Friday, June 05, 2009

Q&A on Preaching Longer Series

I have a saying, "I have a million opinions, and they are free to the public."

In the spirit of that saying, I'm going to start posting questions I receive (sometimes with names and sometimes anonymous) and emailed answers I send back.

Here's the first in this series:
Q. I am going to take some time next week to think through a preaching schedule for the next 6-12 months. Our leadership really wants us to teach through books of the Bible for the most part. Do you have any thoughts on or resources to point me towards on teaching through longer books (ex. John). It seems like you may need to approach that type of a study differently than say Philippians or Jonah. As I think of doing John for example, you could easily spend 6 months on that book. How do you keep it from getting old?
A. Great question!

For the last decade, most of my preaching has been long series exposition through books of the Bible. My folks love it (for the most part).

I've preached 55 messages from the Gospel of John, 36 from Genesis, 20some for Exodus and Numbers, etc. Love it.

Here are some thoughts for you in no particular order (adapt to your personality/style/context/gifts, of course!):

1. The Bible is not boring. You and I can be boring, but the Bible isn't boring. So a long series doesn't have to be boring if we are preaching what is there.

2. Have a reason for why you are preaching a certain book. Don't just say, "This is a good book. I'll preach that." Just as when we pick shorter books, or topical series, we should have an idea of what themes/truths/applications are present in this book and how that will fill a need in our people right now.

3. Feel free to break up long series with breaks at seemingly appropriate times. When I preached the Gospel of John, I did chps 1-12 in November-July. Then I took a long break and did a topical series on the purpose of the church. Then I came back to chps 13-21 and landed John 20 on Easter! It fit great. Don't do it too much or your people won't know which end is up.

4. Don't go too small with your preaching portions. I measure that, not by what others can do (John Piper is going to take years and years to make it through John--it took almost a decade for him to get through Romans), but by what I think my gifting will allow me to do. Try to measure out your preaching portions in advance (an extended outline).

5. At times, it will seem repetitive. When I preached John, it seemed like the message all the time was that Jesus was God and in Him is life. Well, duh, that was the point of the book (cf. chp 21)! What do you do with that?

A. Be okay with it. If the Spirit was repetitive inspiring John, then maybe we should be repetitive too. We obviously need to hear things again and again.

B. Be creative. Repetition forces us to think and be more creative with HOW we are saying what we're saying. So what if the message is the same? Can you help your people to hear it with new ears?

C. Summarize. Preaching expositionally through books doesn't mean reading every verse and making a comment on every verse. I just preached the book of Joshua. We read nearly the whole thing. But I did an exposition of chapters 13-21 in one message, too. I think that message is true exposition, even though it may not have sounded like it because I didn't read and comment on every verse.

6. When you are embarking on a long series, read several commentaries in preparation. Read good technical commentaries for the details and for what the message of the book is. But also read preacher-type commentaries to see how they broke up the books into preaching portions and what direction they took the applications. I really like the commentaries in the Preach the Word series by R. Kent Hughes for this. Warren Wiersbe's BE series and the NIV Life Application Commentaries are also good for this purpose. Going online and see how online preachers have divided up the text is a good strategy, as well. Don't be a clone but learn from others.

7. I'm not sure what books to send you to. I think that The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching might cover some of this, but I've not read it--just drooled over it. It's more something you learn by feel, example, and trial & error.

Let me know if I can answer any more specific questions.


This is a great question and an excellent answer. Part #1 of the answer was spot on - and the other parts of the answer stem from that sentiment.

Sheesh. Figured you just told people to go to my page on SermonCentral...

Seriously, well-answered. In the very first EFCA Expository Preaching Forum, Dr. David Larsen challenged us to take bigger chunks of Scripture, and I've taken that to heart. I don't want to quibble with Piper, but isn't "preaching the whole counsel of God" important? I'm finishing Romans in about a year; took about a year and 8 months to preach Acts. Took "spring breaks" in each.

8. Right, I forgot. Just go to Byron "Dash" Harvey's page on SermonCentral. I don't even write my own sermons anymore, I just read his on Sundays. I'm thinking about just turning our church into a video venue of Red Oak Church and stopping preaching all together.

I think big chunks is a great idea, and Dr. Larsen's book Telling the Old Old Story would be another good reference for that.

I think that Piper has covered the map with both long series and short series, with multiple years one book and some single sermons covering whole books at a shot.

But, he's also singularly gifted and not to be slavishly followed.

Piper also takes long breaks in the middle of series, even breaks long enough for short series.