About one year ago, I developed a plan for how I would begin writing and publishing entire sermon series before preaching them. It took me nine months to get to the point of accomplishing this.
I decided to move into this direction because I have been a lead pastor since 2008, I have always written my sermons in a manuscript form, but I looked through my files and realized I have written hundreds of sermons, but have not leveraged my content very much.
I would spend 15–20 hours pouring my heart into writing a sermon, and then after I preached it, it would drift into the digital abyss to rarely be seen or heard again. Something is wrong with this. I want maximum exposure to my greatest effort at homiletical and literary whimsy.
I was told by a friend that Andy Stanley prepares his sermons four weeks in advance, and thought that was really impressive. His purpose was to help his staff team with the multitude of logistics, including stage design, graphic design, musical worship sets, marketing the sermon, etc.
ONLY PREACH ONCE PER WEEK
A key part of this is that I only preach one full sermon per week. My system would be very difficult to replicate if one was preaching Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. Our church does not have Sunday night activities, and I teach a Bible study on a rotation with some other people on Wednesday nights.
START FAR IN ADVANCE
When I developed my system in the spring of 2014, my goal was to start it in August of the same year. I couldn’t pull it off that quickly. Here is why: You have to discipline yourself to write two Sunday morning sermons per week for about ten weeks to get far enough ahead.
KNOW YOUR PREACHING CALENDAR 12 MONTHS IN ADVANCE
I used to plan my preaching calendar twice per year, in six month increments, but transitioned to always having a 12 month perspective. Here are examples of what a typical series will look like, when planned on my preaching calendar:
Series Name: Restoring Ruined Dreams: A Series On the Book of Joel (#RestoreMyDreams)
Series Description: Do you ever struggle with feeling complacent? A strong dose of imagery like we find in Joel might just do the trick of opening your eyes to the necessity of faithfully following after God every moment of your life in order to experience restoration from brokenness in the dreams of your life.
Design Thoughts: Be Creative!
Disaster (Joel 1:1–20)
Hope (Joel 2:1–17)
Restoration (Joel 2:18–32)
Justice (Joel 3:1–21)
Series Name: I Love My Church (#LoveCOH)
Series Description: What does it look like to be a healthy member of Church of the Highlands? There’s more to it than showing up on an occasional Sunday morning, smiling, and singing. The Bible gives rich insight into how to live out your love for God’s local church. This series will teach you how to love your church!
Design Thoughts: I [heart symbol] My Church in block type font, all caps. Black background…maybe a little texture, orange heart, “church” in lime green font.
Give Up Your Life (Matthew 16:24–25)
Pick Up Your Ministry (1 Peter 4:10)
Show Up to Church (Hebrews 10:23–25)
Build Up Each Other (Romans 12:10–15)
Back Up Your Leaders (Hebrews 13:17)
Pay Up Your Tithes (Malachi 3:5–10)
August 9 (Awesome Day)
Listen Up to God (Romans 10:17)
I send the preaching calendar to my staff, lay leadership team, and then my graphic designer and stage design teams go over this at length.
WISELY MANAGE YOUR TIME
In order to find the extra 15–20 hours of sermon prep time for ten weeks, it took a lot of disciplined time management. This requires a lot of intentionality, avoiding piddling on the internet, and getting up early or staying up late. I’m a morning person, so I began waking up earlier, typically around 4:30 or 5:00, and would just start cranking out my future sermons. It became tiring to write two Sunday morning sermons for ten weeks, but it’s the only way to get ahead far enough to execute this strategy.
This is the hardest part, and the crux of why this may not be possible for everyone. I may have plenty of weaknesses, but one of my strengths is time management.
WRITE THE SERMON MANUSCRIPT AS A BOOK’S CHAPTER
When I write a sermon, I write it with detailed endnotes, headings, etc. since it will be published as a book. Sometimes, preachers who manuscript their sermons may put abbreviated reminders like “ILL” for “illustration” or “exp” for “expound.” When using my format, it requires writing it with the complete perspective that it needs to be cleaner so it can be published as a chapter in a book.
SELF-PUBLISH THE SERMON SERIES AS A BOOK
This portion of my strategy required a lot of research as to what was the best route for self-publishing. I found that Amazon’s self-publishing arm, CreateSpace.com, is the best option for me.
With CreateSpace, you can order books on demand, and don’t have a minimum you have to order. They make it easy to publish eBooks as well as paperbacks. Click here for a good article on “Top 10 Tips for Self-Publishing On CreateSpace.”
You need to have the series/book completely written at least a month prior to preaching it so there’s ample time for editing the book, shipping, etc.
SELL THE BOOK
I sell the series as a book at Church of the Highlands, online, when I go and preach at conferences and other churches, and out of the trunk of my car. I made the decision that the profit from every book that I sell at Church of the Highlands is given to our church’s building fund. This helps me to give creatively toward our future, and makes me unashamed to push the books at the church. The money is going toward a good cause, and I avoid the temptation and perception of “double-dipping” by being paid a salary from the congregation and then seeking an extra way to make money from them. Instead, I’m asking people to give toward the Lord’s work.
CHURCH OF THE HIGHLANDS’ REACTION TO THIS FORMAT
Our church loves this format. People bring their Bibles and many bring their series books with them. I was concerned about people having my entire manuscript before preaching it, but I’ve found it helps the congregation to absorb the content way better. If something struck them as interesting in the sermon, they can look at the endnotes, and pick up that resource to learn more about it.
THE LEGACY OF THIS STRATEGY
I am 33. If I pastor until my late 60s or early 70s, I’ll have about 40 years of sermons published in an organized manner to leave a legacy well beyond my time on earth. After all, Martin Luther once said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
BUY MY BOOKS NOW
If you are thinking about moving to this format, you may want to buy a few of my books to see how it looks in print. Click here to go to my book page.
I hope this helps some others seeking to make a difference for Jesus!
Listen to the audio version of this post below.