A few years back I conducted a five week study of the book of Job for our Sunday morning messages. A new visitor was not impressed. “Job!?” he said. Are you kidding? Who picks something like that for Sunday morning sermons?” I got perturbed by the remark, then laughed about it, then had a doughnut and didn’t care anymore.
I guess to that visitor, our choice of Job was arbitrary at best. We must have played spin-the-bottle and it pointed there (Really it pointed to Esther, but I moved the bottle with my foot).
The whole process of choosing a book or subject may seem to be academic. Who really cares as long as it’s the Bible that’s being studied? The choice seems random. Still, there is something to choosing wisely what book of the Bible your church will travel through, especially if it will be for a protracted period.
This is not to suggest that some books are a poor pick for study. Jesus said, “The Scriptures…bear witness concerning Me” (John 5:39). All of them can potentially lead you into some form of kingdom living, truth, mission, and conformity to Christ. But they don’t do it the same way. Commitment to a book of the Bible is like choosing a route on MapQuest. Would you rather take the simpler but longer back road, the longer but faster expressway, the more complex short cut, the big high scary bridge, or the scenic route? The point is, all these routes affect us who travel them, in different ways. There will be transformational effects, inspirations, convictions. Needs will be directly met, encouragement supplied, motivation granted, recalibration on kingdom mission, reminders about Jesus-living. Something is going to happen. Make no mistake about that.
First, the preachers start sightseeing. When we study a book of the Bible at our church (especially for preaching), we drive back and forth on its roadway. Though I do most of the preaching, we have a rotation of ministers who are required to go through a three week process for any message they give. The first week involves nothing but immersion in the verses, and reading the section, chapter, and book repeatedly. The second week involves a peer vetting process. That’s where the scheduled preacher brings in a rough outline that goes through a gauntlet composed of all the rest of us. Sometimes we’re nice. Mostly we interrogate the outline and twist it inside out. It’s sort of like a bunch of kids jumping on a new mattress. We also consider a few commentaries and illustrations. The third and final week involves considering how to communicate what we’ve seen from that particular part of the Bible. You can bet that the guys who prepare to minister get some serious exposure to the passage they’re studying. Ideally, they’ll be saying “Thank you, Lord, you’re awesome” or “I’m sorry, Lord, I’m a sinner” before anyone else.
The moment of truth comes and lasts for about 40 minutes. You haven’t heard of us, so you know we’re not celebrity preachers. None of us are hilariously funny, or knock-out powerful. We’re not You-Tube stars. Even if the message is good, it never goes viral. We do our best. During that 40 minutes, listeners either get touched, convicted, or inspired. Sometimes they also get bored and have been known to catch cat naps. Yeah, I know. We shouldn’t quit our day jobs (too late for me, though). Still, the people in that room and the handful who listen online (our mothers, friends, and whoever else we’ve badgered into listening) interact with the verses we’ve covered. For better or worse, they confront the counsel of God. They won’t be able to stand in front of Christ one day and say they never heard the Bible presented with integrity. We did our best to get out of the way and let the word came forth through the illustrations of Paul, the warnings of Peter, or the profundity of John. It came through prophecies, or gospels, parables or histories. Whatever the case, God spoke in a specific, highly particular way.
It isn’t over, yet. Thank goodness. In the week following, the small groups read the passage again, take the sermon, tear it open, examine it, and ask questions. Rather than a dish served up to passive listeners on Sunday, the word becomes like a basketball passed around the court from player to player. The cool part is that the verses might come from areas of the Bible not very well traveled . It could be the first time our folks have thought very deeply about them.
We’re about to finish 1 Corinthians. Part of the determination to go through that book back in January of 2013 stemmed from the fact that our church is so young (Average age is about 26). Conceptually at least, that makes our people more susceptible to the current flotsam of culture, stuff that seriously retards the developing image of Christ in a believer. 1 Corinthians is counter-cultural in a lot of ways—from sex to marriage to spiritual gifts, to gender roles. It takes a route that Galatians doesn’t take, or Philippians. We’re polishing off the fifteenth chapter of the book. That means we’ve had to preach through some sensitive areas. The upside: people got introduced to how God feels on a wide range of issues. The downside: sometimes folks—even Christians—don’t want to know those things. At any rate, 1 Corinthians was like a handshake and an intro hug: “Hello, I’m God. I’d like you to meet Me…this way.”
Know what? I think we did.