“There is more than one way to skin a cat”. Now I have no idea why you would need a variety of ways to skin a cat, but I am sure that is true. No, this is not a blog entry about animal cruelty; it is about how you might preach on a book of the Bible.
My pattern as a preacher is usually to work through a book of the Bible from beginning to end through consecutive sermons. So at All Nations, we usually have sermon series of somewhere between 5 and 10 sermons at a time on a particular book or topic. But one of the biggest problems for preachers who preach through a Bible book is where to break up the book you are looking at.
Many of the books of the Bible were, undoubtedly, intended to be read through in one hit. The New Testament letters, for example, were to be read aloud to the churches they were addressed to. Many of the listeners would not be literate so would be dependent on the reading and teaching publicly, and they would be unlikely to actually possess part of the Bible themselves for their own close study in any case. But for the modern preacher, preaching to people who are well educated and have the Bible themselves, preaching on a book in one hit is very difficult. There is just so much content, and preaching on such large slabs might get the main point across but you cannot spend long enough on the individual issues.
A traditional style of preaching in Reformation-type churches is to preach on one phrase, or on just one word at times. The preacher attempts to draw out the whole counsel of God on that phrase or word. This has the advantage of covering all there is in the book, but it has some serious drawbacks. The main one is that it is very difficult to cover the context of the verse well in this kind of sermon, and you do tend to get a great deal of time in illustration and implications and less in the text. It is more dependent on the preacher and his skill and theological knowledge to keep it on track. It doesn’t really help the average believer to understand how to use the Bible for themselves very well.
I tend to preach on larger chunks. I spend a few days with a printout of the book, working through it slowly, looking for turning points in the argument, trying to keep major ideas together. Usually I end up with larger chunks doing it this way – sometimes I have had several chapters together in Old Testament passages. In 1 Peter, the current sermon series, some of the sermons are on a chapter, others on 10 verses or so. And as I work through the passages in detail for the actual sermon preparation each week, sometimes it is frustrating that I cannot expand on everything or say all there is to say. But the payoff is that I hope the listeners get the main point as Peter wanted it delivered, not as I would like to deliver it. And I can show them a model of how to approach a text responsibly, working through the main points, and drawing out the illustrations.
This is not the only way to do it! You can responsibly preach 1 Peter in 25 sermons instead of the 7 I am planning. The key is to split it at sections dealing with a different thought, otherwise you may end up with a lot of sermons in a row essentially saying the same thing as they are from the same letter.
Sermons are more than a preacher picking a favourite text and then drawing three simple truths out and telling some stories! Well, at least they should be. Responsible preaching should get the purpose of the original writer across well, apply it today, and show how the it relates to the main message of the Bible: the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.