The Risks and Rewards of Preaching an Expository Book Series

March 10, 2014

Kevin DeYoung discusses the benefits and dangers of preaching consecutively through books of the Bible.

Here are the risks, according to DeYoung:

  1. Selecting preaching units that are too small.
  2. Wearing out your congregration by moving too slowly.
  3. Spending too much time in books that are not as “fruitful” or “central to the plot line.”

But, as DeYoung argues, the benefits far outweigh the dangers. Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible . . .

  1. exposes your congregation to the whole counsel of God and keeps you from preaching only on those things that you are passionate about or that seem relevant to you or your congregation.
  2. helps you avoid the arduous task of having to select a new text for each sermon.
  3. gives context to the individual stories and sections of the Bible.

Question: What other risks and rewards would you add to DeYoung’s list?

Kerry McGonigal

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In Adam by birth but in Christ by grace. That's my story. Husband to one and father of three. Pastor, homiletics teacher, and passionate proponent of expository preaching. If you like what you've read and want to be notified of future posts, take a second and subscribe via RSS or email (on the right sidebar). Opinions expressed here are my own.

14 responses to The Risks and Rewards of Preaching an Expository Book Series

  1. A key benefit is that it not only prevents you from “preaching at problems,” it prevents others from thinking that you are preaching at problems. Too many preachers use their sermons to promote their personal agenda in the church. If I am preaching through a book, and the book happens to address a current dispute, then I address it without being accused of targeting people. If the text does not address it, then I do not address it. Additionally, it requires me to preach on everything, eventually.

    • Well said, James. For example, preaching through Matthew’s Gospel will necessitate covering chapter 19 and Jesus’ teaching on divorce. But it is much more “natural” and “necessary” in the context of an expository book series, because it’s simply the next chapter and section to cover. That way it doesn’t seem, as you say, that we are “preaching at problems.”

  2. Through a long, expository ministry, your people get to know their Bibles. You often deal with issues BEFORE they happen (when it comes to church problems, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure!). For perspective on these statements, when pastoring, I preached about half expository and half topical. Balance and variety are still two good words.

    • That’s right, Doug. And people who know their Bible can feed themselves throughout the week by working back through some of these passages with a proper contextual understanding. And the idea of prevention is a good one. That’s why it is important to pray for the guidance as you select books and topics to preach on. What does my congregation need to hear? Ultimately, and generally speaking, they need to hear the Word of God. But which parts and at what times? It is our responsibility as undershepherds to make those decisions in consultation with the Spirit.

  3. I wonder if “risks” 1 & 2 (essentially the same thing in my mind) are more of a problem for DeYoung in that he appears to preach relatively infrequently, i.e., an average of once a week, see the list here: http://www.universityreformedchurch.org/teaching/sermons.html

    In most churches, with a staff of one, you preach much more often and can give much more variety. Currently I am going slowly through Romans in our morning service (with occasional breaks for other events like Christmas or some pertinent current need that comes up), and also preaching Judges in the afternoons, dealing with much larger portions of Scripture, often whole chapters.

    I do agree that the subject material dictates the appropriate length of text. Judges isn’t Romans. I also agree that there is warrant in preaching Romans faster on occasion.

    However, when it comes to a weekly expositor series in most New Testament books, especially the epistles, the “glacial” approach is best! (In my opinion!)

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Don, what is the “glacial” approach? I’ve never heard that terminology before.

      • Hi Kerry… “glacial” means really, really slow. I kid around about it, but especially in highly doctrinal passages I try to work out what every piece means, then fit it together, sometimes taking small portions. I recently finished Rm 12.1-2 after eight messages (this was highly unusual). Usually it is a verse or two to advance the apostle’s argument, and then sometimes I will do a summary message of a whole chapter or section that ties everything together.

