The Joy of Creating a Preaching Calendar

by John Anderson

CalendarThere is great value to organizing a preaching calendar, but it is often not considered by Orthodox clergy. Our calendar of readings actually lends itself well to organizing one and keeping our preaching timely and relevant to our congregations. I ask every Orthodox preacher to consider one for the coming year. The Calendar can be prepared during the summer months! One last note: The Preaching Calendar is a flexible tool to make teaching and preaching easier for the preacher. Plan one, use one and make it work for you.

It is Saturday night, and you are staring at a black screen with a blank mind grasping at straws as the anxiety washes over you in massive waves. You have yet to write your sermon! This is the predicament in which many preachers find themselves. With their fat, bulging schedules, many ministers today try to find time for their sermons, but often do not, or cannot, carve out that time. Thus their sermon gets neglected, forgotten, or tossed together in a sloppy hurry. It is through solid, good preaching and teaching that a parish can become and remain a healthy community of believers who are challenged to think critically, engage with the Scriptures and Tradition, and live more holy, wholesome lives.

It is through a long-term, planned preaching calendar that the preacher can sit back and assess the spiritual needs of his parish and plan a preaching calendar that will address those needs. Healthy homiletics leads to a healthy congregation.

I recall from my days at Johnson University research conducted among unchurched individuals that lead to the conclusion that the number one thing those people looked for in a church was not the worship, the personality of the preacher, or the programs, but was indeed deep, strong doctrinal preaching. I am of the firm belief that incorporating the practice of compiling a 52-week preaching calendar into your homiletic practices is key in producing solid, sound, deep preaching that avoids shallow, weak, prep talks that we hear all too often.

There are many benefits to doing a preaching calendar. One can avoid the anxiety of waiting until late in the week to compile the sermon, one can carve out time due to better planning. Preparing the calendar weeks ahead gives you plenty of time to formulate ideas, work out thesis statements, create bullet points, and find inspirations to flesh out the skeleton of each sermon you have determined ahead of time. Another benefit is that it keeps the preaching fresh, active, and nourishing to the congregation.

Another great benefit to doing a preaching calendar is that it can be a team effort for the preaching team. I am a firm believer that the laity, those with the gifts to do so, should be involved with preaching and teaching, but with the blessing of their priest and bishop of course. Doing a preaching calendar allows laity the opportunity to become involved with the ministry of the Church as they should be. This is something to take into consideration: having a preaching team. One should select those with the clear gifts, experience, wisdom, and discernment to help in fashioning a preaching calendar as well as delivering some of the sermons.

Now, as Orthodox preachers and clergy, what is the best way to approach making a preaching calendar?

Last fall I had to create my own 52-week preaching calendar for my Homiletics III course at Johnson University. I decided as I was formulating my calendar idea that the best way I could do it was to simply follow the liturgical calendar and the Scripture readings for each Sunday and Feast Day I had to do. My instructions for the calendar were to do 52 Sundays along with special days in between, so I created a fictional parish called St. Athanasius Orthodox Church and a fictional assistant priest to assist me in the preaching named Father Arseny. I would give him special feast days and vespers services to preach on during the week. This was done as a requirement for my project, but when creating your own you can simply go through and create yours for the Sundays that you are preaching. One does not necessarily have to plan those sermons in between Sundays, but if you so desire you can.

However, for the season of Pentecost I did break from the liturgical calendar and do a 7 part sermon series on the healthy traits of a church. This was per request from my professor to have the project completed.

To get started I would say simply pray first. Ask the Lord to anoint your reading of the texts, your thought process, and the condition of your heart. Saturate the entire process in prayer and maybe even fasting when appropriate. Once you do that, and continue to do it through the process, I would begin by doing these things:

1. Creating a preaching team– as I said earlier, preaching can be a team effort if you are blessed with those with the gifts to do it. As someone who feels called to be a priest, I hope that I will have a team approach to preaching that has a bottom-up process rather than being alone in the homiletics department by myself. I believe having a team not only gives the laity a chance to develop their gifts and minister, but it also keeps the preaching fresh, offers different manifestations in the form of how each person uses their gifts, and makes the process of learning, creating, and growing together more fun.

