Preaching – Why do you do sermon series?

One of the most pressing demands of pastoral ministry is the constant production of new material.  I preach three new sermons every week, and the composition of these sermons is the largest single task of my working week.  This is not to suggest it is a burden – quite the reverse, it is a joy.  The study of Scripture always brings its own blessings, especially when we are making a conscious effort, as in preaching preparation, to draw out the intended teaching of the passage for our own circumstances.  The best sermons are those that have already been preached to the minister’s own soul. But the constant demand does present its own challenge.

Before I commenced full-time ministry, I was a topical preacher.  Each new sermon stood completely separate from those that had gone before. In terms of the great masters, I was following Spurgeon, not Lloyd-Jones. I liked the spontaneity of turning to a new passage, opening up an entirely fresh Scripture to the people of God. I loved the experience of mulling over a subject for a period of time, reading around it, reflecting seriously, and then bringing out the matured conclusions in a single focused sermon. I enjoyed the feeling of pouring out a message that had been brewing and percolating, sometimes over the preceding few weeks.

But that just isn’t possible in regular ministry: the demand for material is much too urgent and continuous. Therefore, since commencing full-time pastoral ministry in January, I have tended to preach in series. At present, on Sabbath mornings I am doing a series on the Sermon on the Mount, on Sabbath evenings a series on Joshua, and at the prayer meeting, we have just completed a series on Titus.

What are the advantages of this kind of ministry?

  1. Sermon Series are Instructive.

By following a series, we gain new insight into the contents of Scripture. We do not dive into the middle of a passage and cherry-pick an easy text, rather by following the writer’s own line of argument, we see how that text is reached, and then where the writer goes next. This may greatly enrich, or even correct, our understanding of the text itself. ‘A text without a context is a pretext’.

  1. Sermon Series are Consistent.

By following a series, we build each week on what has gone before, developing the argument further on each occasion. If we have discerned correctly the meaning of the inspired writer, then we are consistently opening up the teaching of the Spirit from a passage, week by week. That gives great cumulative force and authority to the message of the Scriptural text.

  1. Sermon Series are Novel.

A contradiction? Not at all. A well-handled series is never boring, because a new passage is reached on each occasion, with fresh and striking Spirit-inspired thoughts. If a series is becoming dull and repetitive, the fault lies with the preacher: he has failed to open up fully the fresh riches contained in his new text (or his division of the passage has been poor). The Bible is always fresh, always interesting, and always instructive.

  1. Sermon Series are Reassuring.

This applies to preacher and congregation alike. The preacher is reassured that he is not following his own hobby horses, because he is following where the inspired text leads. The hearers are reassured that it is the message of Scripture itself that is being brought before them, as this is demonstrated each week. And the consistency of quality and interest reassures preacher and hearer alike that the book before them is indeed the inspired Word of God.

  1. Sermon Series are Satisfying.

In a completed series, there is a sense that one has drawn out from a passage of Scripture its principal message. There is a measure of understanding, a sense that we can see what the text means, and how it applies to us. We have considered the content of that whole section of Scripture – be it a chapter, character account, or whole book – and have drawn benefit and blessing from it.

Of course, the work of preaching is never complete. We took 24 sermons to preach through Titus, but anyone who imagines this to be exhaustive should take a look at the commentary by Puritan Thomas Taylor. We could easily go through the epistle again and preach another 24 sermons without much repetition. The Puritan William Jenkyn famously wrote a lengthy commentary on Jude, yet the great Thomas Manton, went on to publish another full-length volume on Jude, claiming to have been brief on matters on which Jenkyn was lengthy, and lengthy where he was brief. Scripture is an inexhaustible deep.

Series preaching is not the only form of ministry, and there is still a definite place for textual and topical sermons, but it brings huge blessings and benefits, to the preacher, and, under God, to the congregation.

 

 

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