Summertime is upon us. We are all aware that church attendance is becoming more sporadic among our members. Sadly, this is becoming an all year long phenomenon. But we expect sporadic attendance in the summer: vacations, camps, mission trips, weekend getaways. There’s a reason why someone coined the term “summer slump.” But slump or not, we’re still worshiping every Sunday, and the pastor has the privilege to preach the word, even it is to a few less people than usual. As an every Sunday preacher for 39 years, I’ve logged a lot of summer Sundays in the pulpit. I enjoy summer preaching. Seems to have a more relaxed feel about it. It’s also a time when the preacher can experiment a little in his preaching, try some new things, exercise a little creativity. So, preacher, what’s your plan this summer?
Series or One-off Sermons?
I am typically a series preacher—even in the summer. A summer series has the potential to build a little interest in the congregation, perhaps even a little summer momentum. Even folks who miss a Sunday may choose to livestream the sermon now or later just to keep up with the series. But this year, I’ve decided to do one-off sermons. This gives me the opportunity to address some things from the Scripture that seem particularly relevant to the congregation in this season. It’s a little more work, but it seems right for this summer. Plus, I am off in July. My guest preachers can preach what they feel led to preach rather than forcing them into a series that’s not their own. I will begin a new series when I come back in August.
What about re-preaching some of your best sermons?
The renowned, late Calvin Miller awakened me to this idea years ago. He said that during the summers he schedules sermons he’s preached before. As I recall, he operated by three rules: 1) At least 5 years must have passed since he’d first preached the sermon. 2) He must refresh the sermon to reflect the current situation and needs. 3) He must be able to preach the sermon as if it were brand new.
Miller believe there were some advantages to this practice: it gave the sermon longer life, and it allowed Miller to spend more time in study and preparation for the preaching he would do in the coming school year.
Usual homiletic approach or experiment with some different approaches?
Most preachers have their “style.” Some prefer sermon “points”—a deductive style: state the main point and proceed to say this, this, and this about it. Others prefer sermon “moves”—a more episodic, thought building upon thought to a conclusion (feels more narrative and inductive in nature). If we’re sensitive to the mood and the flow of the text we preach, our “style” will vary naturally, but most of us weren’t trained that way, so we tend to force every text into our comfortable homiletic mold. What if you used the summer to experiment with a style outside your norm? Summer is a more relaxed time. Preach a sermon with narrative contours instead of points. Preach a sermon in monologue style telling the story as the main character from that character’s point of view. What if you preached the text in the form of a story with plot and tension and resolution? We tend to default to our comfort-level style. Summer gives us the opportunity to experiment with a little creativity in our preaching, a creativity that your congregation will probably welcome and enjoy.
Preach through a Bible book or do a topical series?
Bible book series often work in the summer. Summer is a good time to preach through a shorter Bible book that could be preached in 8-10 Sundays. And if you can’t preach the entire book, you can hit the highlights of the book that seem most relevant to the needs in the church. In a recent summer I did a series called “Road Trip.” Each Sunday we figuratively boarded the church van and traveled to key places in Acts where vital events in the spread of the gospel were taking place. In a season when people are all about road trips, we thought this would be a good hook for the congregation. We couldn’t preach every text, but we certainly were able to hit the high points and meet the key characters.
Or instead of preaching a book, a preacher could tackle sections of Scripture or common themes in Scripture. For example, a preacher might track through the minor prophets, preaching one key text from each of the 12 minor prophets (a step forward in biblical literacy for the congregation in texts seldom preached). Maybe you’d want to preach the 10 Commandments during the summer. You could even preach the larger story of the Bible by choosing 8-10 key characters in God’s story from Genesis to Revelation using a biographical approach to tell God’s story. Or how about developing a summer sermon series on relationships with the “one another” texts in the Bible. Pray through the possibilities for your congregation. God will lead you.
I mostly use topical series in my summer preaching. I like to choose a broad theme that captures something of the essence of summer and ties it to the Scripture. Below are some of those series across the years:
- Not Just Another Day at the Beach — Since many people spend some time on the water during the summer, I chose texts from the Scripture that happened on the water or at the shore.
- Head for the Hills — Some prefer to take their vacations in the mountains. I chose texts that happened on a hill or a mountain.
- Front Porch Wisdom — Summer is a time of front-porching with people. A lot of wisdom has been dispensed across the years on front porches. I chose texts (mostly from Proverbs) that offer wisdom for the practical matters of living.
- Summer Songs — Who hasn’t spent a summer evening driving with the windows down and the radio up? I took well-known songs from culture, connected them to a psalm, played a part of the song during the sermon, and preached the gospel through the psalm. I used the song title for the sermon title. People were highly engaged in this series: “What song are you doing this Sunday, preacher?”
- Summer Blockbusters — Hollywood hopes to make a lot of money at the box office in the summer. I did a little google research of well-known summer blockbusters from the last few decades, chose a few, used the title as the title for the sermon, and preached a text that captured the essence of the title. I only used film clips for a couple of the sermons.
- Here Comes the Sun — Summer and sun go hand in hand. I chose texts that involved the sun and preached those texts.
- Summer Nights — More than a song from Grease, this became a sermon series. I chose texts where the action happened at night, and I preached the gospel through those texts.
- Summer of Love — Baby boomers remember the so-called Summer of Love in 1967 San Francisco. We spent the first half of the series preaching texts that proclaim God’s love for us. We spent the last half preaching texts that teach us how to love others. We also asked our small groups to do a service/ministry/mission project of their own choosing in our community that summer.
Over the next few posts, I’ll flesh out some of those topical series, citing titles and texts. So if you’re interested, check back a few times in the next week or two.
What do you do with your summer preaching? What are you doing this summer? Leave a comment below, We might just help each other out.