2. Contemplate the needs of your parish– preaching is for the edification of the Body. If it is not edifying and building up those in the Faith then it is of no use. Sit down and pray through a list of families and individuals from your parish. Ask the Lord to bring to mind the issues, difficulties, concerns, problems, struggles, or needs they face, so that your preaching can best address those.

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3. Plan ahead once you have your team – sit down with your team, or by yourself, and begin to formulate how you want to carry out your calendar. You have a variety of venues from which to choose. You can do the calendar strictly from the liturgical calendar using the readings or you can do sermon series, topical preaching, expository preaching, inductive story telling approaches, expository coverage of major Church doctrines, holiday sermons, feast day sermons, or stand alone sermons that can deal with social issues, or preaching through certain books of the Bible. Or you can create a hybrid of those as you’ll see with my own sermon series. But once you decide on the approach sit down and look at the calendar and how you want to flesh out the preaching calendar around it. The best time to begin planning a calendar would be November to December and base it for the following year, so that way if you implement the liturgical calendar you can begin at the beginning of the year. For me it just makes it easier to plan this way.

4. Begin to go through and decide the text, thesis (if there will be one), and points (should there be any) for each sermon on the 52-week calendar. If you are using the Church calendar then this will be easy since the text is decided for you. If you decide to do a series within the calendar go through and figure out how many sermons will be within the series or the topics.

5. Flesh Out The Sermons – Once you have the entire 52 weeks laid out, then as the weeks come up you can begin to flesh out the sermons if need be. If you are preaching on a certain subject in 3 Sundays then you can start working on that sermon. The point is to stay ahead and up-to-date with the task. You do not have to flesh out all the sermons that far in advance. If I were doing it I would try to prepare for 2 or 3 weeks out at a time. This leads to my next step.

6. Plan what resources you will incorporate – a lot of preachers like to use a number of resources to help with their sermon writing from commentaries to software programs. Have in mind how you want to implement these resources.

7. Involve the parish– what I mean by this is make it known that you are doing a preaching calendar. The parish members will be much more excited and receptive if they are made known and brought into the loop. You can think of ways to broadcast your series, topics, or special parts of the sermon. Also, if you can afford it and have the means you can plan ahead to include a sermon bulletin sheet that includes the thesis and points, etc. You can pass these out to the parish members as they enter the parish. I believe that this is a strong thing to do. It gives them a visual to go along with the audio of the sermon. This encourages later thought about the sermon and gives them a way to go back and look on the sermon for reflection, contemplation, etc. If you do decide to break from the church calendar and do sermons that involve Scripture not listed for the readings I would recommend you either print the Scriptures off in the bulletin or encourage your members to bring their own Bibles so to follow along. In fact doing both may be the best idea.

8. Have fun– I know that this sounds like a daunting, challenging task, and I do not mean to make it sound like it is not. It is a task. It is a challenge to do this. I spent many hours on my own calendar. However, I really enjoyed doing this. I think it is fun, challenging, and a way to grow as a preacher. We are preachers of the Gospel; it is an honor to do this. We are privileged to get to do this. Take joy in the work the Lord has given whether you are alone in it or with a team.

To give you an idea without having to go on and on about it, I would like to share with you my preaching calendar:

