Planned Preaching????!!!!! -- Part 7
With this next post I want to give you a few things that have been useful to me as far as the preparation process for actually putting a lengthy series together.
1. Read the Book!
First, read the Book! It is important for you to read the whole book of whatever you are working with. If you choose to begin with 1st John, you should read that epistle daily. It takes about 25 minutes to read through 1st John but as you read it repetitively there is an ability that you develop through the rote of it that helps you to cross-reference the chapters because you are familiar with Scripture.
On a side note concerning reading the Bible: You can break up the Bible into segments and read it through 30 times in about 2 ½ years. The way this works is you should take for instance 1st John and read its 5 chapters every day for 30 days. Then go to Philippians and read it entirely every day for 30 days. To alternate the shorter books with longer ones, then go to Matthew and read chapters 1-8 every day for 30 days. By breaking the NT up into segments like this, when you read it repetitively like this, you will be amazed at how much you can memorize actually through the daily process of it. As you move on through the NT, cross-referencing becomes very easily done. This is a great strength of the study method for expository preaching.
In addition to reading the book you have selected, it is very important to look into the historical background and allow that to develop a geographical picture in your mind. When I did this with Corinthians, the historical data that I gathered brought me to the idea that Corinth was apparently like Las Vegas or New Orleans with all of the flagrant sins in those places. When I did this with Ephesians, I came away with the idea that Ephesus was somewhat sophisticated but given to much idolatry. They were a society that was advanced financially because of the commercial trade routes (by sea and land) that ran through the city. While not exactly like Wall Street, you can see some similarities between the two. Interestingly, scoffers of preaching and the Bible say that neither is relevant for our day. But what could be more relevant to our society than solid instructions from the Word that will revive the heart into spiritual life?
In fact, for those who say that we have made technological advances that have outpaced the Bible, I would strongly disagree with you. Abortion is not new to our days. The Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and the Romans (among others) all practiced abortion. The principles of Scripture condemn this no matter if it is an ancient society or a “modern” one. This is just one example among many. The real difficulty is that very few people allow themselves to think logically with principles in our times. It is a matter of convenience and ignorance.
A lot of this kind of information can be found in OT Surveys, NT Surveys, Bible encyclopedias, and Bible dictionaries. Commentaries usually have introductions to each book and there is also valuable information that is contained there. You just have to work and stay in your seat until you dig it out. There are no shortcuts to great preaching.
You might also want to consider alternate translations to read through the book you are working with. I have found that the NASB, J. B. Phillips, James Moffatt, and sometimes The Message can be valuable to help me further focus on greater details in the book.
2. Break the Book Up into Main Ideas
Now back to the plan of actually doing it. First, read the Book. Secondly, break up the passages into main ideas. You can do this by resorting to an outline or you can pick out key words and allow this to drive your message. I have come appreciate study Bibles that break up the books into paragraphs (NASB; NIV; ESV, etc.). The paragraphs allow you to determine the subject matter and then progress from there.
The new ESV breaks up 1st John in the following manner with the use of paragraphs:
1:1-4 -- The Word of Life
1:5-10 -- Walking In the Light
2:1-6 -- Christ Our Advocate
2:7-14 -- The New Covenant
2:15-17 -- Do Not Love the World
2:18-26 -- Warning Against Antichrists
2:28-3:10 -- Children of God
3:11-24 -- Love One Another
4:1-6 -- Test the Spirits
4:7-21 -- God Is Love
5:1-5 -- Overcoming the World
5:6-12 -- Testimony Concerning the Son of God
5:13-20 -- That You May Know
This can be very helpful in helping to set up the main ideas. Now, I have a tendency to over-do things and I have with my 1st John series. I have just finished 3:3 and have 17 different messages. In fact, I managed to pull from 2:15-17 three messages. In 2:15, “The Love that God Hates,” in 2:16, “Why a Saint Cannot Love the World,” and in 2:17, “The Cardiology of Worldliness.” These three turned into a five Sunday night series back in the summer month of June. I will be honest in saying that I was literally stunned at the results. I was able to simply walk through Scripture and plead with people about how important it was for us not to love the world and to give our lives entirely to God.
Since I have those strong Pentecostal roots and feel that altar services are still important, on all five Sunday nights in June there were very lengthy times of prayer after the preaching. I am spoiled by the church that I preach in weekly because of their hunger for the Word and then their response to the Word. I have almost refused entirely to resort to Powerpoint Scriptures on the screen because I want people to bring their Bibles to church. If we have guests, I encourage those standing nearby to share their Bible. As for the altar services, they all lasted at least 45 minutes (a couple went well beyond an hour) and ¾’s of our church was involved in them.
As mentioned previously, expository preaching is not a running commentary of random thoughts on different things that come to the mind of the preacher while he is studying. When you isolate the ideas, then you begin to work with the main idea. If there are any suitable subtopics in the passage you can work with these also.
3. Take the Main Idea and Work It Out
The next step is to take the passage that you are working with and press it through the rigors of observation, meditation, and interpretation. By doing this you allow the Word to develop the message instead of having to hunt down warm fuzzy stories, video clips, and a host of other lesser substitutes. There is a famine in the land not of bread but the Words of God (Amos 8:11-12). I do not want to be a man in a pulpit who endorses the famine of the Word by preaching Guideposts sorts of sermons.
As for the application aspect, you may consider these questions.
• Are there examples to follow?
• Are there commands to obey?
• Are there errors to avoid?
• Are there sins to forsake?
• Are there promises to claim?
• Are there new thoughts about God?
• Are there principles to live by?
I will say that if you have perused some of my Ephesians notes or the 1st John notes you probably did not notice the application aspects. I purposely did not place them in the actual notes but wrote in the margins and on the preceding pages.
These three main steps have multiple different components to them that I have not included. My interest is to encourage you to simply begin. I will continue to preach topical messages but I will balance it with expository messages because this has to be the backbone of my preaching/teaching. It sheds great light on our days.
I want to encourage you on two things. First, you may begin a series and then back out because it is tedious and demanding. Don’t lose heart, it happened to me on one of the early series I started in Matthew. I started and quit in grave frustration. But a little while later, I picked up Ephesians and discovered that my stumbling steps in Matthew were useful to help me in Ephesians. Secondly, you will have to train your congregation to get used to this kind of preaching. If you have some hearty soul who has been saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost, they may accuse you of being “Baptist” with your approach. Luckily I am in a church that has this kind of teaching for 40 years and they are used to it. However, my strong response to that claim (and I have told a few preachers this before who determined to “straighten” me out) is what Paul told the Ephesians elders in Acts 20:27. “I have not shunned to declare until you all the counsel of God.” All means all. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. . . I intend on preaching every verse of it!
Lastly, I know some of you may know Brother John Harrell in Bridge City, Texas. He is a tremendous preacher whom I have grown to know and love over the past 10 years. I managed to get a tape catalog years ago of his preaching in Bridge City and I leave this example to encourage you for where you are serving. He preached lengthy series through Genesis, Luke, and Ephesians. In addition to this he also preached lengthy series through the life of David and Peter.
Now just go and preach. . . .