7 Reasons I Think Pastors Should Preach Through Books of the Bible

(Lisa Robinson)

I’ve been exposed to a variety of preaching, from the very topical where a new subject is introduced each week, to series on a topic or on a series of going through an entire book of the bible.   I’m sure every pastor has their preference but if the goal is to equip the body for the work of ministry, I think going through whole books of the bible is the best way.  I’m sure there are other lists out there, but here are my reasons;

1)  It connects the narrative or letter to the whole meta-narrative of scripture from Genesis to Revelation.  This is really what we should want people to understand anyway.  No matter what book it is, the pastor will be forced to make correlations to give a fair and honest treatment to the book.  A good systematized topical study may be able provide this treatment, when done thoughtfully and that does require several sessions regardless of the topic.  It would be most difficult to do this in a topical, week-by-week sermon.

2)  It anchors the congregation in one theme of thought for an extended period of time.   The biblical writers had a particular theme when writing in a particular genre to a particular audience.  Going from start to finish through one book is able to better capture the author’s purpose and give an appreciation for a fuller development of understanding.  As stated, in #1, making to connections to the biblical meta-narrative is key and necessary.  This is in contrast to the new-topic-every-week.  A steady diet of this keeps people bouncing around and grasping for whatever they can to help them out, and ultimately does a disservice.

3)  It treats the bible as it should be treated as a complete revelation of God instead of a self-help guide or manual for living.  In this day and age, where contemporary Evangelicalism has been drawn to pragmatism with instantaneous results, people are already prone to grab for verses that will help out their life concerns.   Application is important, but not without an understanding of the foundation.

4)  It teaches people how to approach scripture on their own.  It’s a case of monkey-see-monkey-do.  When people are exposed to methodically going through a whole book, this is what they will most likely emulate.  If they are exposed to explanation of what the author is communicating and how that connects to the complete meta-narrative, it will influence how they approach scripture.  On the other hand, if people are exposed to finding a topic, then finding supporting passages, it teaches them to go home and do the same, most likely ignoring the context.

5)  It keeps the pastor from focusing on pet agendas.  Of course, this depends on the person and their agenda.  It is possible that one can find a pet agenda in a book, but I think made a little more difficult than just giving a topical treatment to a subject.

6)  It keeps the pastor grounded in their task to connect people to God’s word in ways that are interesting.  I recall one pastor telling me that going through books of the bible bores people and doesn’t require much work.  On the contrary, it requires a tremendous amount of work to study the background, in some cases the original language, the complete theme of the book and how to divide it up into a series.   The really thoughtful pastor will ascribe an interesting name to the series that is in line with the theme of the books. This should keep the pastor humble and thoughtful in the care of the congregation as well as reliant on the Holy Spirit.

7)  It confronts everyone with hard truths.  Let’s be honest, there are parts of the bible that we would rather avoid.  But when going through the bible a book at a time, that is hard to avoid.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to topical teaching.  But in the grand scheme of things, if people are to learn about God on his terms, preaching through books at a time is the best way to go.

33 Responses to “7 Reasons I Think Pastors Should Preach Through Books of the Bible”

  1. Great reasons.

    In a way, it is easier to do since you don’t have to figure out what to speak on.

    Doing a thorough job is always harder than the stuff that most pastors seem to put out.

  2. I would go even farther, and say that pastors should be teaching their congregations how to study the Bible for themselves. I was in doctrinally-sound churches for fifteen years while learning very little about the Bible, even though I wanted to understand the Bible. I asked pastors, elders, and home group leaders how to learn to study the Bible, and all they ever offered was the suggestion to get a devotions book, or an invitation to a Beth Moore class (which is still someone else teaching what she’s learned). I kept praying and asking God to help me, though, and step by step, as I was ready, He did. Virtually everything I learned about studying the Bible, though, was learned outside the institutional church. Regularly, I meet people who have been evangelical Christians their entire lives, and they’re pretty much Biblically illiterate, except for knowing verses here and there. When they start learning how to study, they’re astounded and wonder why their church hasn’t taught…

  3. Kaycee, many churches don’t teach how to study the Bible for themselves because that is viewed as a threat to the leadership or an invasion of the role of the leadership.They want the congregation to remain perpetually dependent on the leadership While Protestants have not formalized as rigid a doctrine of episcopal monopoly/oligopoly on the truth as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have, but the same idea is still there.