  • Sunday Before Theophany/1-1-12 (Mark 1:1-8)
    • Thesis: Prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths.
    • Point I: Preaching a baptism of repentance in expectation of His second coming.
    • Point II: Bearing the fruit of righteousness and spiritual discipline in our lives.
  • Theophany of Christ and His Baptism/1-6-12 (Matthew 3:13-17)
    • Thesis: “Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling.”
    • Point I: The revealing of Jesus Christ our Lord as the Son of God.
    • Point II: The mystery of the Trinitarian Faith, which we profess.
  • Sunday After Theophany/1-8-12 (Matthew 4:12-17)
    • Thesis- Those in darkness have seen the Light of the Kingdom of God. Those in the Light:
    • Point I- Repentant of their sins and bring their darkness into the Light.
    • Point II- Turn to God for their salvation and healing.
  • Second Sunday After Theophany/1-15-12 (Luke 18:18-27)
    • Thesis (Inductive Approach): We shall be perfected. (What can we do to be perfect?)
    • Movement I: We must willingly sacrifice all
    • Movement II: We must follow Christ in all things
  • Third Sunday After Theophany/1-22-12 (Luke 18:35-43)
    • Thesis: Bring your needs before Christ.
    • Point I: Christ already knows our needs.
    • Point II: He calls for us to ask freely so to learn of His mercy.
  • St. Gregory the Theologian (Wed. Vespers)/1-25-12 (Mark 11:23-16)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • Zacchaeus Sunday (Pre-Lent)/1-29-12 (Luke 19:1-10)
    • Thesis: We are all the same underneath the Sycamore tree.
    • Point I: We all live in sin and demonstrate a need for the Christ’s grace.
    • Point II: Christ comes to those who seek Him and repent and believe in His grace.
  • Presentation of the Lord in the Temple (Wednesday Vespers)/2-2-12 (Luke 2:22-40)
    • Jesus the Unblemished Lamb
    • Point I: Jesus is presented on the 14th day for a blessing.
    • Point II: Mary can’t afford an unblemished lamb, but still offers Christ, the Lamb of God.
  • Publican and Pharisee Sunday (Pre-Lent)/2-5-12 (Luke 18:10-14)
    • Thesis (Inductive): We justified before God. (Question: how?)
    • Movement I: Inward humility is blessed and leads to justification, forgiven and set right with God.
    • Movement II: Pride in outward deeds is condemned.
  • Prodigal Son Sunday (Pre-Lent)/2-12-12 (Luke 15:11-32)
    • Thesis- The Father welcomes us home from the Far Country.
    • Point I: In sin, we live outside our true selves. It is a hopeless condition that leads to repentance.
    • Point II: Through Christ, the Father actively welcomes us back to the Kingdom when we seek repentance.
  • Sunday of Last Judgment (Pre-Lent)/2-19-12 (Matthew 25:31-46)
    • Father Arseny preaches
  • Forgiveness Sunday (Sunday before Great Lent)/2-26-12 (Matthew 6:14-21)
    • Thesis: Forgiveness begets forgiveness
    • Point I: Forgiveness of other’s sins is a pre-condition to God’s forgiveness.
    • Point II: To not forgive other’s sins is to willfully flee from His forgiveness for us.
  • Sunday of Orthodoxy (1st Sun. of Great Lent)/3-4-12 (John 1:43-51)
    • Thesis: In the Church, with faith, through the Incarnation we see Heaven open up to:
    • Point I: The inauguration of the new age.
    • Point II: Fulfillment of all promises.
    • Point III: Manifestation of the Kingdom.
  • Holy 40 Martyrs of Sebaste (Vespers)/3-9-12 (Matthew 20:1-16)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • Sunday of the Paralytic (2nd Sun. of Great Lent)/3-11-12 (Mark 2:1-12)
    • Thesis: Jesus’ Divinity is shown through the salvation of the paralytic:
    • Point I: He knows the secrets of hearts.
    • Point II: He forgives sins, a power belonging to God alone.
    • Point III: Heals by the power of His word.
  • Veneration of the Cross (3rd Sun. of Lent)/3-18-12 (Mark 8:34-9:1)
    • Thesis: “There’s only two ways out of this world and neither of them are safe…”
    • Point I: Our natural death without Christ
