Friday, May 15, 2009

Preaching longer passages

Just in the middle of preparing the third of 8 messages in Judges.
That means 21 chapters in 8 sermons.

This week it's Judges 4 & 5.

Some delights and challenges of preparing such messages.

  1. you can get a good overview of a good length book in a brief time. In itself this has several advantages
  • You can help the congregation to see the wood from the trees. So, Judges in just 8 sermons will give a very clear picture of the rapid descent of Israel from holy nation to anarchic Sodom-like state. The model of Othniel will sill be fresh in our minds as we look at the subsequent judges, etc.
  • In eight short weeks it should become very clear what the distinctive contribution of Judges is to Scripture.
  • If this enables you to get through several full series each year, then your congregation will be able to have a reasonably balanced diet. Within two or three years they will have heard expounded books of the bible from all the major genres: law, history, prophecy, poetry, gospel/acts, Pauline epistles, general epistles/ revelation.
  • Within a couple of decades you will have the opportunity to preach through the whole bible. If you stick to an average of 10 verses per week, you'll take 60 years to preach the whole bible. If you follow Spurgeon and preach a single verse, it's going to take you about 31000 sermons! Even if you preach twice a week, that's still 300 years!
2. You are helping people to see how to read the bible in context by giving a whole lot of the context all at once. It is important to see that it is not just that verses of the bible have a particular significance, but that chapters, and whole sections, and whole books of the bible have unified coherent messages.

3. Particularly in narrative one has the opportunity to capture the narrative flow in larger sections. the danger in preaching small sections of narrative is that you end up preaching a sermon that could have come from an epistle, and thereby lose the emotive impact of the story.

1. Preparation: to preach several chapters in one sitting poses a challenge in preparation for several reasons.
  • it may become unrealistic to do as much work in original languages (unless your greek and hebrew are rather better than mine)
  • you've got a whole lot more text that you have to understand; having said that, because you are not going to preach it in such depth, perhaps it is excusable not to study it in much depth too.
  • because one will not have time to read in full what several commentators have said on the whole passage, it may mean that one is more influenced by the commentaries that one chooses to read, and less aware of the interpretative decisions that one is making in coming to an understanding of the text.
  • There is SO much you have to leave in the study, that you might be tempted to keep the most interesting / intriguing pieces, rather than the most central themes.
  • another danger is to want to bring out as much as the text as possible, and thus squeeze out time that you might have had for application.
2. Preaching:
  • you may not have time to read the whole passage during the sermon. there is an upside to this though, as it gives a good opportunity to impress upon the congregation the fact that EVERY week they should be preparing to hear God's word preached, in part at least by reading the section of scripture that is to be preached upon.
  • not reading the whole passage means that the congregation will have to trust your summary / selections of it more than normal.
There are certainly many other advantages and disadvantages of preaching long passages.
in conclusion, I wouldn't like to do it every series. I think there are so many valuable things in preaching through short passages that it is also worth doing. So, before Judges I preached Colossians in 9; before that Malachi in 4, before than Mark in 16. After preaching Judges, dv I'll preach through Jude (one chapter) in 4 sermons, then Genesis 1-3 in 10 sermons, then Matthew 1-2 in at least 4.
Maybe after that we'll return to more of an overview: Psalms in 5 perhaps - one per book? Maybe not!


John Lumgair said...

Because longer passages are more work, I think it is inevitable that will take the easier option for personal study. So teach larger chunks of OT makes a lot if sense. We did Job in about 6 weeks I felt it was too fast - particularly as I wasn't at one of the talks!

I've really enjoyed doing Joshua at our church and we going through about a chapter a week which seems a good speed.

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

So, this week its' Judges 6-8. Just listened to Paul Clarke's sermon on the passage I preached last week: it was excellent (he also managed to get through the passage in about 20 minutes less than me!)
You can find it here:

dave bish said...


We're doing Exodus which included one sermon on all 10 plagues...