(Attention: long post ahead) My buddy Chuck Land asked me to put together a blow-by-blow explanation of how we put together a series at Calvary Fellowship. I’ve never actually wrote this down, so this might be more helpful to me than anyone else…
#1 – I start with questions – What scripture text do I feel led to teach? What does the church need to hear? What are we going through right now as a church? These are all questions I ask myself in deciding what to teach.
#2 – I find the text – For Colossians, I looked at my past year’s worth of teaching and saw that I had taught Ruth, Numbers, Ecclesiastes, and a marriage series (mostly out of Genesis). There was nothing in the New Testament and I wanted to teach about Jesus specifically. So Colossians seemed like a natural book to teach. So I decided to start digging in.
#3 – I start prepping – About a 6 weeks before I’m going to start a series, I start reading the Biblical text over and over. My hope is to have large portions of it memorized before I ever preach one word of it. (Confession: I’m not a very good public reader, so I really need to have the passage almost memorized for me to sound literate).
#4 – I find the one point – Every book of the Bible is built around 1 point. Philippians is about joy. Acts is about the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit in and through ordinary people. Ruth is about redemption. Colossians is about Jesus being preeminent.
Every book, every chapter, every paragraph has it. It takes work to find it and then turn it into a memorable phrase that will bridge the entire series of teachings together. For Colossians, I had the image of a Spotlight. And if I can put Jesus in the spotlight, then the rest of my life comes into focus. That’s why Paul’s desire in Col. 1 & 2 is to show Christ’s preeminence over creation, the law, feasts, the Sabbath, angels etc… Then in Col. 3 & 4, Paul talks about how Jesus being in the Spotlight puts the practical areas of live into focus: work, family, attitudes, lust, greed, and selfishness. Colossians has 1 point. Once we find it, we build on it. Andy Stanley’s stuff has helped me so much in this area (although, the fact that he says if you teach through the Bible you’re lazy rubs me the wrong way – I have much to say, but I’ll rant about that later).
#5 – I start studying – I read some commentaries and Jewish sources that can give me an understanding of what was happening around this time. I don’t listen to other Pastors’ teachings on what I’m teaching. I listen to a lot of teachers, but I won’t listen to them teaching Colossians while I’m teaching it. Some might argue that mp3’s are audio commentaries. To a point, that’s true. But I’m not reading for illustrations. I’m reading to understand the text and the language nuances that are found therein. Most guys listen to mp3’s for illustrations and jokes. I think that’s lame because it’s not really study. It’s copying and God created me to communicate in my own style, not as an echo of someone else.
#6 – I let the text work me – As I study the text, I start interacting with it for a while before I preach it. This way, when I teach I am explaining what the text has done in my life, not what Joe shmoe had to say about this verse. conversely, I think guys who just quote books are just as bad as the guys who steal other guys’ messages. Like it or not, you are the message. “No, Jesus is!” Jesus is who we preach, but you are the communicator. If you don’t think the communicator matters, ask yourself why every church that preaches Jesus doesn’t have exactly the same amount of people? There’s several reasons, but one of them is people’s ability to relate to the communicator.
#7 – I start writing the messages – Once I’ve outlined the book into sizable chunks (I know in advance how long the series is going to be), I start writing messages. I’m not a creative team kind of guy. I write my message alone, because if I don’t, it’s not message anymore. I don’t think teams are bad or anything wrong, it’s just not me. I believe preaching is sharing your life through the Scriptures. It’s telling your story of walking with God. Every week, I am telling my story of how I encounter God each day.
#8 – I work ahead – I generally have the next 2-3 weeks done in advance. This give me time to allow the message to keep working me and by the time I get back to it the day before I teach it, I usually have some new things to add to the outline.
#9 – I memorize – I walk up with my notes printed in a book fold format, so I can keep my notes in my Bible. They are pretty much word for word, but I rarely look at them. Writing helps me memorize. Then I color code my notes in case I have to look (Orange = funny story – Green = illustration that isn’t funny – Yellow = Scripture passage).
– This takes time. This process is about 15-20 hours a week. I could do it in less time if I didn’t read so much. The series I did on Stewardship recently was one that took me 1/2 the amount of time because I wasn’t reading a ton for the series.
– Creativity is huge for me. But it cannot come at the expense of the text. It must illustrate the text or raise the felt need that the text will address.
– My staff know about the series 6 weeks before it starts. This way our video and graphics people can start working their magic to give the series an image. Plus, I usually start obsessing over what I’m learning at the office and can’t shut up about it. So they know something’s brewing.
I’m know I probably forgot something. So if you have any questions (and you’ve actually read this far), ask away…