Those of us who are regularly teaching and/or preaching in our churches do so to encourage life change on the part of the people who sit under our ministries. And as we are preaching or teaching life changing principles from God’s word, our desire is that these truths become a permanent part of people’s lives. But how often does this happen? Here’s a little test you can perform to answer this question:
What was your pastor preaching on last week? Can you remember?
And if you’re the pastor, what did you speak on?
Chances are good that you’ll remember, but what about the week before that and last month? Same holds for those who lead teaching and preaching ministries.
To take this a step further, how many actually undergo some kind of life change in response to what we hear? Our desire is that people walk away with a desire to change their lives and experience spiritual growth that is lived out at church and in the marketplace. And again I ask is this happening, and if not, why not? If people can’t remember what the message or sermon was about, chances are that they won’t experience a change in life style.
With this in mind is there anything we can do to correct or somewhat correct this situation that is so true in so many of our ministries? I believe there is.
Changing Hearts and Actions Starts with Changing Minds in Preaching
Consider the following: What we’re asking people who are on the receiving end of a sermon or lesson to do is to to break a bad habit or embrace a new habit. Researchers at University College in London, England, found that it takes approximately 66 days to drop an old habit and 66 days to form a new habit. So when we hear a sermon or lesson that calls for life change or application we must keep in mind that things won’t change over night. This is why Paul says in Romans 12 that transformation comes by the renewing of our minds. It is not just preaching one sermon, but the constant drip of truth that changes us when we are open to the message.
Pro Sermon Planning Tip 1: Play the Long Game in Preaching
Rather than just give up after a few days or weeks of trying, we must focus on the specific life change over at least a 66 day period. This means that we would need to be preaching fewer sermons and teaching fewer lessons in order to focus on changing old and embracing new habits. Rather than preaching four new sermons over a month, we would select a topic for life change and then focus specifically on that for a month, emphasizing the importance of not giving up too soon as we seek to apply the biblical life changing instruction. Another approach is preaching or teaching a text from different parts of the text or genres that focus on the same life changing principle. That way people hear the message repeatedly over a longer period of time and stand a better chance of seeing it became a habit in their lives.
Pro Sermon Planning Tip 2: Plan the Long Game
In working with churches from every walk of life, one of the things that always surprises our team is the stunning lack of intentionality in sermon planning. It is not uncommon for us to hear from pastors who are scheduling their sermons on a week-by-week basis. Some will plan a month in advance. Still others will plan a six week series. Rarely do pastors plan multiple months or even a year of sermons.
There are reasons why pastors fear planning too far in advance: a desire to be responsive to the needs of the congregation or to a national topic of concern. This is understandable. However, usually pastors simply lack the vision and commitment. When it comes to initiating life change, pastors must not simply play the long game; they must plan for it. What fundamental life changes do you want to see in your church in the next 6-12 months? How could you craft your sermon series in a cumulative way to best kickstart those changes?
Have a vision for the preaching and teaching ministry of your church. Sermon planning is not anathema to the work of the Holy Spirit! Our planning must allow enough flexibility to adjust for specific needs, but our desire for Spirit-led flexibility must not prohibit us from strategically envisioning bold transformation through preaching and teaching.
Conclusion: God Still Uses Your Preaching
Pastor, God has you in the pulpit for a reason. God’s Word is still powerful. His Word still transforms lives. And He still uses people like you to proclaim His truth so that lives may be changed for His glory.
Stay faithful. Plan and play the long game in your preaching and teaching. Trust in the ability of God to bring life to dry bones, and righteousness from an unworthy people.
Aubrey Malphurs is the founder of The Malphurs Group. Aubrey is a prolific and award-winning author of more than 20 books, with titles focusing on topics such as strategic planning, leadership development, church planting and organizational strategies. In addition to being the inspirational leader of the organization, Aubrey is a Senior Professor of Leadership and Pastoral Ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas.