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.

Preaching in the Can

Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear unto all.
~ 1 Timothy 4:15

Absolutely no selling involved …

What if I told you I could tell you how to turn $100 into $310,867.82? You might be suspicious. I assure you it can be done, and is done more often than you think. Yes, it is completely legal and ethical. It doesn’t even involve ocean front property or bridges. It’s actually pretty simple.

Interested? I have two words for you: compound interest. Simply put, compound interest is the way investments grow at an increasing rate. If you invest $100 every month for forty straight years at 8% interest compounded annually, you will have $310,867.82. However, if you bank $100 every month for 40 years in a standard savings account earning 2.25% interest, you will have $77,880.75. That’s a nice little sum. You will have put $48,000 of your own in during that time and received a profit of $29,880.75, but it is considerably less than the investments. If you stuff a Benjamin Franklin every month into a coffee can for forty straight years, you will only have $48,000. Forty-eight large is nothing to sneeze at, but that is a difference of $262,867.82 less than from investing, and that’s the beauty of compound interest. It multiplies your effort.

Preaching Investments

Paul told Timothy that his profit in the ministry should be obvious (1 Timothy 4:15). Paul wasn’t referring to his financial portfolio. Jesus used the pictures of financial investments and profits to portray the gains that should be made in service while we wait for the kingdom in the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27). Two servants invested wisely and made a profit (Luke 19:15-19). One servant followed the coffee can plan and offered back the original capital. He was chided for not at least putting the money in a savings account, or CD, and at least earning some return (Luke 19:20-23).

As preachers, our pulpit ministry, and all that is involved in it, is being invested in some way and our gains are made according to the method of investment. If your preaching is a scattershot, random string of one-off sermons, your profit will approximate the profit with the coffee can plan. Over 40 years of preaching, you will have preached a handful of sermons about angels, various sermons on prayer, recurring sermons on tithing and church attendance, some parables, some miracles, a bunch of the life of Bible character sermons, various doctrinal topics, a bunch of repeats, etc. You will have done some good for those you’ve ministered to and will have grown yourself in some small ways over such a length of time.

If your preaching follows a more topical expository method, your profit will be akin to the savings account or high-yield CD. Over 40 years you will have produced a sermon catalog of numerous series of expositions of lengthy passages. You will likely have preached through Genesis chapters 1-3, the ten commandments, the life of David, numerous Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, the Upper Room Discourse, some short books like Jonah and some epistles, chapter by chapter through Romans, etc. You will have covered an array of biblical doctrines and preached passages from different genres of Scripture. You will have done good for those you’ve preached to and you will have grown yourself from your studies all those years.

If you are committed to expositional preaching through whole books of the Bible, your profit will be more like the compound interest from smart investing. If you are very disciplined, over 40 years of preaching at least twice every week and covering at least 7.5 verses per sermon, you could actually preach every verse in the Bible. That probably won’t be your approach, but you could certainly preach most of the books of the Bible in that time, as well as topical expository sermons on various doctrines, different series of studies, etc. You will have done much good for those under your ministry and you will have personally grown leaps and bounds in your understanding of Scripture as a whole. Your preaching will grow richer over time and the work you do in one book will pay dividends in other books afterward.

Anyone Can Do It

Do the math with a bunch of twenty-year-olds to show them how $100 can become over $300,000, and you have their attention. It is so simple that many might be skeptical, but they are the youngest and last of the millennials, so skepticism is to be expected along with snarky comments. You explain it really is that simple and assure them that anyone can do it. Compound interest is completely unbiased. But that does raise a question. If it’s so simple and anyone can truly do it, why doesn’t everyone do it? Why doesn’t everyone invest $100 a month for 40 years?

Factors vary from person to person, but we can generalize to four reasons why people don’t save and invest this way.

