On March 1, 2015, I preached the first sermon of my first senior pastor assignment. I was nervous and felt woefully underprepared for the monumental task ahead of me. The second pastor in the church’s 35-year history, I had just turned 29 a few weeks earlier. I had not yet even graduated with my bachelor’s degree, but the Lord was faithful, and the church was patient. During my five-year assignment, I learned more than I could have imagined. I’d like to share the top five lessons I learned in developing a preaching series. By no means is this an exhaustive list, and by no means am I writing from a place of preaching perfection. I am a work in progress and hope to share some of that progress with you.
1. Be Prayerful: No doubt this goes without saying, but this is the area that I am prone to overlook. With the hectic schedule that comes with being a pastor (whether bi-vocational or full-time), a husband, a father, and even perhaps a student, it is surprising that the most accessible discipline is the first to be overlooked (by me at least). As terrible as this sounds, there were Sundays I would get to my office before service to pray, and I realized it was the first time I had stopped to pray over the service all week.
This does not mean that I never prayed. I remember spending chucks of my morning hours on my face in prayer for my church. It was a revitalization that took its toll on me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I prayed a lot, but I did not always pray that I would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s lead or my congregation’s needs. I did not always pray for humility in the pulpit or humility in how I handled pointed critiques of the sermon I had just preached. I did not always pray for faithfulness to the text or the task. I didn’t deviate from Scripture, but at times I was tempted to preach out of frustration and not out of love (more on this shortly). Last, I did not always pray for consistency in my study time. As a result, my failure to properly discipline myself for the time needed to preach week in and week out resulted in hasty preparation that showed in sermon delivery
2. Be Sensitive: In the development of any preaching series, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s moving is second only to prayer. I am in the habit of creating a spreadsheet that projects my sermons up to a year out, and if I am not careful, I can hold to that schedule rigidly. At times the Spirit moves, but if I am not sensitive to his moving, I can miss it all for the sake of “staying on schedule.”
A quick secondary note: Be sensitive to the needs of the flock you oversee. After two years at my first assignment, I was becoming frustrated. In my frustration, I remember thinking, “I have a church of Pharisees.” I have since repented of this ungracious critique, but instead of thinking about the church’s needs, I prepared a series through the Gospel of Matthew with the single intention of highlighting their “white-washed tombs.” This is an example of where being sensitive to the Spirit saves you from disaster. The Spirit convicted me that my heart was not in the right place to preach this series. To this day, I still have that entire unused sermon series.
3. Be Humble: Closely related to my previous point, humility in developing preaching series helps to circumvent lack of sensitivity (or lack of faithfulness and consistency, for that matter). A pastor who is prayerfully considering his flock’s needs and is sensitive to those needs as he prepares the Sunday meal for them to feast on, in conjunction with the moving of the Holy Spirit, is humbly putting the needs of the flock over his desires or frustrations. I learned this the hard way.
4. Be Faithful: For whatever season you are in, you are called to shepherd the congregation entrusted to you. Be faithful to them. Trials will come and stressful situations will arise; do not take your frustrations out on your people in your preaching. Be faithful to lead them in love (tough love at times). Loving faithfully means being faithful to the text. Be careful not to weaponize a passage because it perfectly proves the point of an argument you had last month. If you are faithful to the text, the Holy Spirit will do the job of convicting. He doesn’t need your help, but he does desire your faithfulness.
5. Be Consistent: Regardless if you are an expositional preacher who tackles whole books at a time, a topical preacher who exposes specific topics and themes at certain times of the year, or a combination of the two, be consistent. The Lord has gifted you with specific gifts. He has also made you unique. Be you. Early on, when I was developing a series, I struggled with who I was. I realized I was not John MacArthur, Adrian Rodgers, or Church Swindoll, and to try and be them was not consistent with who God had made me to be.
If you were looking for technical tips on what commentaries to use or whether you should use a Greek word in your sermon, I am sorry that is not what you got here. If you are frustrated, tired, and not looking forward to the tiresome work of preparing your next series, I hope you found encouragement. Brother, we have all been there. Struggle in a positive direction, for the glory of God alone.