    • Point II: Our spiritual death to self, crucifixion of the flesh, so that He lives in us. This is our cross.
  • Annunciation (4th Sun. of Great Lent)/3-25-12 (Luke 1:34-38)
    • Thesis: Mary, the New Eve, demonstrates complete faith in God and high obedience:
    • Point I: Eve disobeyed, Mary now obeys.
    • Point II: Eve closed herself off to God’s will; Mary opens herself up to it fully and faithfully.
  • St. Mary of Egypt (5th Sun. of Great Lent)/4-1-12 (Luke 7:36-50)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • Lazarus Saturday (End of Great Lent)/4-7-12 (John 11:1-45)
    • Thesis: Christ the Resurrection and the Life. (What are the implications of the Lazarus story?)
    • Movement I: Christ confirms the universal resurrection of all mankind prior to His own suffering and death.
  • Palm Sunday/4-8-12 (John 12:1-18)
    • Thesis: Christ is King!
    • Point I: An aspect of His Kingship is His humility.
    • Point II: An aspect of His Kingship: He’s praiseworthy!
  • PASCHA SUNDAY-A Beautiful Collision or (3+4=7)/4-15-12 (John 1:1-17)
    • We have shared and are sharing with our Savior and Risen Lord Jesus Christ the glorious Resurrection life! We have become partakers of the Divine! We have risen from the dead, from an eternal sleep, to a new life!
  • St. Thomas Sunday: Antipascha (Post Easter Sundays start)/4-22-12 (John 20:19-31)
    • Thesis: Doubt should be resistance to truth, but an active seeking of the truth.
    • Point I: We have not seen or touched Him
    • Point II: In the Holy Spirit, we’ve seen, tasted, and touched the Word of Life.
  • Holy Myrrh bearing Women Sunday/ 4-29-12 (Mark 15:43-16:8)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • Paralytic Sunday/5-6-12 (John 5:1-15)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
    • NOTE: Not the same Paralytic as the previous Paralytic Sunday.
  • Samaritan Woman Sunday/5-13-12 (John 4:5-26)
    • Thesis: Worshiping In Spirit and Truth (How do we do this?)
    • Movement I: Worshiping in the Holy Spirit.
    • Movement II: Worshiping in Truth, who is Christ.
    • Movement III: According to Christ’s revelation.
  • Blind Man Sunday/5-20-12 (John 9:1-38)
    • Thesis: Without courage there can be no healing.
    • Point I: Courage to admit we need healing.
    • Point II: Courage to repent and accept Christ’s healing of our souls.
    • Point III: Courage to step into His light for life.
  • Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ/5-24-12 (Luke 24:36-53)
    • Thesis: Christ brings human nature to the Divine Kingdom.
    • Point: Reigns with the Father and Spirit in His glorified body.
    • Point II: He is worshiped in his glorified human nature by all the angels.
  • Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council/5-27-12 (John 17:1-13)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • Feast of the Holy Trinity (Pentecost Sunday)/6-3-12 (John 7:37-52; 8:12)
    • Thesis: The Living Water that Quenches Thirst (What, or who, is the Water?)
    • Movement I: The Living Water is the Holy Spirit.
    • Movement II: The new life that accompanies this is the gift of Living Water.
  • Feast of the Holy Spirit/5-4-12 (Matthew 18:10-20)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • All Saints Sunday/6-10-12 (Matthew 10:32-33, 37; 19:27-30)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
    • After this Sunday begins the 7 Traits of a Healthy Parish Sermon Series, which will continue through the duration of Pentecost until December 16.
  • Trait 1- Evangelism (6-17-12 through 7-1-12)
    • -Sermon 1 Thesis: Evangelism By Dying to One’s Self.  Text: Galatians 2:19-20. Point I: We evangelize by the witness of our complete surrender. Point II: We show Christ in our mortal flesh.
    • -Sermon 2 Thesis: Evangelism By Being with God, in His Presence. Text: Luke 10:38-42.  Point I: We evangelize by sitting at His feet and learning. Point II: We evangelize by desiring one thing, Christ.
    • -Sermon 3: Evangelism By Being with Others. Text: James 2:14-18/Matt 22:39. Point I: We evangelize by our good works and by being His hands and feet.