  1. Inability to think in a long-term perspective. Retirement is so far off and spending $4 every day at Starbucks is so much more enjoyable than brewing coffee at home and putting that $100 a month to work in investments. Besides, all that math is just too hard to figure out. Everybody told me I would never need algebra again after getting out of school anyway.
  2. Laziness. It takes hard work and discipline to do something consistently over such a long time period. The key to compound interest is not magic, but consistency over time. If you double the monthly amount to $200 but only invest it for 20 years, your return will be $109,828.71. That’s a lot of cabbage but less than half with the 40 year plan and only half the monthly amount. It also works the other way for you. If you work harder and are more disciplined to invest $400 a month for 40 years, your egg will be over $1.2 million. Everybody wants a million dollars but very few will be that consistent for that long to get it.
  3. Presuming Social Security and other government programs will be there in the future. Many see no need to deny themselves and work hard to save like that because they believe the government will be there to take care of them.
  4. Assuming they will always be healthy and energetic and able to work until they die. There is no need to plan for the future when the income will always come in from working. Many also assume they will have enough, though they do nothing to ensure that.

What about preaching? I am not here advocating the “one right way of preaching.” I am persuaded from Scripture and experience that the most profitable way of investing your ministry is in the committed exposition of books, just like the most profitable way of investing for retirement is consistently over a long time. Someone may submit Charles Spurgeon as a refutation of my contention, because he didn’t preach that way. Honesty requires me admit that Spurgeon didn’t preach expositionally through books and it’s hard to argue with his profit. If I am allowed a rejoinder, I submit that some people also win a million dollars by playing the lottery, but wisdom recognizes that is not a reasonable retirement plan or expectation.

If that is the most profitable way of pulpit ministry, why aren’t more preachers doing it? Once again, we can generalize to four reasons why preachers don’t preach expositionally through books.

  1. Inability to preach through books. Some who occupy pulpits lack the essential gifts for preaching and teaching in such an orderly and systematic way. I am not referring to those who have the necessary gifting but choose not to preach that way. I am referring to those who are not “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24), as Scripture requires.
  2. Laziness. Preaching expositionally through books is hard work and requires consistent, disciplined study over time to maintain. In short, it ain’t easy. Some preachers simply don’t want to work that hard at preaching. It’s easier to preach in the can and rehash old sermons, come up with three points of what you want to say and then find a verse for it, build a straw man you can burn up, etc.
  3. Presuming in the preacher’s authority. A preacher is given a deal of respect and credibility for occupying the pulpit. The preacher can trade on that by presuming his words carry the necessary authority for the people to believe him. They ought to believe it because I said it and I always preach the truth. They might also presume upon a legacy or tradition that preceded them.
  4. Assuming their congregation knows the Bible better than they really do. When a preacher assumes his people really know the Bible, he sees no need to do the hard work of exposition. He thinks he can merely read a text and make truth statements without actually showing how the text makes that truth statement. Even if the preacher’s statements are true, that’s not exposition. Exposition is simply exposing the meaning of the text. Exposition is explaining the meaning of the passage in its original context and then connecting that meaning to the reality of the text and applying it to your people.

Before You Know It

Retirement will be here before you know it. When it comes is not the time to prepare for it. It’s too late by then. It can be hard to get twenty-year-olds to see that, but that doesn’t change it. Likewise, preachers all have a day coming when their ministries will be over. Age, health, or something will take us out of the pulpit. If nothing else, the grave will end our work (Ecclesiastes 9:10). A day of reckoning is coming. The foundation has been laid and preachers are required to build on it. Paul said we can build on it with “wood, hay, stubble,” or with “gold, silver, precious stones” (1 Corinthians 3:12). We are going to be tried and receive reward or suffer loss (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Of course, you can preach in the can if you want to, but remember the servant and his napkin (Luke 19:24).

*Be advised: This post is for illustration purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice, nor any reasonable facsimile thereof. ShortPosts.com is neither endorsed nor acknowledged by the FCC, FTC, SEC, FDIC, BBB, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, or any other letters of greater or lesser significance. Please read responsibly.

 

« Previous Page