Dan Kimball by Vintage Faith

A couple weeks ago I Twittered that we had an all-day sermon planning series and mapped out a year in advance of what the teaching is. I got several emails and questions about when we plan in advance – does it limit the Holy Spirit or are we simply programming something without allowing the Spirit to change things.


So… a couple of thoughts about what we do and responses to some of the specific questions from emails. Here’s how we currently are planning things out. So for those interested, here is what we just did a few weeks ago and what I Twittered about.

1) For anything you do in ministry or everything we do at all, of course there is a presupposition that prayer is flowing throughout everything.

2) Planning out what we teach is not a solo thing. It isn’t just me determining what is taught and then I bring it to a group for approval of what I came up with. I have a specific temperament and personality and I don’t trust myself to make that decision by myself since it is so important. It’s not that I don’t think I have insight to lay out a teaching schedule. But I am fully aware that I have my own biases and my own way I view things, and there are things I may want to teach about what I may feel is best but may not be for everyone etc. So we determine the teaching for our church with a teaching team who together decides what the teaching will be. The teaching team currently is 4 people with very distinct and different personalities (currently it is myself, Josh Fox, Joe Bishop and Kristin Culman). Over the years this team shifts, at times we have had non-staff volunteers on this team who are teachers themselves and would teach in our gatherings or they were on the creative team. This year it is was 3 of our staff and one volunteer who we consder staff.

3) One thing we do as prep is to be observing the prayer requests coming in from people, listen to stories, try to sense what is happening in the lives of those in our church.

4) Every year we formally ask for input from the whole church on the upcoming year’s teaching for Sundays. I send out an email to the entire church, ask for suggestions of both theological topics, books of the Bible, issues they struggle with and would like to hear biblical input on etc. I ask them to please respond with not just the suggestion, but why they feel it is important so we can get a sense of the why’s behind the input.

5) I compile all the church’s suggestions and ideas and then we have a teaching team meeting.   I send out in advance some of the results and things to prep for so we can think and pray in advance before meeting together. We pray as we meet to truly yield everything we discuss to try and understand God’s desires and direction for our church. In the meeting we then spend some time reviewing the priorities and goals of the church, where we sense people are at and where we sense God may be leading us. We then lay out the year (we go from July through June for our year). We talk through seasons of the year, strategic times of the year (Christmas, new year, Easter etc).  We spend the time listing out options and go back and forth for hours. By the end of the meeting we have a basic layout of the teaching series for the year.

6) We then took a 2 week break to allow some time to go by and pray and then to reconvene to then see if we all felt what we did in that meeting still felt right later. There was one series we didn’t feel right about and re-did our thinking on it and came up with someone different.  But then we have a “layout”of the upcoming year then finished.

What I mean by “layout” is that we have every Sunday listed and what series will be happening during that time. For instance, we have a series we called “con:Text – (re)discover the life-changing power of Scripture” which will be a 5 week series basically on biblical hermeneutics. The first two weeks will be what Scripture says about itself in terms of the importance of having it saturated in our lives and some bible study skills about understanding context, how to approach studying Scripture etc. The next 3 weeks of the series we will be teaching through the book of Philemon. We are going to all read it through and do an all-church study (with homework) for 3 weeks on that book using the bible study methods of the first two weeks. We don’t have all the details at this point laid out – but we have a basic understanding like I just wrote (and that is about all we have at this point).

We also felt we needed a series on what Scriptures teach on human sexuality. This is not simply a “hot topics sex series” – but one that will explore through the Old and New Testaments the holistic concept of human sexuality, the covenant of marriage, what is purity in our culture today etc.  Because culture has so defined human sexuality and relationships in ways that are teaching people (whether we call it teaching or not) we felt it important to have a series for our whole church about this. So we mapped out 7 weeks for this and at this point we don’t have a series title, but we have a very general sense of what will be covered week to week.

7) A premise in our planning, that I didn’t mention earlier was that in our mid-week Community Groups they mainly study through books of the Bible. This Fall all our Community Groups will go through Philippians. So we see the Sunday teaching not as THE only form of what the church has for teaching. Our women’s ministry also primarily goes through books of the Bible or pretty intense biblical studies as what they do. For the Sunday gatherings we make sure we teach at least one book of the Bible a year. Last year we taught through 1 Corinthians. The year before was James. Since we started Vintage Faith Church in 2004, we have taught through Daniel, Song of Solomon, James, 1 Corinthians, 1 John, large sections of Acts, sections of Romans and Matthew. So we have a mix of books of the Bible, theological issues (we actually teach about hell once every year as part of a series – if anyone is interested in why you can read why here) and specific topical issues, which we then would teach from a theological perspective.

8) We fully are aware that things may change. In the course of a year, we may sense God leading us in another direction. Or a tragedy or world event may happen. We changed our whole series this past January from what we originally planned.  It was sensed as it approached that something else was needed than we had planned. I always wonder what it is like for churches who use a lectionary approach and when you are locked into a schedule that doesn’t change no matter what. I would love to hear your thoughts on that.

What planning out in advance then does is allow those teaching to be thinking about what is ahead and studying months and months in advance. Or if an article is found about something 6 months later you are teaching about, you can save it. I saw a video clips a couple months ago that I felt would be good for a message – so I was able to email the staff person who oversees the creative elements and she saved it so when the time came for the actual series planning in specifics it was then brought up.

We are now trying to meet about 6 to 8 weeks before each series starts to then really brainstorm the specifics and lay things out creatively week to week. We then meet weekly after each Sunday to review how things went and preview and go over the upcoming Sunday. Last week there was the “Jesus chair” (an empty chair) in our meeting which is there to remind us that Jesus is the leader of the church and we are doing this for Him. Kind of weird sounding, but we had it there.

Now the reality is, that we are always scrambling with something. We are changing some things last minute (I do)…. but withthe advance planning it makes things less hectic and and we have time to be more creative in thinking through ways of communicating and teaching Scripture along with the whole worship gathering.

Some weeks we have more creative elements of helping communicate and teach and ways people can respond. Some weeks we intentionally don’t have anything creative at all – as we never want to be under this great pressure of “We have to have something creative every single week”. It isn’t being creative simply to be creative.

The Bible itself is the most creative, beautiful, dramatic, marvelous, incredible, story and teaching in itself. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need teaching and unpacking the context and using creative ways of helping people learn, participate and understand the inspired incredible gift of Scriptures that we have.

You can think of it like a dinner. You can put together a last minute dinner or prep a dinner with not much planning. But when you prepare one with advance planning and thinking about all the elements of the meal and go shopping for any ingredients you may not happen to have in the house for the meal – it does make a difference. But it needs planning ahead. Of course, unlike a dinner – the Scriptures impact people via the Spirit. So teaching Scripture and worship gatherings isn’t comparable to making a meal in the same way, but I hope this makes sense.

So that’s some answers to some of the emails I received and If you have any specific questions, I can respond here. I’d appreciate hearing how far in advance your church plans out what is happening on Sundays and how it is determined.

Long post. Time to stop typing.