Yesterday I posted 8 reasons why I normally preach through books of the Bible passage by passage. I thought it would be helpful to also provide some tips for those not familiar with systematic exposition or those who want to implement this approach in their own preaching. Here are some random tips for preaching through books of the Bible.
1. Make sure each sermon stands on its own. I’m not a fan of the type of verse by verse preaching where the preacher just moves through the text until the time is up and then says, “Well, we’re out of time. I’ll pick up with verse 6 next week.” Each sermon should have its own introduction, main point, and conclusion. Someone should be able to walk into your church on any given Sunday and not feel lost because they haven’t heard any of the previous sermons. Yes, we want our sermons through a book to build on one another. But, we must be conscious that not everyone has been there for all 86 sermons on Ephesians.
2. Plan ahead but don’t be afraid to alter the plans. You should obviously outline the book and have a general idea of how fast or slow you are going to move through it. So, you should know about how long it will take you. But, I like to be flexible (build some margin into the preaching schedule) so that I can slow down when I sense it would be helpful. Just one example: When I was preaching through Mark 10, I planned to just preach one sermon on Mark 10:35-45. But, a few weeks ahead of that sermon, as I was meditating on the next few passages, I felt the need to preach 2 sermon on that passage (one focusing only on verse 45). If my plan had been “set in stone,” I would have missed that opportunity to slow down and hammer on that truth a little more.
3. Pay attention to the seasons of the year. Preaching through books doesn't mean you have to ignore the “church calendar.” You can certainly pause the current series to preach a special sermon for a special occasion. Or, you can work the schedule so that it coincides with the season or holiday. For example, when I preached through the Gospel of John, I worked the schedule so that we were focusing on the cross leading up to Easter and so that we were in John 20 on Easter Sunday. Also, January and September are the best times to start a series. The summer is a good time to do a book that will only take around 10 weeks. Don’t be a slave to the calendar, but its OK to pay attention to it.
4. Feel free to take breaks in the middle of a longer book. If you are preaching through a longer book, it is fine to break it up into smaller sections. This would be especially helpful for a church that is not used to long series through whole books. For example, you could preach through Mark 1-7, take a short break, and then come back to Mark 8-16.
5. Alternate between Old and New Testament books. This is a helpful tip I learned from Mark Dever. If we are committed to preaching the whole counsel of God, we need to make sure we are preaching from all of Scripture. If we only preach through New Testament books, we are teaching our people to neglect the Old Testament. Alternating forces me to study and preach from both testaments.
6. Alternate between different types of Biblical genres. This is another tip I learned from Dever. The Bible is full of different types of literature. Honestly, Paul’s epistles are the easiest to preach through. So, alternating helps me expose my people to the full scope of God’s revelation. I actually have a chart called, “Big Picture Preaching Schedule,” that lists the broad categories of genres in the Bible (Law, Prophecy, Wisdom, History, Gospel/Acts, Paul, General Epistles). I have listed each Bible book under its appropriate genre and I highlight the ones I've already preached on. Before I select the next book we are going to study, I consider where we have been and try to choose something different.
7. Don’t be afraid to make the same main point over and over again. When you go through a book of the Bible, you are going to encounter the same truths multiple times. In fact, there are some books in which every passage is making the same point (the Gospels). Sometimes I feel like I’m a broken record on Sunday morning. I've said this before and I know I’ll say it again. But, I have to remind myself that we need to hear the same great truths over and over again. We are so prone to forget the most important realities. So, don’t try to be clever or novel. Just be faithful to the text (even if it says the same thing last week’s text said).
8. Start with a shorter book and get some feedback. If you are just starting out, it probably wouldn't be wise to preach 182 sermons on Job. Start with something that will take 2-3 months max, and then evaluate how it was received. Teach your people the value of consecutive expository preaching by easing them into it and being patient with them. If you do it well, they’ll lose their taste for anything else.