Thursday, November 8, 2012

Preaching Schedule

Q: Does the pastor have a sermon schedule he goes by? I Love this church! Thanks.

A: First of all, thanks for your encouragement! I am thankful that you are blessed by our fellowship and pray that the Lord will continue to bless you through our ministry with a closer walk with the living God.

In a very general sense, the answer to your question is No, the pastors do not use a sermon schedule, especially if you mean something similar to what would be followed by ministers in some more traditional denominations that follow a strict liturgy. In these cases, ministers are somewhat bound to follow the schedule that they are given. Such a situation can have both positives and negatives, which will not be explored any further in this post. This is not how the sermon topics and passages are chosen for our pastors.

In some sense, those who are called to preach on a regular basis from our pulpit are bound by the theological persuasion that we have the responsibility to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2). This means that we are not "free" to select only the portions of Scripture that make us comfortable or which we know for sure that the congregation will agree with, but that as Pastors of God's flock we are to preach the full Word of God without apology as those who are seeking to please God rather than men.

Of course, it is impossible to preach the "whole counsel" in one 30-40 minute message!

Therefore, there is a schedule that I keep personal record of that indicates what passages I have and have not preached from the pulpit that God has entrusted to me as the speaker who fills it most often. In this sense, there is a loose schedule to preach through the entire Bible before returning to my "favorite" passages.

Of course, anyone who comes to our local church on a regular basis will find that we do not preach straight through from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 and then repeat. I have respect for those Pastors and Teachers who follow this model of preaching, but you can't find a passage that teaches that this is how it must be done. We seem to have the freedom as Pastors to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in how we work out our calling to preach the whole counsel.

Therefore, we tend to reserve the pulpit for those whom we believe to be led by the Holy Spirit and called to this particular ministry of "preaching the Word." Part of this conviction is that those who are called will walk in obedience to this leading, and will preach on what the Spirit is giving them to speak on.

It's possible that, depending on your particular religious heritage, this description either sounds perfectly natural or maybe a little kooky. There is a sense in which this structure is very "loose" but there is also more structure than you might first think.

Part of the leading of the Holy Spirit for Pastors (I believe, anyway) is a vision for where we are headed as a local body. The shepherds of God's flock have to have some idea of where the body is headed in order to properly "shepherd" them! In this regard, there can be a loosely defined "schedule" that there are particular areas of teaching, reproof, correction, or encouragement that are more appropriate at different times than others. For example, last Sunday P. Scott preached from Romans 13. This was "scheduled" more than a month in advance because we knew this was a timely message leading up to the election (although, keep in mind that his message was a theological one, not a political one!) but it was the Spirit that guided Scott to pick that particular passage and gave him the leading in how to arrange and prepare that message for God's people that fellowship with us, instead of a "schedule" that dictated that this was the passage for Sunday, November 4th.

How the Spirit leads can be very different at different times. There have been seasons of my personal preaching ministry where God had me focusing on certain areas of doctrine or specific issues, simply because that was what was needed. These messages would sometimes cover many passages in one message (some would call this "topical" preaching, however we still maintain our commitment to expositional preaching which pays close attention to the context and original intention of the inspired authors of Scripture) and would jump from "book" to "book" each week as necessary.

Other seasons of my preaching ministry have allowed for more methodical preaching through individual books, allowing for careful explanation of each passage from the beginning of the book to the end with no interruption, taking as many weeks as necessary to complete the task.

Since there is no "schedule" which is necessarily followed, we have the freedom to address issues as necessary and to modify the "schedule" as necessary to best shepherd the flock.

I know of some pastors who create their own "preaching schedule" and plan for an entire year in advance. This is another method which has both positives and negatives, but I can't say that the Lord speaks to me (personally) that way. If I were to do this (personally), it would be me following the flesh and not the Spirit!

In many ways, I wish there was a preaching schedule for us to follow and I can sometimes catch myself being envious of those who have one! This, of course, is sin on my part that needs to be repented of. Instead of being covetous of other ministers who have this aspect of their ministry planned further ahead, I am (or at least should be!) thankful that the Lord has chosen to keep me dependent upon Him week-to-week in order to receive the preaching schedule from Him.

As a Pastor, I do not believe that it is my job to entertain the congregation or even to teach them some spiritual "nugget" each week. Instead, my job is to be used as the mouthpiece of God and to speak His word to His people as He directs. I am not supposed to speak my agenda, but His! And although this is constantly a struggle for me (because, believe it or not, I have many opinions about many different things!), I can testify of the amazing things that I have seen and heard from the Lord through having this "open schedule" and allowing the Lord to direct our sermon topics.

First and foremost, some people wouldn't believe that we do not coordinate the musical aspect of our worship service with the message content. What I mean is that our worship leaders each week follow the lead of the Spirit in choosing their songs without personal interaction or discussion with the person who will be preaching the message that same week ... however, on a consistent basis these elements of our worship service fit together so perfectly in theme and content that it is difficult to believe they weren't planned to fit together!

Some weeks, I have been so discouraged prior to preaching a message or even in the middle or afterwards that I thought for sure I mis-heard from the Lord and went "off the reservation" (so-to-speak) by preaching my own agenda and message, only to hear the worship team had been led in the same direction and that individuals from the congregation needed to hear this message desperately at this exact time. Now, I recognize that these are attacks from the Enemy (who seeks to steal, kill and destroy and who always speaks in his native tongue of lies) in order to distract us from what God is doing in our midst.

All of God's Word is worthy of being proclaimed, taught, and explained. God's Word is relevant to all people in all places at all times by virtue of the fact that it is inspired by God ... when the Word fails to be "relevant" it is a problem in the hearer or the speaker, not in the Word itself. Therefore, it is certainly not wrong to preach according to a schedule as long as the Bible is being faithfully preached and explained.

However, for us, we try and allow the Lord to lead the timing of the messages which are preached because we trust that His timing is better than ours and that His planning is superior to ours.

There are risks to this format, just like with any other, the biggest of which is that we will fail to listen properly and will walk in the flesh. However, this is equally possible in any format. Do we succeed every time? Certainly not. I have preached my fair share of "duds" -- but I recognize that these were times that I ran ahead of the Spirit of God or lagged behind Him, not the times that I was walking with Him step-by-step.

If you are interested in knowing how to pray for the pastors and those who will be called to fill the pulpit here, pray that we would continue to be humbled before the living God and that we would have the wisdom and discernment to hear from Him and to obey without delay His leading in our lives -- for His glory and for the building up of His body.

1 comment:

P. Scott said...

I love this church too! I know my preaching schedule is to boldly declare whatever word God gives me whenever He decides to give it. I just pray that my ears are ears to hear and my mouth is an instrument for Him to speak through. If there is ever a failure, it is always on my part...not His! Good answer.