In January at Raintree, we’ll be starting our first whole book of the Bible to go through together. Now because this is our first whole book to go through since I’ve been here, and because I think it’s important, I want to share why it’s my conviction to spend most of our time as a church going verse-by-verse through books of the Bible or portions of books of the Bible. What we are committed to is also called “Expository” preaching, meaning the shape and emphasis of the sermon comes directly from the shape and emphasis of the text! These are some reasons we do this, and reasons I would encourage any pastor to do the same!
- It will help ensure that we hear from God, not from the preacher. I don’t ever want to come to the people with my own ideas of truth. I’m somewhat creative, and could come up with neat statements that are probably true, but “probably true” isn’t good enough. The only way to guarantee that you’re hearing from God as opposed to hearing from the pastor, is by looking directly at what God has said, and ALL of what he has said.
- It will teach us to be God-centered as opposed to man-centered. It’s not all about giving you a few, really helpful, life-thoughts that you can take with you. It’s not just about “getting something out of it.” It’s about God! We cannot give in to our consumer culture and aim everything at the person and ignore objective truths that matter greatly! Ultimately, by making this all about the people, we’re undermining the Gospel, which is all about God’s great glory.
- We’ll emphasize what God emphasizes. It’s easy to paint Christianity the way we like it, instead of the way God has declared it to be! I want to emphasize what God emphasizes in His Word, as opposed to emphasizing what I like best about the Word tells us. This is why we need all of it.
- It will help us understand context. Context is so important in determining meaning. Context must always be considered in seeing what a passage really means, so obviously working our way through a book or portion of a book will help us to understand what’s happening in and around the passage we’re looking at.
- We can’t skip the hard parts. This might be my favorite reason for verse-by-verse preaching. Going through a whole book forces us to deal even with hard-to-understand texts. We can’t avoid the hard questions, or the controversial ones. My goal is that any member of Raintree who’s here now, in 10-20 years would not be able to say, “Our pastor never talked about that text.” Even if we haven’t gone through it, I want our members to know that we probably will in the near future!
- It teaches people how to study the Bible on their own. Those who’ve never read the Bible on their own, or even those who have but struggle understanding it, will be encouraged to see how to read and understand a passage. This, inevitably, will help people be willing to try reading it on their own.
- God’s Word is our tool for reaching the community. The Bible is the primary tool the Holy Spirit uses to transform lives. You may think, “Ryan, you have to meet people where they are.” But God’s Word does just that! Our greatest chance for seeing real life-change, and yes, people truly coming to the faith, is with the Word of God. One of the most unusual objections I’ve heard to deep teaching of the text each week was, “But Sunday morning isn’t for the congregation; this is for the lost. Growing Christians feed themselves. We need to aim everything at meeting non-Christians and guests where they’re at.”
I know the intentions behind this comment were so good. People that think like this truly do desire to reach lost people, or at least the ones I’ve met do. The problem is that this thought ignores the way the church works according to Scripture. We gather for the purpose of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). In context, my job as pastor is to see to the spiritual growth of the flock through the Word of God. The flock, in turn, is equipped for the ministry. They’re equipped and built up and inspired and growing in their faith so much that they can’t help but speak the Gospel to their friends, neighbors, and coworkers. It’s a “fire shut up in my bones… I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot!” (Jeremiah 20:9).
The church is not primarily a come-and-see event where we see people come to the faith, even though this will happen. Primarily, the church is a community where we gather, are built up, and then GO and share with those outside the building. The only way to truly be equipped, according to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, is with the Word of God, and all of it.
If we preach the Word, verse-by-verse, in context, the Gospel will spill out like water in an overflowing bucket. The Gospel will spill out because the Bible, from beginning to end, is all about the Gospel. It’s one story, from Genesis to Revelation. Why not focus on the one thing that’s a guarantee, the one thing that God has promised will not return void: His Word!
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”