On Choosing What to Preach Next…

I find myself at one of those challenging moments of pastoral ministry – what to preach next. So far in my short tenure as pastor-teacher I have taught through John, James and the Prayers of Paul. Along the way there were some topical sermons, but not many. I overwhelming prefer to preach through a book as every topical sermon I’ve prepared is haunted by the question, “What am I NOT saying that I should be?”

In these preaching endeavors there was some connection between the books that aided the choice. John to James: believing faith to a living faith; James to Paul: pray for one another to how Paul prayed for other believers. I am burdened to preach from the O.T. but this is by far the weakest area in my toolbox. Narrative preaching is challenging for me.

So I would like this thread to be an open forum. How do those here who preach choose their next text? For those who read ET and are not regular teachers in their church, what input would you give your pastor on this subject, if he asked you?

Extra Credit: Since I’ve opened up a rather large topic here I thing it’s appropriate, especially during this season, to ask the same questions related to holiday specific messages. Do you preach thematic messages around the holidays and if so, how do you you avoid potential monotony?

I trust the interaction will be profitable for all.

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21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Peter Bogert on November 27, 2007 at 2:03 am

    I typically take the Sundays in December to preach on Christmas-related themes. People’s minds are focused on the time of the year, and there is great fruit from focusing on the Incarnation.

    Three years ago I preached from some of the lectionary texts (though we are not a liturgical church) relating to Advent. Two years ago I did the same. Last year I did an exposition of the Matthew birth narrative and this year will most likely do an exposition of the Luke narrative. I’ve been working on this today, as a matter of fact. I am taking 2008 to preach a year-long series called “The Story” that deals with the major stories and characters of the OT and how they point to Christ. I will do my 2008 Christmas series from the prophets.

  2. Perhaps you might mix it up a bit with some OT?

    I like to have one going on in the AM and the other in the PM.

    I preached through Genesis a few years back and it was an awesome experience and so foundational for our faith.

    I only do one Christmas sermon and stop down for Resurrection Sunday and Thanksgiving and sometimes Mother’s Day, but that’s about the extent of how the liturgical calendar impacts my preaching schedule.

    I’m finishing up with the parables of Jesus and then I’m going back to the exposition of a book.

  3. Posted by larrythompson on November 27, 2007 at 4:52 am

    Ephesians – it has it all. It is a small, precious gem of theolgy.

  4. Posted by LEW on November 27, 2007 at 6:16 am

    May I suggest that you read _Gospel and Kingdom_ by Graham Goldsworthy (for starters … read all his books as you find time) and then try tackling Genesis?

  5. Their are so many factors one could and should consider…

    If you took 85 sermons to preach through Matthew it might be wise to choose a smaller Book next… You want your congregation to look forward to your next series.

    If you have not preached through the O.T. in x amount of years it is probably time to schedule it in.

    Obviously the better a pastor knows his congregation the easier this decision is. If lots of people in your church are going through trials and suffering then the book of Job would be a logical choice.

    If the elders are rewriting the church doctrinal statement and by laws then the pastoral epistles would be a logical choice, etc, etc.

    MacArthur has always said preach whatever it is your passionate about. For example, my recent series through Jude has been very well recieved. Not because i am a stellar preacher but because at the very least i am VERY passionate about this much neglected epistle…

    Caleb

  6. I try to have a plan in place a good 3-6 months ahead as a general rule. Of course there has to be some flexibility. I won’t go with the next series if I feel there is a great need to go another direction.

    I try to keep a good balance between OT and NT and then genres within. For example, this year we’ve looked at 1 Peter, Daniel, and a theme in Matthew (little faith).

    For December I plan to use a theme–God’s good gifts to us. Even though I will look at passages from different books each week, I still preach that particular passage, not just the theme. When I do this, I want to be sure I’m not chosing a passage from a book of the Bible I hope to preach from as a whole in the near future.

    One of the wisest things I’ve heard (and I can’t remember where I heard it) about choosing what to preach is not to worry so much about what people near to hear because what they need to hear is the Word of God, OT and NT.

    Hope that helps to add to the discussion. I am interested to see other comments.

    – Eric

  7. I would recommend you find an OT book (having not done one), and choose one that you will be able to find a rich wealth of materials, and homiletical examples to compare and draw from. Many of the smaller prophets, like Jonah, Malachi, Haggai, have rich themes that are very easy to apply in our context. They have also been tackled both exegetically and homiletically by many competent men you probably know. Their resources are not hard to find.