        I also have done and do the ‘bigger picture’ approach. I think both are important. We had a tremendous experience in 2005-2006 where we went through the entire Bible in 17 months, organizing the material chronologically. In the OT we were covering 25 chapters a week (on average) in four services (including Wednesdays). The NT we did with only 8 chapters a week.

        So I can do both! But one of the things we are trying to to is help our people see how to study the Bible themselves. If there is a significant point to be made doing a word study, or a topical message as part of the overall exposition, then we stop and do it.

        Finally, I realize that every preacher is different. We have to preach the way we find is effective in our own ministry. My sons approach it differently than I do. They are probably better communicators! But we all do the best we can.

        Maranatha!
        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

        • Well, now I have a new term to use! 🙂 I think you make a good point–that every preacher is different and going to excel in different kinds of preaching–some better with topical, others better with the big picture perspective, some gifted at microanalysis. As long as the Word is being preached faithfully and God’s people are being fed, I rejoice (to borrow Paul’s language). Sometimes in the course of one day I will hear up to 9 sermons preached, sometimes hearing 4 messages on the same passage. And yet each guy is different. Each brings his own unique background and level of giftedness to the task. It’s quite remarkable really. And though I’ve never heard you preach, your sons are indeed good communicators–they both evidence a high regard for the text of Scripture and preach with great thoughtfulness and insight.

  4. Joshua Franklin March 11, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Risk— Some expositors are so rigid with their passage schedules that they miss opportunities to preach on a passage that may deal directly with seasonal/holiday events, political/social issues, or specific needs in the church at that moment. It may be Mother’s Day, but for the Pastor it is Romans 9 day. During the last presidential election much attention was given to the Republican candidate’s religion. A rigid pastor may miss an opportunity to address Mormonism when it is relevant and questionable in God’s people. Similar to the first thought is the need to be sensitive to the congregation’s needs and concerns. A rigid pastor may miss and appear insensitive by preaching on sexual sin in Eph. 5.3-6 when a member’s tragic death occurred a few days earlier and the church needs comfort, or when a recurring problem needs biblical guidance. So, the advice would be for the preacher to be balanced and not overly rigid in his expository schedule.
    Benefits—Helps lesson the criticism that the pastor is preaching at specific people in the church. It helps the music/worship leader prepare the service order in such a way that music, prayer, Scripture readings weave into the passage addressed (of course a lot of other factors are needed here as well). It helps provide the people an opportunity to PREPARE their hearts for the message and Sunday worship, which many of us don’t do very often. Finally, provides the opportunity to address passages that are often overlooked due to difficulty or perceived irrelevance.
    Just some thoughts,
    Joshua

    • Thanks for your comments, Josh. You’re right, some guys just keep plowing forward with little sensitivity and regard for the needs of the congregation. And they end up shooting themselves in the foot, in my estimation. The preparation aspect that you mention is interesting as well. Though I suppose you could plan ahead and communicate individual passages and themes to your music guy and to your congregation even when you’re not preaching through a particular book, it would definitely be easier with a book series. For example, my pastor is preaching through John right now. Last week he finished at 16:4. I already know that this week he is going to pick up at 16:5 and so I’ve been thinking about that passage in preparation for this Sunday’s sermon. Good thoughts!

      • Joshua Franklin March 13, 2014 at 9:51 am

        With regard to music preparation…most churches plan music a month out at minimum and more often further out to allow everyone to prepare adequately. Topic and themed preaching can be harder to plan that far in advance than expositor preaching. Of course, some churches prefer a much more spontaneous worship which makes this a mute point.
        I stumbled upon your site a month ago…glad to have an opportunity to see you again. And not necessarily from the back seat of a van:)

        • I love to see churches wedding the music with the sermon theme. It takes a lot of planning, but the concentrated emphasis in one service on one particular theme is powerful. But, as you say, some spontenaity is probably good too! We don’t want to be too rigid. 🙂 Glad you stumbled onto the site. Anna Grace and I hope that you are well “taken cared of.” 🙂