(Some of you (especially pastors) are already mad at me because of the title. That’s okay. Read the post and then leave a comment telling me why I am wrong so we can enter into a conversation on this!)
The vast majority of churches similar to Renovation Church (i.e. contemporary & outward focused) fill their preaching calendar with short sermon series around “felt-needs.” Generally, each year the church preaches about the same exact topics just in slightly different ways (Marriage, Parenting, Finances, etc.). This is usually done by beginning with a topic or main point, finding a verse that backs up the main point, and then continuing the process for the entire sermon series.
At Renovation Church this morning, I just finished preaching Week 48 in our “Gospel of John” sermon series… and we are only in chapter 16!
People occasionally ask me why I am so passionate about preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible rather than doing trendy sermon series. The truth is, as long as I am the pastor at Renovation Church, we will (probably) never do a trendy 3-week sermon series. Instead, my goal is to preach through the entire New Testament and much of the Old Testament during my pastorate at Renovation Church.
So why? Well, let me give you three reasons – Biblical, Historical, and Cultural:
1. Preaching verse-by-verse is the pattern we see in Scripture.
Other pastors are quick to point out to me that we do not see an example of expository (verse-by-verse) preaching in the Bible. They will often challenge me to look at how Jesus taught and to use his method of teaching as an example. There’s a major problem with this – Jesus is God and I am not. Jesus, because He is God-in-the-flesh, is able to teach on His OWN authority. Pastors have no inherent authority in their teaching – if you cannot see clearly from the text the point that your pastor is making, ignore him.
(I would even argue that Jesus DID teach in an expository style. We only have summaries of His sermons in our Bibles, not the entire messages. The reason I say this is after His Resurrection he explained to two of his disciples the Scriptures in this way, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” – Luke 24:27)
So, where do we see expository preaching in Scripture? I’m glad you asked! There are many places in Scripture that I could point to but one of the first instances of this happening is Nehemiah 8:1-12. Nehemiah constructs a platform and from it reads the “Book of the Law” (the first 5 books of the Bible). It is clear that he is reading through it verse-by-verse and at the same time the priests are instructing the people on the meaning and application of the Scriptures:
“They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”
The priests did not begin with the “felt needs” of the congregation but instead began with their real need (hearing & responding to the clear preaching of the Scriptures). One of my former professors at Sioux Falls Seminary, Dr. Philip Thompson, explained it this way, “I do not go to church to have my needs met, I go to church to figure out what my needs are.”
2. The testimony of church history points to the continued relevance of verse-by-verse preaching.
From Augustine to John Calvin, all of the significant pastors/leaders throughout church history focused on carefully dividing the “word of truth.” During the period of the Reformation, the Church experienced a revival because the leaders of the Reformation were committed to preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible.
John Calvin, one of the foremost leaders of the Reformation in Geneva, exemplified this in an extraordinary way. Calvin was exiled from his community for a period of three years. When he returned to the pulpit, he literally picked up his “series” from the verse he ended at 3 years prior. Ligonier Ministries aptly notes the significance of this by saying, “This continuation was intended as a bold statement that verse-by-verse preaching of the Word would hold the primary place in his ministry.”
Of more recent history – All of the “Great Awakenings” in the history of the United States, especially the First Great Awakening under the leadership of Jonathan Edwards, make it clear that all true revival is centered on the expository preaching of the Scriptures. It is through the words of God (Bible) that we encounter the Word of God (Jesus) and experience the work of God (salvation & sanctification).
3. Verse-by-verse preaching is the best way to help Christians understand the Bible.
In my preaching ministry at Renovation Church, I am careful to draw each one of my points from a clear reading of the text. I continually ask – “Do you see what I am saying directly from the text?” As I explain the historical situation and context of the passage of Scripture, it helps the people in my congregation begin to understand how to properly read & interpret the Bible in their own lives.
We live in a self-obsessed and self-consumed culture. Topical preaching (i.e. selecting topics then using “proof texts” from all over the Bible to make a point) has the danger of leading God’s people into idolatry. Here’s what I mean – in a sermon series on marriage, Jesus simply becomes a means to a better marriage. In a sermon series on finances, Jesus becomes a means to improve one’s financial position. In a sermon series on friendship, Jesus becomes a means to deeper community. I believe if a pastor faithfully teaches through the Bible verse-by-verse, he will touch on these topics but in a much more Gospel-centered and Christ-exalting way.
If we come to Jesus for anything or anyone other than Jesus, it is idolatry. Jesus is NOT a means to an end. He is the means and He is the end. The goal of the Christian life is MORE Jesus… not more of the American Dream disguised in a few proof texts from the Bible and a clever illustration.
I have a WAY more reasons I’d love to write about but according to experts most people will only read a blog post if it is less than 300 words and we are currently over 1,000 so if you made it to the end of this post – congratulations, you actually have a real attention span!
Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? I’d love to hear why. Leave a comment so I can hear your thoughts!