We've just entered the fall season which is when church calendars begin filling up with all kinds of activities. Many churches do a "Trunk-or-Treat" alternative to Halloween. Even more have Thanksgiving dinners, and nearly every church has some special events for the Advent season. Finance committees begin meeting in many churches to prepare budgets for next year while nominating committees begin their work trying to find people to fill the various positions in the church. There's a lot going on, but this is also the time when pastors need to begin thinking about the church's focus for the coming year and his or her sermon plans.
It's always amazed me that a church could develop a budget and a list of people for various leadership positions without any clear sense of what their focus would be for the coming year. Such visionless churches are merely ensuring they can maintain what they have without giving any thought to what God might want for their churches. Maybe, just maybe, God wants to call your church to a great evangelism emphasis in 2013. Do you think that should be reflected in the budget? Do you think there might need to be some people identified who could provide leadership to that? Should that enter into the pastor's preaching plans for the next year? The answer to all three questions is yes.
If a church has not had an active evangelism emphasis in several years it is likely to need training for its members to help them feel more comfortable sharing their faith. Money should be in the budget for such training. You may identify resources that will be used by your people when they share their faith. The cost of those would be included in the budget. Part of your evangelism efforts may include some special events which should be covered in the budget. All of this will have an impact on the work of the Finance Committee.
You may need special people to lead some of this training or programming. (Please don't elect an Evangelism Committee because if you do evangelism then becomes their job and everyone else is off the hook.) These folks will need to be released from some other responsibilities in order to focus on this new role. Their old positions will either have to be filled by someone else or eliminated if those positions no longer add any real value to the church. The Nominating Committee needs to know these things before they begin their work.
How will this emphasis affect the pastor's preaching schedule? To keep any vision alive the congregation must be reminded of it at least once a month. A variety of ways can be utilized, but the one way to reach the most people in a smaller church is through the pastor's messages. He or she might want to preach a series of sermons on the topic and follow that with an occasional reminder. The pastor may prefer to address it in the sermon at least once a month. However he or she feels will work best, that needs to be planned out so it's not forgotten in the rush of all the things a pastor does.
When I was a pastor I spent some time each fall thinking about my preaching schedule for the coming year. I took sheets of paper and wrote down the date of every Sunday. If it was a holiday I made a note of that to prepare an appropriate message. I could then begin to think about possible sermon themes that would tie in with our emphasis that particular year. I always tried to work one quarter ahead with at least a text and a sermon title. The actual messages were often not prepared more than a couple of weeks out. All that was done in pencil so if events occurred that required a change it could easily be done on my simple planner.
This all took time, but when it was time to prepare my sermons I didn't have to spend half of the week trying to decide what I should preach. I could focus my attention on the message itself. It also helped me be more alert to things that would apply to my message when I would be reading. When I've shared this strategy with pastors attending my workshops someone will often ask if this doesn't negate the leading of the Spirit in sermon planning. My response is that I believe the Holy Spirit can lead us three months ahead of time the same as he can on Saturday night. The story of the wise and foolish virgins in Mt. 25 teaches us that thinking ahead and being prepared is a good thing. Now is the time to be thinking ahead to 2013.