To Preach a Book: Selecting a Book

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

Welcome to a new series on ShortPosts.com, To Preach a Book. I primarily preach verse by verse through entire books of the Bible. This is sometimes referred to as sequential exposition. For my next book, I’m going to write about the process from start to finish. You will be able to follow along step by step. I am not suggesting this is the way to preach through a book, but merely sharing my way. I’m not suggesting anyone copy me. Feel free to take away whatever you find useful.

Where to Start?

The first decision you have to make is what book you’re going to preach. It shouldn’t need to be said, but you can’t decide that on Saturday before you’re going to start the series on the next day, Sunday. I am usually thinking ahead to a couple of books I want to preach, and I usually have a topical series or two in mind for the road ahead as well. When I draw closer to the end of my current series, I settle on the book and will start to do some preliminary work. I will describe the preliminary work later, but now I am focusing on book selection.

I do have a few self-imposed guidelines in place that help narrow down the list of potential books. I tend to preach in an alternating pattern. I alternate between Old and New Testament books. I alternate between different biblical genres of books. I also like to alternate between long and short books. I do this for variety to help the hearers, but also to be consistently preaching God’s truth from different parts of the Bible he has given us. This is part of what it means to preach the whole counsel of God. These are guidelines for me and not inviolable rules. If I do break them, I’m going to have a good, deliberate reason to do so.

These guidelines are helpful in choosing the next book, but a few other factors also help the decision. If I discern particular needs in the congregation, I will consider that in picking a book. Those needs could either be urgent needs, or they could be more long-term growth needs. For instance, if you’ve been working or some situation has caused you to go a long time without food or drink, you have an urgent need to eat and drink and your choices are going to tend toward satisfying that immediate need. You may also have some concerns and need to balance your diet in a certain way for your more long-term health. Congregations have those kind of needs in their spiritual diet as well and I’m going to think about that in selecting a book.

I also consider my own needs. I may settle on a book because I personally need a better understanding of something in that book. I may have come across a passage in a book while I was reading or studying something else. Often, while I’m preaching a book, I will come across some reference or connection to another book, and I really want to explore that.

Thinking about your own experience can help you think about your own needs, but also your own limitations. If you’ve never preached through a book verse-by-verse before, you probably don’t want to start with Daniel, Revelation, or Leviticus. Each book of the Bible presents its own challenges, but some are simply longer and more complex than others. The task can be overwhelming, so try to start with a manageable book.

Envelope Please

I chose the book of Ruth. I was preaching through the book of Acts when I settled on Ruth. Acts is New Testament and was a long series. I ended up preaching 86 sermons in Acts from mid-November 2018 to early December 2019. Ruth is Old Testament and will be a shorter series. I did depart from my guidelines in alternating biblical genres in that both Ruth and Acts are historical narrative books, but they are quite different subject matter and otherwise dissimilar books. It also didn’t hurt that I wanted to write this series going through a book and Ruth is more manageable. I didn’t pick the book in order to write this series, rather I am writing this series now since I’m preaching that book.

History

I began my first pastorate in February 2001. The book of Ruth was the first book I preached through verse by verse. I began that series in July 2001, preaching that series on Thursday nights. I preached thirteen messages in the series and finished it in mid-November 2001. Two weeks after finishing Ruth, I began preaching through another book and have continued preaching through books throughout my ministry.

I have all this information because I began keeping records when I started preaching in 1999. I started keeping those in notebooks and eventually moved to a spreadsheet. I would highly recommend keeping a preaching log and records of your ministry. I have uploaded a template of the spreadsheet I made and use. You can find it here.

Why did I start preaching through books, and why did I start with Ruth? I had seen very little preaching verse by verse through books. Most of what I had seen preaching through a book was chapter by chapter, which was more of a topical series through a book. I had seen very little detailed exposition going verse by verse through a whole book. I knew that Milburn Cockrell preached through books sometimes and I knew that Tom Ross did that as well. I had heard some of their sermons on tape. Yes, cassette tapes. I could see how concentrating on a whole book that way was beneficial.

I began pastoring and preaching three times a week. It didn’t take long before I was at my wit’s end. I was banging my head against the wall every week trying to come up with the perfect sermon the church needed. I would think I had come up with it, only to preach it and be disappointed that it seemed to have no effect. Nothing was different the next week. In just a few short months, I was despairing and knew that I could not continue as a pastor. Of course, this was all completely foolish and shows I had no idea what I was doing and was not ready to be pastoring.

I remember those days of despair and seeing Tom Ross at a Bible conference. I would always seize opportunities at those conferences to ask older and wiser preachers questions. I remember asking Tom for advice. His advice was simple, but very helpful. He said, “Just preach the word and love your people, brother.” I haven’t done either of those very well, but it stuck with me.

I was preaching three topical sermons a week. I would preach messages about the church, the Ark of the Covenant, service, God’s sovereignty, human responsibility, the lepers at the gate of Samaria, revival, etc. In other words, I was all over the place and dealing with various subjects superficially with no order or systematic teaching. I thought about what it meant to preach the word. I knew as a pastor I was responsible to preach the word, which meant all the word and nothing but the word. I was responsible to preach the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation. I knew to fulfill the ministry I had received and benefit the congregation, I needed to preach through entire books of the Bible and explain every verse the best I could. I have since seen many benefits of preaching through books and have become more dedicated to it, so that the majority of my preaching today is going verse by verse through entire books.

I don’t remember a lot about why I chose to start with Ruth. It was short and a story I was already a little familiar with. I also had been given a book that had expositional commentary of Ruth by George Lawson and Esther by Alexander Carson. I had been reading that book and can remember being struck by the providence of God in both those books. I may have also been reading Carson’s History of Providence at the same time. So I began preaching through books and I see today it has been the most beneficial practice to my ministry.

Up Next

In the next post, I will talk about getting started and preparing to preach through a book.

This post is part of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

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