  8. Posted by Forrest on November 27, 2007 at 10:03 am

    I am not a pastor or teacher, but I would suggest teaching through the prophesies of Christ’s birth and then move to a series on the Old Testament as a foundation for the New Testament. Whether that be a series on the Law, a specific book, narratives, or prophecy. I think the OT gives a lot of backup information and really helps develop when you preach the NT. Then you can summarize your series in a pamphlet for later members or as a refresher.

  9. “I find myself at one of those challenging moments of pastoral ministry – what to preach next. So far in my short tenure as pastor-teacher ”

    What to preach next? When going to an older established church you need to know the history of the preaching and preacher. You need to know the condition of the current body.

    Each church has established a mindset for what they believe is preaching or teaching.

    I had to introduce to the church of thirty five years and twelve previous preachers, what biblical preaching was. Hyles vs. MacArthur for example. I had to determine the spiritual condition of the church body.

    They church had not been used to hearing the teaching of the Word verse by verse. So I had to explain the purpose of preaching/teaching.

    When I started expository teaching, I started with Matthew on Sunday Morning and Romans on Sunday Night, and would you believe I Corinthians on Wednesday’s. The members were in a state of shock to say the least. So was I at the amount of time this took.

    Within two years, this was the normal thinking of the members that they were going to hear the teaching of the Word, rather than been told what they should do and not to do.

    Of course it took me six years in Matthew and four in Romans and two in I Corinthians. For the next seventeen years, the church expected this form of teaching. And the church body grew in the knowledge of the Word.

    Ephesians, Philippians and I Peter and Revelation followed.

    You as the pastor establish the form in which you want the church body to grow.

    Charles

  10. Posted by Hayden Norris on November 27, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    Rich,

    Hope you and your family are doing well!

    Might I suggest that you go through an OT book like Ecclesiastes (ok I am biased, this is my favorite OT book). A series in the Psalms would be great as well. (Dr. Lawson’s commentaries on the Psalms are very helpful, I used them when I did a selection of the Psalms with my students last year)

    Make sure that whatever you preach through, that you are ‘fired up’ about it. I have been reading Spurgeon’s “Lectures to my students”, and though we do not preach like he preaches, he does make a good point about selecting a text. If you have the book read the chapter ‘Selecting a text’. You will not use his method, for sure, but may glean some good ideas.

  11. Alex Montoya once told me to preach through the Gospels often. I won’t try to reproduce an exact quote, but the gist of the reason to do this was twofold: 1. Most people have no understanding who Jesus really is and the exposition of one of the four Gospels does much to correct false ideas of the God we serve. 2. The Christian faith is centered in Jesus – can we study and know Him enough?
    In 7 years at GFC I have preached through Mark, Luke and have just started John. A brother who has been with us for those 7 years came to me a week ago and said, “When you told us John was next, I thought, ‘Another Gospel?!’ But now that we are in it I am saying, ‘I love this!'” I think he loves it because he loves Jesus.
    So, even though you have already preached John, why not give short little Mark a try? It preaches!! :-)

  12. Thanks Rich for these excellent questions and for keeping the blog alive.

    I tend to agree a lot with what Paul Martin said (via Montoya) about preaching the Gospel accounts. I have been preaching Matthew for the last two years and it has been a rich experience for me. My preaching Matthew came out of the desire to expose our people to Jesus’ person and work from a first-hand account. I wanted them to hear the preaching of Jesus and see His passion and compassion in ministry.

    I must admit to some disagreement with some of the comments here. I confess that I do think about what our congregation needs to hear. I understand, both theologically and practically, that all of God’s word is profitable as the Apostle said. However, part of sermon preparation is application so I always think through what they are currently facing or if there are major issues that have uniquely revealed themselves within our fellowship. For example, when we first exercised church restoration I introduced it with a few sermons from Matthew 18 so that there would be a biblical foundation in the minds of the people. So I can’t not think of some measure of a pastoral angle to my choice of sermon and series.

