Thursday, 1 September 2016

Is the latest preaching series just a pastor's favourite?

Is that why we are studying that book this term?  Is it just that the pastor loves it, it's his favourite book?  Or that he has a good commentary or two on it?  Or that he's just spent months on it in his devotionals?  Or in some cases (not mine I'm grateful to say) that he has been asked to write a book on it?  How exactly does a pastor decide what you will be working through in terms of a series for Sundays?

I can't speak for everyone but here's some things I do and have found helpful.  Firstly even whilst I'm preaching the series for this term I am studying for, and planning, next term and devotionally working through another book of the Bible for the long term.

Every so often I'll read through the Bible quite quickly, 3-4 months, trying to soak in the biblical story and flow, but also looking for books I just don't understand yet.  That study led me last year to do more in depth study of Song of Solomon and Jeremiah so that I am not excluding those books as potential teaching material just because I am unfamiliar with them.  At the moment for the same reason I am working my way more slowly through Deuteronomy and will then move on to Zechariah.

The particular advantage with doing this is that there is no tyranny of the urgent.  I'm not studying it to teach just wanting to understand and hear what God has to say to me.  Sometimes that leads to a sermon series in the next year or two, sometimes it doesn't and is just good for me.  Jeremiah in particular was a real joy and help, and I am still working away on planning a sermon series on that brilliant but challenging prophet.  No doubt it will feature some time in the next five years, but I want to take time to think through how best to preach it, one long slog with breaks for Easter and Christmas?  Or a number of smaller series that take us through it over a number of years?  Though I fear that leads us to lose the melodic flow of a passage.  This longer term study provides the freedom to do just that without pressure.

Sometimes that methodology means I just have too many things I want to preach on.  This coming term I'd love to have preached on Jeremiah, but I'm not yet ready and I'm not sure the church is.  I'd love to have preached through Micah which I've also done some study of and 1 Peter, Jude and James.  We also have some series we are part way through in Acts and John which I am planning on finishing soon.  So what to preach this term and how to decide?

This coming term we will be preaching through Esther and the Ezra.  Why?  Well Esther has been on my mind and heart to preach for about 2 years now, but it has taken this long to study, meditate, prepare and plan so that I feel it will be a helpful series.  Esther helps us look at the struggle to live for God in a pagan culture that aggressively seeks to mould us and lead us to compromise our faith.  Esther and Mordecai are both prone to that but are used by God to save his people and build his kingdom because of God's grace.  It also encourages us to look of the providence of God.  Looking at our culture and the pressures we are facing this seems an apt study for us.  Especially that message that God by grace uses weak people who struggle to be distinctive for his glory.

Ezra focuses on the faithfulness of God to his promises and his beleaguered and discouraged people.  The returned exiles feel small, under pressure, opposed, and have compromised their faith.  And yet God graciously, sovereignly and miraculously works to restore worship and rebuild not just his temple but his praising people.  I can't wait to dive into all the encouragement and challenge we find in Ezra from October onwards.

Reaching the conclusion to preach on those two books has been the result of a number of things.  Looking at our church family and the pressures and circumstances we find ourselves in.  Looking at the prevailing culture and trying to discern how it seeks to shape us, challenge us and give us opportunities.  Praying for God's wisdom in what to preach as he knows both those in my care and our culture far better than I do.  And using some tools (see right) to see where our past preaching has left us short in terms of hearing the whole counsel of God.

I'd love to know how other's pick their series what tools they use and so on as I'm sure there is much still to learn.

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