The cartoon showed a hitchhiker, standing beside the road, with one thumb pointed one direction and the other thumb pointed the other direction. Apparently, this man didn't care where he went. He just wanted a ride.
Many preachers are that way about their preaching. They don't care what they preach about. They just want a sermon. Such an approach will not only deprive our people. It will also eventually destroy the preacher, for the panic that builds each week as we move closer to Sunday and don't yet know what we are going to preach will become unbearable.
What is the solution? The solution is to plan our preaching. In the past, some preachers planned out their preaching for an entire year. I've found it more effective to plan my preaching three times a year. In our rapidly changing society, it might make more sense to plan from four to six weeks at a time. Whatever target area we feel most comfortable with, the important thing is that we plan our preaching on something other than a week by week basis.
Planning our preaching has several distinct advantages.
It provides variety. When we plan our preaching, we get a broad view of our preaching menu. This enables us to include in our planning different styles of preaching and different subjects, thus giving variety.
It provides balance. When we do not plan our preaching, we tend to follow our inclinations or the whims of the people or current theological trends or our favorite passages. As a result, the people will receive an unbalanced preaching diet. Planning will enable us to make sure we provide the proper balance of Old Testament versus New Testament, the Gospels versus the Epistles, Christian belief versus Christian behavior.
It allows for better preparation. When we know what we will be preaching for a quarter or for six months, we can be alert, during our leisure reading and planned study times, to illustrations that will fit the subject topics we plan to address.
It enhances worship preparation. When we know what we are preaching, we can build the worship service around the topic of our message. This is especially helpful to the minister of music who plans the worship service. Preaching is only part of the worship service. The most effective preaching is done when it is set in the context of a worship service that prepares for and enhances the spoken message. Planning our preaching will enable that to happen.
It saves time. When I began preaching, I wasted an inordinate amount of time each week trying to decide what I wanted to preach. Planning our preaching removes that waste. We will not have to wonder about our topic. It will already be determined.
It produces better sermons. Sermons that grow and mature over a period of time are usually superior to sermons that are quickly put together. They will be superior homiletically, theologically, and biblically. One of the reasons for that is the way our minds work. The conscious mind does not function when we sleep. However, the subconscious mind is at work all the time. Whether we are awake or asleep, the subconscious mind continues to function. If it is given enough time, it can select, combine, deduct, analyze, and organize thoughts and ideas that are latent in the mind.
That's why long-range sermon planning is essential. When we only decide on Thursday what we are going to preach on Sunday, our subconscious mind simply will not have time to work. In contrast, when we have planted in our minds the ideas and subjects about which we are going to preach, the subconscious mind will constantly be at work on them. This will enhance the richness of our preaching.
Hanz Klaus, a German preacher of another era, gave a sharp retort to a young preacher who boasted that he never made preparation for his preaching since he was confident the Holy Spirit would speak to him as he walked into the pulpit. Klaus said, "For fifty years I have been preaching the gospel and only once has the Holy Spirit spoken to me while I was preaching. The Holy Spirit has often spoken to me as I was leaving the pulpit, and what he said was, `Hans, you are lazy!'"
To provide variety in our preaching, to give balance to our preaching, to allow for better preparation, to enhance worship preparation, to save time, and to produce better sermons, all of us as preachers need to plan our preaching.