    Here’s how this has fleshed itself out for me: When I first came on staff I preached James because the congregation was facing a number of trials and being a new church many had no idea how to embrace them biblically. After that I preached 1 Corinthians so that we could talk about the nature of the church and how it should function. As I said before I’m now in Matthew. I have also interrupted each series for shorter series mostly drawn from the OT. I have preached all the Minor Prophets, Ruth, many Psalms and Proverbs, a series on the Ten Commandments, a topical series on spiritual gifts, systematic theology, and apologetics/evangelism. I’ll be interrupting Matthew again soon for a series from Genesis.

    As for special sermons related to sacred and secular calendars I have done them and not done them. For example, last year I preached a series on the “Songs of Christmas” (Magnificat from Luke 1:46-55; Nunc Dimittis from Luke 1:29-32; and The Benedictus from Luke 1:67-79) but this year I will simply continue my series in Matthew which will have us in Matthew 12 for December.

    Thanks for everyone’s comments.

  13. What amazed me most when preaching from Matthew or Romans or even Revelation, someone was always saying, that message from that passage was just what I needed today.

    I believed the members needed a flow of the Word, so when teaching Matthew and Acts, they received the life of Christ and the ministry of the first church and what Christ said about the Christian life and church life.

    I really liked what Paul L laid out his preaching series.

    I don’t believe the believers were getting tired of teaching from one book for several years. You can made sermons interesting to make them want to come back the next week. Again its how you have trained the members to listen to the preaching of the Word.

    Charles

  14. I like Mark Dever’s approach. He alternates between the testaments and between different genres. This way, the congregation is being exposed to a variety of God’s Word within a matter of 10 years or so.

    I started with Ephesians, then Jonah, then Galatians. Now, I’m going to Ruth, then the gospel of John.
    I find the fact that I plan to be at this church for the rest of my life very helpful in what book to preach next. God willing, I’m going to preach them all. So, I trust that in the course of my ministry God will sovereignly lead me to certain books at certain times for the good of His church.

  15. Some follow-up comments/questions…

    First of all let me say “thanks” for all the feedback. While I appreciate the encouragements to preach specific things or a certain way (always a good reminder) what I was hoping for was more of a “how do you decide what to preach?” dialogue.

    For example, do you include your elders (if you have them) in the decision? Do they give input? Do you solicit it? This goes back to the whole, “do you get feedback on your preaching” issue.

    Do any of you have a 1 year, 3 year, 5 year preaching plan? If so, what drives that? How do you come up with it? I am close friends with the SG pastor in my town and they plan the preaching schedule 5 years out as a staff – interesting to consider.

    Do you ask your wife? I find my wife to be a great barometer for my preaching.

    I know some guys who go away for the weekend, fast and pray, and come back with a book to preach. I know others that preach through the NT (straight) and then OT (straight).

    Lastly, does any weakness in your preaching certain things dissuade you from preaching certain books or genre? Without a doubt, the Psalms are the most daunting for me. I LOVE them but the ones I’ve preached have taken the longest in my personal study time (difficult Hebrew, structure, argument, etc) – time I don’t seem to have with other ministry and family commitments.

    Paul, if you are free to share, what prompted the asides/series you took while preaching through Matt. (not related to crisis events)?

    If you have additional comments along these lines I’d love to hear them.

  16. I plan my preaching schedule (tentatively) for about three months which 1) helps me plan for guest preachers when I’m away, 2) collecting materials ahead of time because I know where I’m going, 3) bouncing ideas off my fellow elders, 4) measuring the “balance” in my preaching.

    I find that the most reliable sources of feedback come from men in my congregation who regularly teach and preach. They understand the process better than anyone and we are also able to cut through the “nice sermon” chatter and get down to real feedback.

    The aside series that I have preached have come from a desire to maintain balance within the “whole counsel of God” and to address issues and doctrines that our congregation needed to be exposed to. Sometimes landing in another genre of Scripture refreshes my teaching and gives the people a break. We will be in Matthew for a while so I don’t want people thinking my Bible has only one book.

    After my first year and a half I began a Sunday night series on systematic theology that I called “Bite size Theology.” I wasn’t buying the idea that people in the pews can’t take major doctrinal sermons over a sustained period of time. I typed up my notes with places for fill-in the blanks and left technical stuff in the footnotes and folks loved it. I saw tremendous spiritual growth in many lives through that series and incidentally our church grew numerically which seems to confound church-growth types.

  17. You are serious, ask the Elders or Deacons?

    I silicit my wife! Now this is dangerous, unless you are ready for an honest input. My wife Charity, is much better knowing members than anyone in our church. Your wife is the best barometer for your preaching.

