An interesting article by Iain Campbell interacts briefly with the method of text selection for preaching, whether isolated texts from week to week (such as Spurgeon) or consecutive texts through a book (such as Martin Lloyd-Jones). It is a topic worthy of thought for the pastor charged with the weekly feeding of the sheep.
There is a kind of badge of honor that is worn by those who preach like Lloyd-Jones—379 weeks in Philemon, or fourteen and one-half years through Philippians.
Okay, so I exaggerate slightly. But not much. I talked to one pastor who spent six months on the first 14 verses of 1 Timothy … in a church plant. I do not doubt his heart and intent. I wonder about the wisdom of such an approach.
I have always tended to preach consecutively. My very first sermon series in the church that I pastor started in March of 1999 and went for thirty weeks in 1 Thessalonians. Since then I have spent 52 weeks in Hebrews; 30 weeks in 1 Peter; 50 weeks in Genesis; 25+ weeks in 1 Timothy and James, plus a host of others. I am now 17 weeks into Mark’s Gospel.
In fact, you can probably count the number of “isolated sermons” I have preached in my 11 1/2 years here on two hands and two feet. I rarely even preach special messages on holidays.
And to be honest, I like consecutive preaching for several reasons.
- It is how God gave the Bible—verse after verse. Can you imagine understanding your spouse by picking out a paragraph from one conversation and then a paragraph from another, and then a third from yet another? No, of course not. We know that to listen to people means to listen to them in order of what they are saying.
- It forces a pastor to address things he might not otherwise address because, let’s face it, it is easier to skip some verses than to preach them, whether because of difficulty (not sure what to say about it) or laziness (don’t feel like studying it).
- It makes my week easier because I know what I am going to preach. Honestly, I am perhaps the most uncreative person you know. All of my topical series are pilfered from people way smarter than me. If I didn’t have Mark 6:14-32 to preach this coming week, I would be miserable all week trying to figure out a text.
And there are other reasons, which I won’t enumerate here.
But here’s an interesting thought from Campbell:
It is possible that we de-emphasise the authority of Scripture by concentrating over-long on sequential exposition. What would the average attender at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1875 think on hearing sermons on texts from six different books of the Bible in as many weeks? Would he or she not come to appreciate the parallel glory of all parts of Scripture? Does the method of preaching from isolated texts not somehow demonstrate that all Scripture is indeed inspired and profitable, simply by virtue of the fact that week by week, year by year, the preacher's texts are, in fact, drawn from 'all Scripture'?
So which congregation is better served? One that hears 52 weeks in a a row about Hebrews? (My 52 was actually divided by a Christmas series and 10 weeks on Romans 12-15.) Or one that hears 52 weeks in a row from all across the canon of Scripture?
I honestly do not know.
My growing inclination is that a mix is perhaps in order. A well-fed Christian needs to see the depth of Scripture, but they also need to see the breadth of Scripture with its unifying themes. Perhaps wisdom would lead us to have a main series going (such as Mark in my current case) and every 4-6 weeks mix in another text from somewhere else that grows out of what God is doing in our lives outside the current mainstay.
It is at least worthy of some thought.
To quote Campbell again, “As evangelical heralds of God's trumpet, we believe in giving no uncertain sound. But maybe sometimes the trumpet could be more effective if the tune was more varied.