Consecutive expository preaching has become vogue in many churches. I come from a background where it was not so common. In the Scottish Highlands, pastors tended to preach what the Lord “laid on their hearts and minds” each week. They were definitely expository sermons, yes, but they were not part of a months-long-series of sermons on one book, verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter. If one such series was being preached in, say, the morning service, usually the pastor would use the other sermon to preach on texts that had captivated or burdened him in the previous week. But the idea of having two long series (or even three if you include the midweek) running at the same time was rare and even frowned upon as “quenching the Spirit!”

George Whitefield

George Whitefield preaching outside

However, since coming to the USA, I’ve come to appreciate that there are significant advantages to this increasingly popular method of consecutive preaching:

  • The pastor and congregation are ‘stretched’ to preach on and hear about subjects that would not be normally chosen;
  • The preacher and hearers are immersed in one book of the Bible for many weeks and months;
  • It helps to keep passages in context;
  • It teaches people how to read and study their Bibles;
  • It provides a balanced diet and prevents pastors from sticking to their ‘hobby horses’;
  • The pastor does not need to agonize over his choice of text each week;
  • There does not need to be so much introduction and background given each week;
  • The overall argument or narrative of the book is better grasped and understood;
  • It helps people to see the overall plan of Scripture;
  • It encourages people to prepare ahead by reading and thinking about the passage;
  • It emphasizes the centrality and authority of Scripture.

Yes, many advantages, but let me now give you some tips on how to avoid the potential downsides:

  • Ensure that each sermon is complete in itself, rather than finishing this week what you didn’t finish last week;
  • The portion of Scripture for each sermon should not be too few verses, so that the series goes on too long, or too many, so that the preaching becomes shallow and superficial;
  • There should be a memorable theme and points for each sermon rather than simply making it a running commentary;
  • It may be helpful to read a related passage of Scripture rather than the same portion every week for many weeks;
  • Prayerfully consider the need for variation. For example, a series on a Pauline Epistle might be followed by a Gospel or an Old Testament narrative book;
  • Break the series from time to time to provide a change. Sometimes it may be wise to take a break for a few weeks or even months before returning to it;
  • Be prepared to preach on a text the Lord ‘lays on your heart’ even if it breaks the sermon series. Remain “open” to God’s direction each week.
  • Be conscious of your limitations. Few preachers can sustain their congregation’s interest in a long series of consecutive expository sermons, especially if two or more series are going on at the same time;
  • Before finally deciding to start a series, read the book through a few times and begin to map out preaching portions. This will also help you to decide if this is the right book and if your own gifts will stretch enough to take it on;
  • As starting a series is a major decision that will set the course of the congregation for a while, it may be wise to consult with some carefully chosen elders or mature Christians;
  • Try to avoid becoming a mere teacher or lecturer rather than a preacher;
  • There is no need for a long recap at the beginning of every sermon.
  • Remember to preach evangelistically to the lost before you, rather than just to build up the Christians in the congregation;

With these caveats in mind, I hope we will be better able to avoid some of the disadvantages of consecutive expository preaching, and use its advantages for the greater glory of God and the good of sinners.

More preaching tips like this in How Sermons Work.

  • D. Scott Meadows

    These comments are golden on the pros and cons of consecutive expository preaching. Very sage. Thanks!

    –D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
    Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
    Exeter, New Hampshire USA

  • Richard W. Daniels

    I agree with my old friend, Pastor Meadows.

  • Pete Scribner

    Great thoughts, Dr. Murray! Thanks so much for your wise perspective.

  • Anne

    As a listener, and not an expert on any area of preaching, my experience has been that a series has to be incredibly well-preached, varied and nourishing to keep a listener interested and fed.
    I don’t want to discourage any pastors who are mid-series, but I’ve seldom heard long series that have not left me bored. (Is that inappropriate? It may be, and I apologize if it is. It’s me being (maybe too) honest.)

  • Anne

    I should have added (above) that I’m from the Scottish Highlands, so it may be that I’ve not been used to this form of preaching… It may make a difference if that’s what you’ve grown up with

  • Steve

    Reading How Sermons Work right now in preparation for giving a copy to the men who are preaching at our church. Excellent excerpt from an excellent book. Thank you, Dr, Murray

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  • http://www, Randall Kirkland

    Well said, dear brother! These are very apt reminders for us all as we open God’s Word to the sheep each week.

