I've never preached a sermon series. Not that I'm opposed; sermon series are great. My reluctance about sermon series has always been of the it's-not-you-it's-me variety.
Why I've never preached a series:
- I could never figure out how to get organized to plan ahead several weeks in advance
- I couldn't understand how to maintain the continuity of a series when something unexpected occurred (e.g., a national event) that must be addressed in the next sermon
- I couldn't understand how not to feel "boxed in" by a series, unable to adjust course as needed.
Whether you're new to creating a series or an old hand at it, A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C * assuages my concerns, offering a thematic roadmap preachers can follow with little effort (Louisville: Westminster, John Knox Press, 2016. 261 pages).
If you're like me and haven't preached a sermon series before, consider two reasons I gleaned from the book to give it a try.
Reasons to preach a sermon series:
- A series can build tension as parishioners wonder where the series will take them the next Sunday, often increasing attendance.
- As Amy K. Butler (Senior Minister of Riverside Church, New York) points out in the foreword, a series also creates a learning scaffold for listeners' deeper engagement with the text.
For everyone, this book offers practical direction.
How A Preachers Guide to the Lectionary helps you preach a series:
Rather than teach a process to create your own sermon series themes and ideas, A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series offers twenty-six defined and organized, ready-to-implement series ideas based on the lectionary. Think of each as a "series in a box." Choose one to pull out, and all that's left to do is write the sermon based on the themes/ideas offered.
Twelve ecumenical preachers and professors from five denominations each contributed one or more series. Years A and B have nine series while Year C has eight, with each series organized by theme.
Each series is organized with the same structure. The theme is introduced with a one-sentence summary followed by the series overview. After the series overview, a table is provided with each Proper number, the corresponding sermon title, the Scripture verses highlighted, and the sermon’s theme. For those who rely on visual aides, suggestions are offered for each series with a paragraph of "Tips and Ideas."
The last section of the book contains a nine-year calendar to schedule three lectionary cycles.
To address my but-what-if-something-happens?! reservation, there are blanks on certain Sundays to allow for vacations, guest preachers, and the odd Sunday when lectionary cycles don't match up year-for-year. A series could be interrupted and shifted a week later as needed.
Example from A Preacher's Guide: July 16th, 2017, Year A, for Propers 10-15:
Theme: Summer Series 2: "Broken—God News for Tough Times" in six parts by Jacqueline Lewis (Middle Collegiate Church, Midtown, Manhattan):
One-Sentence Summary: "Hope and encouragement in difficulty with Paul's letter to the Romans"
Series Overview: "...In this series, covering some of the letter's most intriguing and inspiring passages, we learn how God sustains us in the middle of brokenness, both within and without, helping us find wholeness and unity no matter what crises we are facing" (p. 50).
Table: For each Proper, the table lists the sermon's title, theme, and the Scriptures addressed. For example, the sermon theme for Proper 10 is: "Our sin and pain damage our human bodies as well." The sermon theme for Proper 15 is: "Though brokenness remains, we can trust in God's mission of restoration."
A sampling of other series themes includes:
- Year A, Easter Series: "Closer and Closer: The resurrection means deeper relationships with God and one another" by Winne Verghese (Trinity Wall Street, Manhattan).
- Year B, Advent/Christmas: "Coming Soon: The expectation of the Messiah is a grand, movie-like epic" by Theresa Cho (St. John's Presbyterian, San Francisco).
- Year C, Epiphany Series: "A Light to Enlighten the Nations: Christ shines a light beyond Israel, to the whole world" (Robert S. Dannals, St. Bartholomew's, New York City).
What I like about this book:
- For newcomers to drafting a sermon series, this book helps the preacher catch on to series planning without wasting time to reinvent wheels.
- As suggested, you can use the themes as launching rather than ending points to discover themes of your own, and to make adjustments Sunday by Sunday. I appreciate both the flexibility and encouragement to follow the Spirit's leading while providing a thorough template to help me get started.
- The ecumenical perspectives from multiple preachers bring fresh perspectives.
- The book is useful for more than just sermon series. There are great sermon ideas for a single Sunday.
- The themes are not time-specific, meaning a series could be used beyond the nine years of the provided calendar.
- Non-lectionary-based preachers could get a running start by choosing a theme or book.
- If you want a break from "original thinking" for a while, these series can give the preacher respite.
What I'd hope for if another volume were forthcoming:
- Suggestions on how to create a series from scratch, including how to tease out themes without feeling overwhelmed by the volume of material, and where and how to break up the long season of Pentecost or combine shorter seasons in one series.
- For those who use visual aides, more "big picture" ideas in the short "Tips and Ideas" paragraphs would be appreciated.
- A blank column in each series' lectionary table for hymns to be added, perhaps even with a few suggestions that cross traditions.
A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C is a helpful resource and lives up to its promise to offer "new possibilities to engaging the ancient text in ways that build mature disciples and rich, transformational community" (Butler, xiii)
*Backstory Preaching receives a small commission for sales of this book through Amazon.com. We only recommend products we trust and value.
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