    I made the committment, when preaching verse by verse, I would address every single verse. The trouble has been too many commentaries will skip those verses they don’t want to address. I made a committment I would learn the meaning of the text, and then submit to it, first, than preach it. Boy was that hard.

    You are not being honest to the teaching of the Word if you skip those verses you are not willing to teach because you might be afraid what your membership might react negative.

    To quit in the middle of a book you are teaching, is not been faithful to the teaching to the Word.
    Just because an Elder tells you its not going well with the membership.

    Your first committment is the study of the Word of God. Wasn’t it John MacArthur who said, “The best service I can do for this church is taking the time to study the Word of God.” If you shut your self in your studies for forty hours a week, you have done the right things. You have deacons and elders and saints to do the work of the ministry.

    Your feedback will be the results of your teaching. What would you say should result from your preaching and teaching of the Word of God?
    In other words, will you have people to return the next week to hear you speak on the next passage of Scripture? Will they invite a friend or neighbor to hear you preach? Etc.

    My plan in teaching through a book? I never knew teaching through Philippians would take as long. My responsibiity was to be faithfully teaching the text, and let the Lord take care of the members who were listening, and now worrying if I am taking too long preaching the book. Didn’t John Owen take like forever to teach Hebrews in his lifetimes.

    Have you studied the Puritan’s style? Today we think we need a thirty minute brief look at a passage and then move on to another passage. This is why I believe we have members who are not committed to hearing and obeying the Word.

    Just my opinion. Psalms or Proverbs on a Wednesday Night would be good, for as long as necessary to finish the book.

    Charles

  18. Charles,

    I’m not sure who you are responding to. If it’s me, I think you’re missing what I am saying. Was your response a response to my last post? I just want to make sure I understand what you are saying here.

    Quickly (assuming it was to me) – I agree with most of what you are saying and I do preach through entire books. I am so committed to this conviction that I’ve rolled past many “holidays” to stay in the text. I was simply asking how other guys make the determination to move outside of book for a season (my question to Paul).

    While I preach from the beginning to the end of a book, I have seen times when it would be wise to depart from a book I’m studying because the theology at that place in the book might not address a very specific need in the church.

    Looking back I see times when I should have taken a break and addressed something else (parenting, holiness, one anothering, etc). A glance through Paul shows me that he addressed actual needs (not felt needs) in his letters. He addressed them to specific situations. That’s where I was going with my second question above.

    Just trying to improve my toolbox.

  19. Ryan

    Just some remarks in general. In general what I do. You did mention elders and your wife and imput from others about your message.

    I did like the different views that preachers have in their preaching style.

  20. Posted by Scott Christensen on November 29, 2007 at 11:33 am

    I am preaching thru John. I am working on sermon # 61 and I am in chapter 7. Occassionally, I stop in the text and focus on a topic that is addressed in the text and do a series of topical sermons on it. For example in John 5, in dealing with the Jewish leaders’ view of the Sabbath I launched into a mini-series on legalism. A few years back, while preaching through Philippians 1:19-24 I stopped and did a mini-series on heaven. I still have people talking to me about that series.

    A few years ago, I did a series of sermons on Christ’s death and resurrection leading up to Easter. I am thinking about doing something similar for Christmas.

    One helpful thing I recently have done is to dialog with another local pastor about each other’s preaching. We are like-minded and so I had no worries about his views on preaching and the ministry. He is a bit older than me and has been in the pastorate for over 20 years. We exchanged CD’s of each other’s sermons and then sat down to talk about strengths and weaknesses in each other’s preaching. It was an eye-opening and very humbling experience for me to grapple with weaknesses in my preaching. I went home and talked with my wife about it and she resonated with the concerns I came away with and was very helpful to point out areas where I could improve. If you have a respected and faithful pastor in your area, I commend such a relationship, especially if he has a lot of experience and maturity in the ministry. Furthermore, do not be afraid to ask for your wife’s input on your preaching and how people are recieving it. They often have their pulse on the congregation in a way you may not. Plus they know you better than anyone else.

  21. Scott

    Precisely, mini series within a series. This was easy in Matthew, or Ephesians.

    I also had a good honest pastor friend that was honest with me about preaching. And willing to be honest about your delievery is humbling too.

    Thanks very good thoughts

    Charles

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