8 Considerations for Choosing What to Preach
How do we make decisions about what we preach from Sunday to Sunday?
Before sharing how we decide what to preach, it might be helpful to identify who the “we” is. Most of the time I initiate a discussion with Pastor Ryan about what I have in mind, and Ryan gives feedback or offers alternatives. Occasionally, I will ask for input from an Elder or the Elders. The congregation has a role to play in this process, but I will describe their part in a moment.
There are at least eight factors that contribute to how we decide what we preach to the people of Eagle Heights:
We start with the Bible and primarily preach through it, not around it. Because we truly believe the Bible is God’s special and sufficient word to His people, the majority of the preaching we do is through books of the Bible, a section of thought at a time. Do we do some topical exposition? Yes. But the majority of our preaching is sequential exposition to honor what the Spirit has inspired.
We strive to be balanced and Christ-centered. We preach from both the Old Testament and New Testament to show that all the scriptures ultimately point to Jesus as our only hope in life and death.
We strive to be pastoral. This gets back to the role of the congregation that I mentioned earlier. When considering what we might preach through or about, we consider the need of our people. For instance, about two years ago the Elders realized that in order to obey all that Jesus commands (Matthew 28:16-20), we needed to explain carefully and thoroughly Jesus’ commands regarding church discipline in Matthew 18:15-18. You often have to first preach what you practice.
We strive to be sensitive to our calendar context. We live in small city with a major university and so there are some very clear seasons in the life of our church. In the summer when most of our university student members are gone and many families are vacationing, we try to do sermons that can stand alone. For example, we have often used the summer to preach through selected Psalms. This summer we will be preaching through various sections of thought that highlight Christology. We also try to start preaching through books of the Bible when school starts so that our university members have the opportunity to experience the full context. We are not a slave to the calendar, but we try to plan through it with the whole church in mind.
We see societal moments as teachable opportunities. Several years ago there were several undercover videos exposing Planned Parenthood for selling aborted baby body parts. We took that opportunity to preach on the importance of the sanctity of life and the need to oppose those who prey on those who cannot defend themselves. This past year in Charlottesville, Virginia, racist groups rallied to espouse hate, but we used an opportunity for hate to speak about the biblical dignity given by God to all human beings regardless of ethnicity. These opportunities may come unexpectedly so they require some flexibility in our planning.
We embrace hard topics. God’s word does not shrink back from topics that may assault our cultural sensibilities. The Bible speaks to issues like sexuality, purity, divorce, government, judgment, false teachers, etc. When we see the need for it, we carefully and biblically move toward hard topics because the world needs to see that God has something to say about all of life. The world is talking and teaching about these kinds of things, the church cannot afford to run from them and hope they go away. We will plan sermons to deal with difficult passages and topics.
We are repetitive about some biblical topics. Generally speaking, we believe the doctrine of the church is under-explained by local churches, and so we try to teach about what the church is and what we should be doing. Because Satan wants to destroy God’s design for His people, we also emphasize personal relationships yearly. We also devote a month every year to mission and missions for the sake of mobilization and staying outward focused.
We try to plan several months ahead. Pastor Ryan has helped me considerably with this. It used to be that we would pick a book and we were done when we finished it, however long it took. Using biblical resources and the calendar, we try to plan in advance for the sake of scheduling preachers and helping our small groups decide about content (some small groups choose to follow the sermons). This also helps our people to know how many years they should expect to be in a book like Romans.
As you can see, there are many factors that contribute to sermon planning. If you are a member of Eagle Heights, pray for those of us who lead, that we will do what is best for our faith family. If you are a part of another local church, pray for your lead pastor and Elders as they makes decisions about what is best for the people they will give an account for. May God give us confidence that produces patience, trusting He knows what is best for us when we need it most.