In one of several interviews with Alistair Begg, I asked if he followed a strict order of explanation, illustration, and application when preparing a sermon. Begg replied, “I’m a bit of a menace to expository preachers.” Begg is hardly a menace, yet what he means is he doesn’t think rigidly through the elements of an expository sermon. I will show my hand early on in the article and say that I understand Begg’s assertion. I am probably more of a menace to preachers regarding planning your preaching than an example. It’s not that I don’t have a plan; I just don’t sit down at the first of the year and map out a strict journey in the pulpit for the coming year. Respectfully, I am a planner; one has to be to shepherd a church. My planning, however, is more quarterly than yearly. I plan my preaching series with these three motivating reasons in mind:
1. I want the church to be exposed to the different genres of Scripture.
I am careful to plan an Old Testament study on Wednesday night and a New Testament study on Sunday morning. Not only do I hope to encourage the church to read both Testaments as a book, but I also want to expose the creativity of God through different literary genres. One quarter I’ll teach three of the Minor Prophets. During that study, I want to pay close attention to what is going on in the body of Christ and in their twenty-first century world. If I have the entire year planned out for Wednesday evening and the people encounter a crisis, I want to be able to shift gears and plan the next quarter accordingly. This way I don’t feel like I am driving my agenda; instead, it seems more pastoral to keep my hand on the pulse of the people every quarter.
2. I need to practice different styles of expositional preaching in order to be a better preacher.
Dr. Steven J. Lawson coins several styles of expositional preaching that should be practiced throughout the year. Sequential exposition is the stuff we cut our teeth on at Southwestern Seminary. Verse by verse preaching whereby we unfold the structure, substance, and spirit of the text. Sectional exposition is another style where the pastor-teacher chooses a section of Scripture to highlight the person, the work, or the teachings of Christ. I am currently leading the church through what I call signature passages in the Old Testament that point to the work of Christ leading up to Christmas. I am indeed a menace to holiday sermons so sectional exposition keeps me faithful to the text yet allows me to be seasonal. Other styles include doctrinal exposition and biographical exposition. This quarter by quarter variety keeps me fresh and in the text while all along avoiding a predictable style of exposition.
3. Quarterly planning limits my series and keeps my listeners engaged.
Admittedly I am not a Criswell or a Rogers. Those men had an extraordinary ability to keep the attention of their listeners for a year through the same book or letter. It just works better for me to limit a twenty-two-chapter book to fifteen sermons or less. Quarterly series free me to underscore a theme more effectively than a yearly study. I believe this adds more punch to my purpose. One might find Luke’s agenda in Luke 4:18–19 and tease those five purpose statements out in a three-month series.
Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 14:40, “But all things should be done decently and in order.” Sunday is coming, and so is a new quarter! “Discipline your self for the purpose of godliness” and plan your preaching.
Dr. Kelly B. Burton serves as the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Alba, Texas. He holds an MDiv with Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a DMin in Expository Preaching also from Southwestern. You may follow Kelly on Twitter at @swbtskelly.