Just Pick A Book, Any Book…

April 15, 2008

I’m sure many pastors who have agonised over ‘what to preach next’ might be somewhat startled by the following quote. Mark Dever writes,

“Generally, I do not choose a series of expositional sermosn because of particular topics that I think the church needs to hear about. Rather, I assume that all of the Bible is relevant to us all of the time. Now, I trust that God may lead to some particular books, but very often when I’m working on a text and reading through it in my quiet times the week before preaching, and working with it very seriously on the Friday, there will be things that I find in it that I didn’t expect to find at all.”
(Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, p 40)

So what do you think: should we be less intentional about what we choose to preach on?



  1. I am so pleased to see Mark’s comment, because I have long felt somewhat guilty about my lack of “discipline” in picking the particular biblical book that I will be preaching through for the coming months or year!

    Since this is a fairly anonymous comment, I can further confess that sometimes I am drawn to preach through a book primarily because I just bought a great new commentary that I want to work through. That doesn’t sound very spiritual — I don’t spend weeks in prayer, struggling over what my people need — but Mark is right! Every passage of scripture carries within it its own relevance.

    Furthermore, even when I approach a book with great trepidation (as I did Isaiah a few years ago, wondering how I would ever make such a long book “preach”), it suddenly becomes “my favorite Book in the Bible” as I get into it. In fact, each book that I preach through becomes my favorite book for that period of time! It is so cool simply to “listen to the text” and ask what God is trying to say to me and my people from it!

  2. I’m probably more like Mark than not, though I try to go for some variety, by alternating between OT & NT, trying to do the opposite of what we’re doing in the AM in the PM.

    It’s easy to fall into a rut and only preach epistles, etc.

    I also like variety of genre, which is why I went OT Narrative (Genesis) to NT Epistle (Romans).

    I like Mark’s Nike approach … Just do it!

  3. There is part of me that wants to agree with that. It sounds “spiritual.” On the other hand, it also sounds like the old technique of closing one’s eyes, opening the Bible and pointing at a verse & using that as God’s message to me today. That makes me VERY uncomfortable. Like we are presuming on God. God, I am not going to use the judgment, experience and discernment you have given me to know which parts of your Word our body needs at this moment. I am just going to randomly pick & trust that you will somehow make it relevant. That may overstate the case, but I think that is the core of that philosophy. I would at a minimum be very cautious about it. Just a thought.

  4. Although I spent my formative Christian years in a non-liturgical setting, I have really come to appreciate the value of a following a lectionary for readings and preaching. The link to the seasons in the Church year is of benefit to parishioners, who can also read the texts for the next week’s sermon in advance. In addition, it can be a good corrective for preachers who are inspired to preach the same texts or topics over and over.

  5. After 16 years of lectionary preaching, I turned to expository (and occasiuonal topical) series a decade ago when I realized how much I was not exposing my congregation to and how fragmented a lectionary approach had become. I also noticed that my hero Luther, while he stuck to the lectionary on Sundays, preached continuously through books of the Bible the rest of the week, assigning sections of the canon to different days. Since I usually preach only on Sundays, I surrendered the lectionary in the interest of wider exposure.

    Two years ago, attending the Evangelical Ministers Assembly in London, I heard wonderful advice from Peter Adam of Australia. Look at the Bible as a great apothecary (we’d say drugstore)–each book a specific medicine designed for a specific ailment. Then prayerfully diagnose your congregation, to determine the right medicine. That, mixed with what book or section I’m reading and passionate about, has proved to be pretty good approach.

  6. Once again, I think it comes back to balance. I have two meetings to preach, and I do expository ministry at one, and individual ‘entry-level’ messages at the other which are more evangelistic.

    But a few weeks ago I was beginning to feel stale in my exposition, and so I’m taking a few weeks to deal with one or two topics that have arisen in church life. I will do this by taking a passage and expounding it, of course!

    I fear we can become too hide-bound trying to define everything to the nth degree. Preaching differs. Expository preaching differs widely from one preacher to another. But it is all preaching!

  7. I don’t read this as Dever saying he doesn’t preach to things he feels the church needs to hear – I read this as his saying he does not pick his series based on that. I don’t take this to mean that issues the church needs to hear are not addressed. Nor do I read any arrogance or a careless attitude in him saying that he assumes relevance in all the Bible.

    My pastor doesn’t preach his expository series on what he feels the church “needs to hear about” either. He preaches through a book with an expository approach. It may take alot of time, however – because he will “suspend” a series based on the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We just spent a bit over two years covering Matthew. We are just now beginning Romans.
    As a volunteer with the audio ministry, I can tell you there is more than a handful of times I’ve made new labels because Pat has felt led to preach something other than what has been prepared.

  8. If I could respond to Cal’s comment: “On the other hand, it also sounds like the old technique of closing one’s eyes, opening the Bible and pointing at a verse & using that as God’s message to me today.”

    I can only relate my own experience which is anything BUT what you have described. By preaching through whole books I force myself to preach on passages that I would never pick on my own. And I, too, work hard to maintain a balance between Old and New Testaments, History, Prophets, Gospels, Epistles, etc. For example, the past two years I preached through Ephesians and then 2 Corinthians. Now, as I prepare for a series on Exodus, I am doing a few weeks on “random” passages throughout the Bible.

    This is very different from “rolling the dice” each Monday to figure out where I’m going to be this Sunday 🙂

  9. This is a good quote. I find that needs are addressed through serial expository preaching. Sometimes they are needs I was not even aware of. Other times, they just come up in the text and you address them, often in ways you would not have approached it if you tried to target the need by preaching on that topic.

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