  • Trait 2- Values (7-8-12 through 8-5-12)
    • -Sermon 1: Missional Values (Value 1- Centralized Identity and Core Value: “Jesus is Lord!”) Text: Luke 9:18-21
    • -Sermon 2: Missional Values (Value 2- Discipleship Making) Text: Matthew 28:19-20
    • -Sermon 3: Missional Values (Value 3- Incarnational Missional Impulse) Text: Mk. 16:15/Mt. 24:14
    • -Sermon 4: Missional Values (Value 4- Apostolic Environment) Text: Eph. 4:11
    • -Sermon 5: Missional Values (Value 5- Organic Systems) Text: Acts 2:40-47
  • Trait 3- Achievements (8-12-12)
    • -Sermon 1- Bearing Good Fruit. Text: Mt. 7:17-20
      • Point I: Our community will know us by our deeds.
      • Point II: Our deeds show who we are and ultimately who Christ is!
  • Trait 4- Leadership (8-19-12 through 9-16-12)
    • -Sermon 1: APEST* I. Apostles. Text: Eph. 4:11-16
    • -Sermon 2: APEST* II. Prophets. Text: Eph. 4:11-16
    • -Sermon 3: APEST* III. Evangelists. Text: Eph. 4:11-16
    • -Sermon 4: APEST* IV. Shepherds. Text: Eph. 4:11-16
    • -Sermon 5: APEST* V. Teachers. Text: Eph. 4:11-16
  • Trait 5- Unity (9-23-12 through 10-7-12)
    • -Sermon 1: Unity with Christ. Text: Romans 6:4-5
    • -Sermon 2: Unity with One Another I. Text: 1 Cor. 1:10/I Cor. 12:12-26
    • -Sermon 3: Unity with One Another II. Text Eph. 4:1-6
  • Sunday Before Nativity/12-23-12 (Matthew 1:1-25)
    • Thesis: God is with us.
    • Point I: This is not a new person coming into existence, but the eternal Son of God.
    • Point II: The virginal conception by the means of the Holy Spirit and the name “Immanuel” declare Christ’s divinity.
  • Nativity of Our Lord/12-25-12 (Matthew 2:1-12)
    • Thesis: The Advent of Love.
    • Point I: What is extremely poetic is that in Exodus God required the blood of a lamb to be spread on the doorway in order for the first born son to be spared, but in the Advent He sent His Firstborn of All Creation to be that very Spotless Lamb. Christ’s blood has been poured out for us.
    • Point II: The Advent is about God placing upon the Holy Altar His own Son in order that death and sin may be eternally defeated. The Advent is about the very love of God, the fullness of God coming to earth as a man.
  • Sunday After Nativity/12-30-12 (Matthew 2:13-23 and Titus 2:1-14)
    • Thesis: A Season of Rebirth.
    • Point I: The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t just a physical visitation. It was a spiritual coming of Majesty. With the Incarnation and Nativity God’s Light was shone. His Light was shone on dark hearts.
    • Point II: It was necessary for darkness to dwell in our hearts so God’s Light could find a dwelling to rest, shining forth Light on our entire beings. Remember, our hearts, in Hebraic poetry is our ENTIRE being, not our physical hearts.
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I hope that this will inspire creativity, vision, and passion for the art of homiletics.  I will pray that your sermons become more focused, energetic, passionate, and challenging. It takes a lot of work to sit down and create a 52-week preaching calendar, but the rewards and joy of having accomplished it far out weight the difficulties found in fashioning it. May God bless you on your journey to become better homileticians.

* if you are not familiar with the APEST ministry designations, Google it and enjoy. It is just another way to organize ministry work.

 John AndersonJohn Anderson has a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership from Johnson University and is a member of Saint Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, TN, where he resides with his wife and their Chihauhau, Charlie. He is very passionate about preaching, church leadership, missiology, and preaching the Gospel to a lost and hurting society.

He aspires to become a priest in the Orthodox Church. He is the editor-in-chief for Orthodox Ruminations.

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