Strategies for Preparing for Sunday Sermons to Nourish Congregants

A picture of church pews in the morning sunshine
A picture of church pews in the morning sunshine (photo: Getty Images)
By Grace ZhiApril 23rd, 2024

Sermon is usually the most crucial part of Sunday services in Protestant churches, as it provides believers with spiritual nourishment. Therefore, delivering a well-prepared Sunday sermon is a key aspect of pastoral work.

However, a pastor from China's northeastern Jilin pointed out some issues he noticed in local churches: sermons are disorganized and lack a clear theme, while some churches don’t hold activities during the weekdays, only opening their doors on Sunday.

He also mentioned that some churches invite guest pastors to preach as they do not have a permanent pastor. They pay the guest pastor a fee of 500 yuan for each sermon, which adds up to around 2,000 per month. While this may save money on supporting a permanent pastor, it can lead to disjointed pastoral care for the congregation. Different guest pastors may approach topics differently, providing varied and sometimes conflicting answers to the same questions, which can confuse believers.

To address these issues, he suggested that churches have a resident pastor and invest in developing pastors. If there is no permanent pastor, the church should at least establish consistent themes for Sunday sermons. Churches need to set annual and monthly pastoral themes and structure their Sunday services around these themes. Even if different pastors are invited, the messages will be connected, which allows Christians to benefit from them.

Many vibrant churches emphasize planning preaching for their Sunday services. Some churches use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) to guide their worship services.

Mochou Lu Church in Nanjing, Jiangsu, has adopted the RCL since 2013, which follows a three-year cycle centered around the events of Christ's life, with verses from the Prophets, Psalms, New Testament Epistles, and the Gospels for each of the 52 Sundays in a year. The fourth segment always focuses on the Gospels, highlighting Christ's salvation through His birth, death, and resurrection. In the first half of the year, Jesus Christ is mainly exalted, while in the latter half of the year, their focus is on the Holy Spirit guiding the church and believers to know Jesus and accept the truth.

Over the three-year cycle, most aspects of biblical truth are covered, which provides comprehensive biblical study for the congregants.

A church in Beijing employs a verse-by-verse approach to guide its Sunday sermons. Since 2006, the church has focused on the New Testament for most Sundays, except during Easter and Christmas. In 2024, they plan to shift focus to the Old Testament. They also set annual pastoral themes, such as "God's Word: Study, Meditate, Proclaim" for 2023 and "God's Word: Consider, Trust, Obey" for 2024, which are announced during the New Year’s Eve prayer meeting.

A church in east China's Fujian also uses a verse-by-verse study approach. In October, they plan their sermon themes for each Sunday of the following year. The preachers prepare according to these set themes and scripture passages. But for holidays like Easter, Christmas, and Mother's Day, they can choose other themes.

Some churches make their annual preaching calendars according to the needs of their local believers. For instance, a church in Heilongjiang sets different monthly themes for the year, including evangelism in January, February, July, and August, the Holy Spirit in June, and harvest and gratitude in other months.

A church in Ningbo, Zhejiang, follows a monthly theme, focusing on a specific topic each month. For April, the theme is "giving." Pastors may address challenges in tithing, misconceptions about money, or the relationship between giving and blessings. The church holds staff meetings every Tuesday to review the Sunday sermons and offer feedback and suggestions.

"Regardless of how the Sunday sermon is delivered, people can worship God through listening to His words, which can also educate them from a social perspective." Just as Jilin pastor said, the church needs to ponder over how the ministry of the pulipit can become a blessing to both congregations and society on Sundays.

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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