My approach to preaching on Lord’s Day mornings for the past few years has been to deliver a series of messages that spans a few months. I used to preach through a book of the Bible, taking a year or more, depending on the length of the book. I may do that again someday. But I have found that people’s attention can wane in a series that goes on and on. There are definitely very capable expositors and communicators who can carry a congregation through a long series. And there are many benefits to both the pastor and congregation who engage in a sustained study of one book that lasts a year or more. But this is how I’ve been doing it lately.
In this approach, I usually plan the series to fit in a period of time that naturally follows the church calendar and people’s cycle of life. For example, I usually start a Fall series in mid-September, when most people have settled into the “school year” schedule. That series continues either through mid-November, or sometimes through December just before Christmas. Then I often preach a series in January, sometimes through early February – a “get the year started” series, or just a 4-6 week study of a book of the Bible. Then I do a Spring series from February through April. I may pause the series for Easter, unless the section of Scripture we’re in lends itself to an Easter message. Then I do a Summer series, June – August.
I almost always select a section of Scripture or a book of the Bible for the series. Right now we’re going through the entire book of 1 Thessalonians. I started in September and it will end in December. Last summer we studied Hosea. I couldn’t go through every verse in detail, but I selected key passages and preached them expositorily. Last Spring the series focused on Big Questions, the questions seekers have about God, the Bible, Jesus, salvation, the Christian life, and church. I taught from various passages, starting in Genesis and ending up in Ephesians. Last Fall, I preached from the book of Job. It would have taken a very long time to preach through it all, verse by verse. My approach was to focus on the theme, Seeing Through Suffering and Pain, and explain some sections in detail and others as more of a survey, highlighting key parts.
That leads to another element of my planning and preaching series. I almost always see a theme emerge from my initial study of a section or book of Scripture. I work on the wording of this theme and try to craft it into something that conveys the message of the whole section and that is a key truth that I can develop everything else around. For example, the theme of our 1 Thessalonians study is More, based on the several times in the letter where Paul tells them to “abound more and more” or something similar. The theme of the Hosea study was Pursuing the Knowledge of God, based on the numerous occurrences of the idea of “knowing God” found in Hosea. A summer study we did a couple of years ago was, A Better Way to Live, from Hebrews chapters 10-13. The book of Hebrews elevates Jesus Christ as being “better” in various ways. The closing chapters focus on how we live in light of that.
My selection and initial preparation takes place when I get away a few times a year for a Prayer and Planning Retreat. You can read about that here.