  4. This why I so appreciate those that do teach this way, because they get what the Bible means in context, no matter what denomination or opinion we might personally choose . That to me, at least, speaks more about real unity in the Body then anything else.

  5. Michael Karpf May 21, 2012 at 12:13 am

    I still think Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in 2 Tim 4:1-5 is still the charge for anyone ministering the word of God, to “Preach the Word.” Preach the whole counsel of God. It is hard work, but I cannot find anything more rewarding than teaching/preaching God’s word. My counsel to anyone preaching is to spend your time in the text. You will always have that to fall back on if you forget anything else. I could say much more, but I believe we still have to responsibility to preach the whole counsel of God.

  6. We use the 3 year lectionary cycle. Everything gets READ in our worship services.(an Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm, and Gospel text)

    But the pastor is free to PREACH on anything. The pastor usually preaches the law and the gospel (the whole council of God).

    A good rule of thumb is not to necessarily pull the text off the page…but rather to pull the gospel out of text and preach that. (because of Romans 1:16)


  7. We have been going to a Calvary Chapel for the past couple of years.This denomination was started by Chuck Smith who offers free booklets on his testimony and why he started teaching Book by Book, verse by verse, not skipping any of it. He said something like this…when he was first Pastoring, he became very frustrated because he was taught to preach salvation, yet his congregation was saved, he started teaching programs on witnessing, but all the programs he started got him more frustrated. But when he started teaching a Book verse by verse, essentially his congregation “became” the witness.

    I also personally have found that the very best teachers do teach all of the Bible. I believe with all my heart that the Bible should be taken whole. Cutting and pasting is all some churches ever get taught. But oh how great when one gets the whole Bible taught. Understanding, wisdom, knowledge ever increases, as the Holy Spirit reveals His Truth and Revelation to us, in our hearts.

  8. Robert Eaglestone May 21, 2012 at 8:24 am

    Preaching through books of the Bible has great benefit. How many times has a preacher I’ve known found topics within the text for the week to camp on, which was particularly appropriate for the congregation at that time!

    @Kaycee: small-group Bible studies, typically offered by and held in many churches everywhere, can be a good place to learn to self-feed. The smaller group size makes it open to input from everyone and is less intimidating.

  9. Honest question about the original post: What is the difference between that preaching model and Bible study?

  10. Lisa, I agree with all of your points, and I myself prefer such an approach, whether I’m listening or speaking.

    The downside is that expository preaching can become a source of spiritual pride – “We’re better because we preach the RIGHT way, and YOU don’t!” I’ve actually seen it used as a test of fellowship. Bro.

    There is a place for topical preaching/teaching. After all, systematic theology itself is based on choosing a topic and pulling together passages from all over the Bible to get an overall sense of what God is saying about a specific topic. We also see that in the arguments offered by Paul and other biblical writers.

  11. Michael Karpf May 22, 2012 at 2:02 am

    I like the comments I have read here. Karen, I do believe the Bible needs to be taken as a whole. We should not “cut and paste.”
    Dave Z, there is a place for topical preaching/teaching. Systematic theology is based on pulling together passages in the Bible to get a sense of what God is saying. It is a lot of work, but it is very rewarding. And however you preach; topically or expository, it should never be a source of pride. God can use all of us. I was taught expository preaching in seminary, but we also learned topical preaching as well.
    And we should teach others how to study their Bible. We need to be like the Berean Christians who studied the word to see if what they were taught really is true (Acts 17:11)

  12. What should one’s response be when your church decidedly avoids this style of preaching? The obvious answer might be to just leave the church, but should this be an issue that causes divisiveness? I agree wholeheartedly with all the points made in the article, but am saddened and frustrated to be part of a church that doesn’t seem to view these issues as particularly important. Any advice?

