At some point in the next few weeks, the elders will be discussing sermon series at the church for the next year or so. I thought this might be a useful point at which to outline some of my thinking and convictions on how to go about this.
1. The value of consecutive exposition
We do some thematic series (such as around our vision statement for the year- a topic for another post) and these have value in allowing prolonged thinking around a particular issue or in answering a practical query (e.g. What is a Christian approach to work/justice/marriage etc?). However, I don’t believe they should be the norm. To my mind, fidelity to Scriptures involves recognizing the way in which it is written- not as an encyclopaedia with each topic laid out separately but in the form of books and letters where the character of God, His promises and warnings and our call to love and fear Him in everyday life are intentionally mingled together. That’s why my preference is to teach books of the Bible rather than topics.
At its best that is done consecutively- preaching each section or chapter in order. This means that God sets the agenda rather then me choosing what I want to preach. The fact is that all preachers have flawed or unbalanced personalities. My personality leads me to want to preach warm and encouraging messages all the time about the Lord’s love or our future hope for instance. Consecutive exposition, though, forces me to deal with a God who also warns and rebukes His people.
2. The whole counsel of God
In Acts 20 Paul declares to the Ephesian elders that he has declared to them the whole counsel of God- he has spoken about the whole of God’s plan and purpose. It seems to me that to do that effectively involves preaching the whole sweep of Scripture- the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) as it reveals God’s creation and His calling, rescuing and teaching of His people, the history books as they show the rise and fall of a monarchy pointing forward to our need of a true King, wisdom literature as it engages with all the realities of living in God’s world, the prophets as they warn God’s people of judgement but point to a coming Messiah, the Gospels as that Messiah’s life, death and resurrection are portrayed and the epistles as His work is explained and applied. God’s people need to be exposed to all of these key turning points in history.
We haven’t always got this right. I’m aware that it is a long time since we did a series in the Pentateuch and my mind is turning to a big series in one of those books (possibly Exodus?) in early 2013. I
Incidentally, the desire to preach across the sweep of Scripture explains why I tend to go for series of ten weeks or so rather than across a year. In part that is personal preference (if I’m candid I enjoy the excitement of starting a series more than the middle and end of one!) but it also arises from a desire to cover a variety of Scripture with its different emphases in any given year. Generally that means with longer books I’ve preached sections of it and taken a break before returning to it subsequently. For those who have been following, I’ve done Romans 1-4 and John 1-6 and will return to both at some point God willing (one of them in the autumn I think- any preferences?). Having said that, I am aware that taking nine years to finish Isaiah (as I’m doing at the moment) is probably pushing it a bit…
The desire to cover the sweep of Scripture also explains why I prefer handling longer passages so as to follow an argument and move through books at pace. Again- that is partly personal preference as I have an allergy to detail- but I suspect, unless you are Lloyd-Jones, spending several years in one book to the exclusion of a wider exposure to Scripture may not be wise. But again variety can be helpful and the occasional slower series has some value. And different genres need handling differently- it is much easier to preach a chapter of narrative in one sermon as opposed to the dense argument of a Pauline epistle which needs more detailed examination. In general though, I am keen to keep us moving.
3. The value of discernment
The points above give a certain framework to making the decisions. However, that still leaves a variety of options. If it is time for the Pentateuch, which book? If an epistle, which one? If an occasional topical series, what is the big issue?
Questions I would ask would include:
Are there particular challenges/opportunities in the church that make a particular focus helpful? Would a particular book help us with these?
Are there aspects of God’s character or our lifestyle that we are overlooking/forgetting? Are these revealed particularly in any part of Scripture?
Are there wider challenges in society that we should be thinking about?
Are there times when we would expect a large number of non-Christian visitors who may appreciate straightforward teaching on the person of the Lord Jesus?
I would also add the subjective question:
As we pray is there a sense of the Lord laying something on our hearts?
I don’t know what we will conclude as elders but I have different thoughts wandering around my mind- principally for evenings from September.
We started the year thinking about relying on God’s Spirit as his temple is built. Should we look at the rebuilding of the temple in Ezra?
I’m conscious that issues of marriage are big in our society and that questions of marriage and singleness are major pastoral issues for all of us. Should we think about God’s plan for marriage in Genesis- or the whole question of marriage and singleness through a slower series (say of 4-5 weeks) in 1 Corinthians 7?
As I thought about that I wondered about working through God’s plan in creation for a number of areas from Genesis 1-2- our identity as those in his image, care and cultivation of his creation, work/rest and so on.
In the run up to Christmas (and I know some people dislike long run-ups to Christmas!) would it be good to do a really slow series looking at John 1:1-18 in detail?
Those are simply my thoughts- it may be that the other elders have different ideas. Feedback on all of the above is welcome as well as prayers for wisdom but I thought I would let you in on the decision making process from my end.