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Sermon Planning Rhythms that Produce Engaging & Faithful Content with Zach Lambert

Thanks for joining us on the unSeminary podcast. This week we’re talking with Zach Lambert, lead pastor at Restore Austin in Austin, Texas. Zach is with us today to talk about how to take the stress out of sermon planning and coming up with biblical and engaging topics in your teaching.

  • What are you preaching on? // In a study done by the Gallup Group, they found that 75% of people who attend church do so because of the teaching. Yet when Zach gets together with other pastors, they often express that one of the hardest things about preaching is coming up with incredible ideas for sermon topics and series that will resonate with their congregation.
  • Planning the year. // When Zach first planted Restore Austin, the feeling of needing to come up with a new sermon series every few weeks was exhausting. He wanted to preach sermons that kept people’s attention, centered on Jesus and weren’t just self-help teachings, plus aligned with the church’s values, vision and measures. Zach and his team also wanted to include diverse voices and current events and stay engaging. In order to break this stressful planning cycle, they began to structure everything around an annual sermon series theme.
  • What is your congregation going through? // Each spring Zach and his team meet to decide on what that sermon theme will be for the next year. In planning their year-long focus, the team gathers as much information as possible about their congregation, what questions they have, and what they’re walking through. What are they celebrating? Where are they hurting right now? Also, ask yourself what is God teaching you as the leader and how can you mesh that together with what your congregation is going through. Use all of this data for ideas and how to plan the next year.
  • Take control of your own schedule. // If you don’t control your calendar and schedule, someone else will. This principle is true whether you have an administrative assistant or not. Zach spends every Monday afternoon just reading the passage he will be preaching on and taking notes. He knows that if he’s intentional about that time on Monday, it will percolate in his brain the rest of the week. Then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings he works to write his sermon so that he is ready to roll on Thursday afternoons and can provide his notes to the production team. Friday is then a Sabbath that Zach can enjoy with his family.
  • Be creative about taking breaks. // When Zach first planted Restore Austin, he was teaching nearly every week. Over time, he has scaled that back to build in rhythms where he’s taking a break and exposing the congregation to diverse voices and topics. One creative way Restore Austin does this is by doing what they call “Summer Mixtape” where they bring in other pastors and have them preach their best sermon. The last two years with covid, Zach did Zoom interviews with people from around the world. Some of those included interviews with authors who had written important books on racism, biblical womanhood, and more. During this five- or six-week preaching break, Zach works on planning the next year.
  • Other ideas for Sundays. // In addition to the Summer Mixtape series, some Sundays Zach does a hot seat where people submit questions beforehand and Zach answers them. This format requires a lot less prep during the week for him. Restore Austin also has about four Sundays during the year where they don’t meet for a traditional service. Instead two of those days are serve days and the other two are a party with a purpose, such as a baptism with a barbecue.
  • Recommended reading. // Some books Zach recommends reading are Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Both can shed light on what’s going on in our current culture and educate on racial justice.

You can reach Zach on Twitter at @ZachWLambert and learn more about Restore Austin Church at restoreaustin.org. Download an example of their sermon series calendars here.

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: Leadership Pathway

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.