  13. Lisa Robinson May 22, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Irene, preaching involves a one-way communication to an audience. Ideally, the preacher will want to convey biblical truths in a way that is honest to the text and connects with the audience so that they will apply it to their lives. Bible study is more about digging into the text to understand what the author is communicating. It is more likely to be interactive as people ask questions about what is going on. Ideally, it is going through a book or a topic and striving to understand what the text is communicating. But that does not mean it is always treated that way. I’ve seen bible studies that were nothing more than sermons in disguise, which is not a bible study. Does that help?

  14. Lisa Robinson May 22, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Dan, that is an interesting question. I think one of the criteria is if teaching prompts growth. While topical teaching is not ideal, it can still provoke growth in some manner. But I would contend that cherry picking verses to support a topic is really hard pressed to give people what they need.

  15. Lisa Robinson May 22, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Dave, I agree that there is a place for topical teaching. But it really should involve understanding a biblical theology of a topic, meaning identifying what the whole counsel of scripture says on a topic and then doing a series on that. That is different that selecting a topic and finding verses to support it, especially if the context of those verses is ignored.

  16. Lisa, thanks for your response…it’s very helpful to me as I continue to evaluate my relationship with God and my church. I’m continually frustrated because “cherry picking verses to support a topic” describes virtually all the sermons at my church. It’s hard for me to ponder leaving a church over reasons that have less to do with doctrine and theology than with methodology and priorities. I realize that God can and does work through all kinds of people and circumstances, so I’m extraordinarily hesitant to “jump ship” because of what many people would view as merely a subjective differences of style. But when the kind of comprehensive biblical teaching you outline in your post is completely absent within a church it becomes increasingly difficult to justify staying. You can only eat junk food for so long before you need to sit down to a well-balanced meal.

  17. Jim Beukelman May 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I began preaching through books about 5 years ago and have no desire to go back. One of the main benefits has been my ability to now trust in God’s word to speak to the needs of the congregation. When preaching topically, I often found myself worried about addressing what the congregation wanted to hear and also fearful of touching subjects that may make people uncomfortable. When preaching through books, I have no choice but to cover what the word says…regardless of the perceived consequences the word may bring. This has been a great release for me. When someone complains of the word, “stepping on their toes” or “speaking right at him” it is understood that the word was not chosen by the preacher for them, but was placed there in God’s word by the Holy Spirit for them in this time of need. Our congregation has grown spiritually and numerically in this environment. It is easier for me to come up with what to preach about…the word is laid out for months in advance! It’s…

  18. Jim Beukelman May 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    never boring.

  19. Jim,

    Glad you are doing that. What I think is also valuable, other than the obvious things that you already pointed out, is that way there is a uniformity in preaching throughout the Body, that I believe is sorely needed to end a lot of unnecessary disagreement in the church that exists nowadays simply because of a lack of understanding of the whole counsel of God.

  20. Do you think you would still recommend preaching through books of the Bible for a Children’s ministry pastor or a youth pastor?

  21. But they need to GO FASTER.

    How many years have most of us sat in the same church?

    Now how many chapters are in the ENTIRE BIBLE?

    If you do on chapter per week, you are fooling yourself, and you (as the preacher) are never going to preach the whole counsel…

    IMHO if you take more than 3 weeks on a book like Romans, you are delusional. The book was a letter.

    Can you teach it all in three weeks? No. Can you teach it ALL in 45 min. chunks EVER? NO!

