Preaching Series: Part One (4 Criteria for Selecting Which Passage of Scripture to Preach)
There is much to say about this important topic, but let me get the ball rolling by offering four general criteria to consider when selecting a passage of Scripture from which to preach:
- Pray – Certainly we should be praying for the Lord to give us insight and wisdom when preparing our sermons, but we should also consult the Author concerning which passage of Scripture He wants us to preach. If we buy into the lie that it doesn’t matter which passage we preach, then we’ll skip this important step of bringing this question before the Lord. This practice reminds us that the church is not ours, it’s His; and we are stewards, serving at the pleasure of the Chief Shepherd of the flock. We’re reminded that He has complete prerogative to change the direction of the sermon and the part of His Word from which we are to preach, even if it’s at the last moment. In fact, even our well-planed and prayed over sermon series should be brought before the Lord each week, as we give Him the option to alter our “preaching plan” if He so desires.
- Consider the congregation – Part of the responsibility of the shepherd is to know the flock and it’s needs. Is there an issue that the church is facing right now that should be addressed from Scripture? Is there something happening in culture for which the congregation needs a Biblical perspective? If we completely ignore the context of congregational life or the context of current events, then we leave room for the conclusion that the Bible is less than relevant for daily living.
As a preaching elder, part of my responsibility is to invite the rest of the elders into this process as well. I do not discern the needs of the congregation in a vacuum; the rest of the elders share this responsibility with me. Therefore, we have made a practice of both praying for the Lord to reveal to us where the congregation needs to grow and discussing how the sermons could be crafted to address those concerns. These have been rich times for us as elders, and a helpful aid for me as a preacher.
- Consider the Scripture Diet of your Church – What I mean by that is that we should consider what they have been feasting on recently and make sure that they get a well-balanced diet of God’s Word. If we’ve preached from the NT for a couple of series’, then perhaps it’s time to go through an Old Testament book. If we’ve been preaching narrative passages (Genesis, the Gospels, Acts, etc.), then perhaps it’s time to go through an epistle. When is the last time you preached a Psalm, or some of the wisdom literature? Preaching from one section or one genre of Scripture can lead to a warped view of the Bible; and prevents the congregation from understanding how it all fits together. We should approach the task of selecting passages to preach as both systematic theologians as well as Biblical theologians. We don’t just want to present the Bible as a guidebook for living, but as God’s means of revealing Himself and His redemptive plan of rescue through His Son, Jesus.
- Flexibility – I’m an advocate of preparing an annual preaching calendar. After having gone through the above steps with our elders, I try to get away for a few days a year to organize what I’m going to preach and when. This time of sermon series planning has been invaluable to me and I would commend this practice to every preaching pastor. Nevertheless, the inherent danger in this kind of planning is that we hold so dear to our precious preaching plan that we don’t leave room for God to interrupt us if we discern He is leading us to do so. This doesn’t mean don’t plan, this means we should build flexibility into our plan, and perhaps even anticipate that the Lord may lead us to suspend our “plan” at any given moment.
While we’re talking about flexibility; a word about expositional versus topical sermons. Our elders hold the conviction that the normal diet of our congregation needs to be verse-by-verse exposition going through books of the Bible. We feel this gives our folks the best chance of hearing from the whole counsel of God, and helps us not avoid hard passages that inevitably arise as we do so. Nevertheless, there have been times where we have discerned specific needs within the body that need to be addressed and would be tackled most effectively through a topical series. At times, we have suspended a book series in order to take 6-8 weeks addressing something in the church or in culture that is timely and important. Being okay with a topical sermon allows us to have the flexibility to tackle issues we believe the Lord is leading us to address.
In closing, I want to stress the importance of this task. Some might conclude that the selection of which passage of Scripture from which to preach is a relatively unimportant task because after all, “if we’re preaching from the Bible, it’s all worthy of proclamation and the Lord can bless our congregation from any page of Scripture”. While those statements are all true, the conclusion that the Bible passage from which we preach is necessarily inconsequential or trivial does not take into account the factors noted above. Everyone utilizes criteria in selecting a passage from which to preach, the question is what criteria are we using? If we’re ignoring the factors noted above, then we run the risk of choosing on the basis of our own whim, or on the basis of which passage will help us move our agenda forward. Utilizing criterion like the ones noted here, will protect our congregation from our sinful nature, and ensure regular, healthy nourishment from Scripture for years to come.
>>>What are some criteria you consider important when deciding which passage of Scripture you want to preach from? What are some questions you have? Please leave your feedback and comments below!