Yes, to Preaching Bigger Sections

October 5, 2009

You could get the impression from some expository theorists that the only way to preach through a book is 7 to 12 verses at a time. Exceeding that length is unhelpful, so it is claimed.

My recent experience has been challenging that assumption, however.

Here in Ballymoney, we are currently working through Mark’s gospel at a rapid pace. It probably fits Mark’s racing style that we aren’t meandering one pericope at a time! We are instead striding across two, three or even four pericopes per sermon.

Of course, there are disadvantages of this. We cannot give  the congregation a word study on every verse. We certainly cannot follow every rabbit trail to its conclusion. In yesterday’s sermon on Mark 3:7-35, I had to *briefly* cover matters such as the unforgivable sin (3:29-30); similarly, I could not explore the identity of the twelve appointed apostles in detail (3:17-19).

On the plus side though, covering larger amounts of text helped me see more clearly the flow of Mark’s narrative. When examining singular stories in isolation, it is harder (though not impossible) to see the connections between different chunks of narrative.

For example: chapter 3 as a whole has the pervading theme of the “crowds”; crowds who constantly clamour around Jesus (3:7-12; 20). Yet sandwiched within these crowded scenes is Jesus removing Himself to a mountain and appointing the twelve apostles (3:13-19). Looked at things with the wide-angled lens, we see that amidst the pressurised atmosphere of the multitudes, it was the Christ, not the crowds, who was still setting the agenda.

When preaching bigger sections, we may not be exegeting every word so closely. But we are exegeting the context and structure of the book in a much more careful way.


  1. One of my most thrilling series was doing Luke 9-19 in eight steps, about 60-70 verses a time – brilliant and all the familiar sections made much more sense in their contexts.

  2. I couldn’t agree more — particularly with narratives such as the gospels and OT historical books.

  3. I like to preach both ways but I agree with your assessment of the advantages of the overview approach for our study and that of our hearers as well. Thanks for sharing.

  4. By contrast…I’m crawling through the book of Ruth in 7 studies.

  5. Last year I preached the structure of Romans chapters 1 to 11 (although I really only preached 1 to 8) in a single sermon as a prelude to 7 sermons in chapters 12-16. I am all for preaching structure in the right context, but not too often.

  6. […] Yes, to Preaching Bigger Sections […]

  7. I think that preaching too long in a book is not a good idea. You ought to be able to get the message across in under 3 months. People arent going to live forever. It’s a disservice to your flock to make them wait forever for you to finish a book. Those teachers who go on for 6 months or even several years in any one book are depriving their students/flock of many other books they could be learning. While the sermons end up quite detailed, I think God wants them to sit down and read His word for themselves to allow Him to speak to them in their own needs. They can do this easier on their own if you just take them over the lay of the land and it will encourage them to read it themselves for deeper details. This way you can cover many more books of the bible.

  8. I like the idea of covering face paced Mark with a matching series that covers largers chunks of narrative Scripture. I have certainly stay too long in a book series in the past.

    Presently I am preaching paragraph by paragraph through Ephesians on Sunday evenings and the congregation is staying with engaged. I try to give a variety of different kinds of sermons in the Sunday morning service which has helped the series on Sunday evening to stay interesting. Thanks for the good post.

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