    Sunday can’t be THE place for someone’s study of the Bible, it just can’t. If you’re trying to teach “enough” for someone who does nothing on their own Sunday to Sunday, forget it, you can’t. I think, don’t try.

    Cover books, but spread them around, pick books with different themes. Encourage study at home, provide blogs, handouts, videos, books, for your people, but don’t think you can teach a book of the NT adequately in a Sunday AM format, it’s just not going to happen. Overview books, teach thematically, draw…

  22. I recently started attending a church that go’s through whole books of the Bible..we are in Acts now. I would add the following points to what the author said.

    1. He touched on this, but it promotes unity, everyone in the congregation is literally on the same page. Sitting under constant topical preaching I tended to zone out some times when it was a topic I was not interested in or thought I have heard a thousand times already.

    2. It brings the Pastors down to proper size, what I mean under topical preaching I think there is a danger of exalting the preacher..he is the one who is receiving exclusive communication from God to disseminate to the masses. People tend to start praising the pastors ability to pick great topics instead of the word of God.

    3. It empowers the congregation, we lean to wrestle with scripture.

  23. Lisa Robinson May 28, 2012 at 9:49 am

    The author is a she not a he :)

    I love those additional points, especially #2. I’ve seen that happen so many times where the pastor gets elevated because of the ability to deliver a good message around a topic that may also include some foundational discrepancies.

  24. @ Lisa Opps! Charge it to my head not my heart lol

  25. @Lisa #14:

    Yes, thanks, that does help some. I see you are looking at other factors too like the purpose of the sermon/talk/study—whether the object is salvation or knowledge.

  26. Faith comes from hearing the word of God. The Jews of Jesus’ day exchanged the word of God for the commandments of men and ended up murdering the Word-Made-Flesh, the Son of God. Tragically, today’s church leaders have followed the same path to apostasy. The Lord has revealed to me a remedy which will revive the churches and help prepair the Bride for Jesus’ return. -The Scriptures are more than reference books for lengthy sermons and sparsely attended midweek and pre-service Bible studies. They are the very words of God passed onto us by His holy prophets and apostles, and through them our spiritual birth in Christ Jesus is facilitated. Churchgoers need and deserve to hear more of them. -From the First to about the Fifth Century most churches devoted more than an hour per service to the public reading of Scripture. If you want the Holy Spirit to operate in your church, you must be willing to hear His voice, -and to obey it! I recommend that churches read through the Bible during their services; completing the New Testament once each year, and the Old Testament about once every five years. Those who do the readings should only be skilled orators.

  27. C Michael Patton August 10, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Where have u been Lisa? Please call or email me.

  28. I agree 100% and you explained your points perfectly, couldn’t have said it better.

    I understand or connect the dots much better when I can start at the beginning. I also think it teaches a sense of patience because the Bible explains itself but often not in the very next verse so you have to continue reading & studying to the end. We tend to want to get the answer sooner than later and say “If you could package all that info for me so I don’t have to spend hours searching it out myself, even better”. The Bible is not a secular book, but in the same way you would not jump all over in a secular book and expect to understand it all or at least have a somewhat accurate understanding, so we should not expect to have a clear understanding either if our goal is to study the Bible.

    I’m actually more suspicious when Pastors/Churches never endeavor to read from cover to cover but it’s always specific parts of the Bible while certain sections are avoided completely.

    I think if churches did less “stuff” and concentrated less on how to get more people (often time the world) into the church building and devoted more time to equipping the church body with the Truth we’d look and act more like Christ’s church for His glory.

  29. Lisa , this is waht I’ve been looking for.
    Very well aticulated. incidentally i’ve been pondering on the best approach to preaching for my congregation and the book by book approach has always crossed my mind,but I had doubts about its application. like many people i always thought it would be boring and tedious but after reading through all the comments on your blog I am confident that its the best way to go and I’ve started working on it immedaitely,begining in the book of Mathew. I would appreciate more information on the practical approach to preaching from entire books.


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