I dissent – from the Dissenters, at least. For the last fifteen years I’ve been publishing sermon titles. For four month blocks at a time I put out to the congregation the passages and titles for sermons which we’ll be journeying through together. And I’m convinced that it works.
The pitfalls are many, obviously. I often remind people that we’re totally subject to the Spirit’s leading. If the series develops a different shape as I and/or others preach it, we’ll rethink, and change things. If something else demands our attention, we’ll take that as the Spirit’s leading, and ditch the series (who cares, the term card is only the term card).
The great danger of committing yourself to a preaching series, titles and all, and following it, is that it can give the impression that ‘the series’ and its titles are the be-all and end-all. Worse still, people can take an unintended message from the Pastor that no deviation is allowed from the hallowed topics and titles. Then, as Adrian notes, there’s always the danger of arriving at the fore-titled passage to realise that you’ve not appreciated what the verses really are saying. Still, there’s no great hassle here: study the passage hard before you commit to a title, and have the sense of change it the week before if in your planning you’ve come up with a misleading one.
The greatest danger in committing to passages and to titles is that the Pastor takes his eye (and prayers) off what the Lord is doing, day in and day out, in the congregation. It’s a strength of choosing passages each week that the Pastor can really think through what his people’s needs are, and seek to preach to them, without just putting his head down and ploughing on through a series which seemed to fit the bill two months before.
But, and I’ll end here, the sermon series, titles and all, is a wonderful way of affirming that the ministry of God’s Word is a love service to the congregation. Each week they get, not your doctrinal or any other hobby-horse, but the diet of the Word which is balanced, consecutive, and which they know has come to them with planning and care. Preaching is less the magical mystery tour they fear, but the shared exploration of the Word. They know where you’re going, and appreciate that you want to enthuse and motivate them to travel with you.
And if you’re still worried that committing to series and titles is the arm of flesh and not the freedom of the Spirit – well, I’ve lost count of the times, year on year, that the Word we’ve planned to hear has been just the Word in season for our needs. Sunday by Sunday we’ve discovered that the Spirit, far more than the preacher, knew just what He was doing and planning, and has prepared to bring His Word to our hearts, to show us Christ. For this I am so thankful.
And I’m especially thankful because today I’m working on planning our next preaching series at Hope Church.