go through, or some topics they feel your people need. It’s helpful to ask leaders and elders for their input.
Now, where do you put it all? This is when you schedule time for focused attention on your spreadsheet that will help you as you create a sermon calendar.
Sharing the Pulpit
Some churches have brought in a special guest for an entire series. And then pivot back to the lead pastor for the next one. Usually, this is used for shorter series, 3-6 weeks long. But it’s a possibility to consider when you’re working on planning out your year of sermons.
Weaving Sermons into Your Discipleship Plan
Can the discipleship plan for the church be tied into the sermons that are being taught? How closely will the sermons tie into your model of discipleship?
There is benefit to having these coordinated, but this comes down to individual preference and conviction.
You could have your small groups focused around the sermons you preach so your congregation is primarily discussing what you’re teaching about.
There is always opportunity to synergize it all. It’s up to you and your team to decide how much work you want to put into which series.
For instance, most churches put huge emphasis on series that have a goal to bring in money. We align the calendar, events, discipleship, extra tools, and resources.
If we do that when we want people to give money, why don’t we ever do that for other series?
Obviously, if it was done that big all the time, it would lose its effectiveness and turn into white noise. But it’s worth considering when planning your bigger-themed sermon series as you are creating your sermon calendar.
Building a Preaching Team
When starting out in your efforts to put a preaching team together, it’s totally fine (and often necessary) to start with your personal connections that would do a good job. It doesn’t have to be a formal network.
It could be your high school pastor, young adults pastor, or pastors from your community or denomination. Almost every city has bigger churches that typically have multiple preachers (for various ministries) where you can build connections and get some help.
Benefits of using other speakers to preach:
- Gives you a rest from preaching
- Exposes your people to difference voices
It’s important to have a couple ministry friends in town for encouragement and prayer. Even if you meet in person just a couple times a year.
Having 2-3 close pastor friends that know what’s going on in your ministry (and you know about theirs) is a lifeline. Knowing there are others you can lean on for support is a really big deal.
Make it part of your regular schedule to build relationships in your local area. You could start a morning coffee group or a weekly prayer meeting.
It just might save you, not only in your preaching calendar gaps, but personally as well.
Factors to Consider When Scheduling Others
As you create your long term sermon plan, keep the following in mind as you look for people to fill in for you.
- Schedule people you know well – no strangers.
- Evaluate how many times per year they could preach with quality – not just a filler. (How good are they? Would they be OK for once a year or 8 times a year?)
Leading Staff Through Your Preaching Calendar
A major benefit to preaching with a sermon calendar is that you can do so much prep ahead of time.
Communicate with your staff about what is coming up. Get your teams on board by explaining the point, vision, and plan for your next series.
Meet and decide which series you’d like to create additional content for – extra videos, study guide, small group discussions, etc. What can we do to help leverage this series?
Another reason it’s smart to use a sermon calendar is you can better prepare. Be intentional about studying, take a class at a local seminary or an online course.
The Holy Spirit and Your Sermon Plan
Often, whatever we are preaching about is absolutely timely. The number of times that happens is remarkable. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work.
The overall concept of preaching with a sermon calendar is not, “Follow your plan, not the Spirit.”
It’s more, “Have a plan, and follow the Spirit.”
Oftentimes, the Spirit is going to continue to bless and work through your plan. Other times, He’s going to wreck your plan.
Planning and the Holy Spirit don’t need to be at odds.
Remember, using a sermon calendar doesn’t mean you can’t change things and pivot when necessary. Trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance as you plan ahead, and trust Him the same when He wants to do something different.
The overall goal is to have your sermons and sermon series planned out at least a few months in advance so that you:
- are well prepared
- can create additional resources for your congregation
- can invite others to preach for you when you’re on vacation
Check out the sermon calendar examples at Ministry Pass, and get started today!