Deciding what to preach - some ideas

I'm a big fan of expository preaching. In fact I'm such a fan that I began the Wikipedia article on it that I have just linked to (my first version is here).

I like the idea of exposition because the Bible, rather than the preacher or the congregation, determine the content and message that is being preached.

Or does it?

What if the congregation really needs teaching on a particular issue? I'm not talking about how to raise a godly family or the six steps of success here - I'm talking about things like understanding exactly what sin is, or what Jesus did on the cross, and so on.

In most churches that practice expository preaching, it is the preacher who actually determines the passages and the books being studied. A preacher might preach through the book of Genesis, and then 1 Peter, and then some Psalms, and so on.

So even though it is the Bible being preached, there is some level in which the preaching programme is still determined by the choices of man. It's all very well to have a message preached on the book of Genesis, but what if the congregation needs to hear Leviticus preached instead? Both are the word of God, to be sure (and God will work when his word is being preached), but it may be that the decisions of man, even when he is well informed, may prevent the congregation from being encouraged and nurtured in the best way possible through the preaching.

I have three suggestions.

The first is that, when the time comes to choose a sermon series, then the book being studied is determined randomly. It would be the same as casting lots. Leaving it up to "chance" is not what is being talked about here, since God is sovereign. If we assume that God is sovereign then leaving the preaching programme up to God's choice - as per random selection - seems to work well in my book. All this would involve is putting the name of each book of the bible onto a piece of paper. Then you remove the bible books that have been preached through in the last five years. Then, after the paper in hat has been mixed thoroughly, a person comes along and picks a bit of paper out to determine what the next sermon series will be about. This may be modified by having a 50/50 split between OT and NT books preached upon (although I prefer not to). Other forms of random selection, including the use of computer random number generation, can be used instead of the "pull out of the hat" method (the important thing is that the choice is random, not the manner of how it is achieved)

The second suggestion is based upon the first, but allows some leeway into people's preferences - including the preacher's. The preacher, who (in theory) knows the Bible better than the rest of the congregation, chooses to preach on a certain book. When the next sermon series comes up, the decision on which book of the bible is preached upon is determined by the congregation (but still preached on by the preacher). Moreover, random selection (as per suggestion one) is also used. Essentially the programme would involve one sermon series determined by the preacher, one series determined by the congregation, and two series determined by random selection.

The third suggestion is that the church's preaching programme be subjected at some level to an external source. This would be similar to what has occurred in the past when churches in a particular denomination would preach through bible books based on a lectionary. I'm not saying that this should be the case all the time (as per traditional methods of lectionary readings and studies), but maybe one sermon series per year (or two years) be based upon this method. Denominational leaders could encourage this by giving their churches material and areas of thinking and debate, allowing up-to-the-minute expertise on the book being studied (and available free via downloads, with ongoing discussion at an online forum). Having a sermon series determined externally could be included in suggestion two above, and would involve a sermon series determined by the preacher, one determined by the congregation, one externally, and three determined randomly (I like the random method if you haven't guessed).

I think this is an important idea and should be considered seriously by all churches and preachers. Preachers do have the responsibility of teaching the people of God the Word of God. Yet their expertise in certain areas of theology or biblical studies and their own biases and attitudes could, in fact, result in a lop-sided exposition programme. It is important that preachers get "out of their comfort zone" and be forced to interact with books of the bible that they may be unfamiliar with. It is important that the congregation have some say in which books of the bible they would like to study, thus affirming their responsibility for their own spiritual growth. It is important that the wider church of God have some input in an individual church's exposition programme, to allow the wisdom and the needs of the many to inform the few. Moreover, it is also important that we trust that God's determining will allows for the casting of lots, or the roll of the dice, or the picking out of a hat, or the binary digits that make up a computerised random number generator.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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