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  • Adam Shields

    I am not from a tradition that uses a lectionary, but I think that lectionary preaching has some of the same benefits as expository preaching over a book or longer. But lectionary preaching bring some more variety.

  • David Murray

    Scott, Rick, Pete and Randall: Thanks for your kind words. Glad it was helpful.
    Steve, I’d be really keen to hear how helpful it was for your beginning preachers. What could be improved, etc.
    “Honest” Anne, I’ve heard it done well…and badly!

  • C. M. Sheffield

    Very helpful. Thank you.

  • Larry Geiger

    I listen to Calvary Chapel pastors on the radio going to and from work. I myself attend a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church (liturgy/lectionary) but I appreciate the recorded sermons as they teach sequentially through a book. Most of the time I think they use the technique you mention where each sermon goes verse by verse, but the overall message has a theme for the sermon.

  • Andrew Randazzo

    Here’s my thoughts. Obviously I’m all for expository preaching, but if I was the pastor, here’s what it’d look like. Sunday mornings I’d go through a book of the Bible, but I would go through it at a quicker pace as opposed to MacArthur averaging 5mon in each chapter of Luke. Other services I’d preach a topical series but expositionally (they called it textual preaching in my preaching class). These series would be 6wk approximately and hone in on specific issues relavent to the church.

    Back to my first point on preaching at a quicker pace. My reasoning is that we talk about preaching the whole counsel of God, and yes we can preach from a few verses and tie it in with other parts of the Bible and truths about God. However, I want people to see the big picture and be exposed to more than just few books in their lifetime. The argument is made that we need to balanced in what we read during our personal devotions, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t carry over to the pulpit.

    Also, my experience has been that people often grow tired of being in the same book for a very long time. The article even relates that sometimes people need a break. I think the reason why sermon series are becoming more lengthened is two fold. First, we have more resources than we know what to do with so it allows us to dig deep in a week’s time and whip out a 45min sermon on a few verses. Also, I think it’s almost become faddish to be able to say we’ve been in a book for X number of years, the smaller you can dice up a chapter/verse the better (MacArthur has set that tone).

    What are your thoughts?

  • Jeff Smith

    Very helpful article. I think one other factor that points to the wisdom of not limiting yourself merely to consecutive exposition is if that’s all you do there are important themes of scripture that you may never address over lengthy periods of time. For example there may be an evident urgent need in the church for instruction on the subject of liberty of conscience. So what do you do, start a series on Romans so you can eventually get to ch.14?

    Also another factor in favor of including consecutive expositions of books of the bible as a part of your ministry is that if done right it actually lends itself to constant variety. I know often the complaint against it is the boredom of being in the same book for weeks or months or even years. Yes, that can be a problem but, if as suggested above, each sermon is so constructed and delivered as to stand on its own feet with its own theme and message there is weekly variety. Every week the passage is different, the applications are different and in the course of expositions through a book of the bible there are multiple themes that will may be addressed.

    • Jeff Smith

      Jeff Smith, Pastor
      Emmanuel Baptist Church
      Coconut Creek, Fl.

  • Gordan

    When I have gotten bored in the middle of series, I think it’s because there was never an end in sight. I remember one series going through Matthew and for eight weeks or so the sermon text was exactly the same, the parable of the seeds and soils. I wonder if there isn’t some preaching pride in this, in echo of one comment above. I remember a phrase by phrase series on Psalms 23, which lasted for six months or so, and was characterized by increasingly-longish recaps of what we had already heard a dozen times.

    Generally, people want to get on with it. They like to see that things are moving along.

    • Jim Harrison

      I remember hearing about a man (it may be apocryphal) who spent a year preaching on John 3:16. I’ve got to believe that at some point, you’ve really stopped preaching the passage.

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  • M King

    It is a sad commentary when we get so bored with the scriptures after being in the same book for so long. What do you have to do that is more important than Bible study. Perhaps you should listen up and here the Word instead of being critical. People around the world don’t even have a Bible to read, much less being able to hear the Word being preached. I think its time the complainers stop complaining and listen for a change. You really might learn something. Book by book, verse by verse is absolutely the best way to go.

    • Gordan

      M. King, I happen to agree with you about the strengths of the consecutive expository method. But the post is also about potential weaknesses.

      Not all boring preaching can be pinned on the un-spirituality of the listeners. I love the Bible and have had preachers make it sound dull and lifeless. As a preacher, I’m quite sure I’ve also been guilty of that a time or three.

      I think it’s a shameful thing to misrepresent the Bible in our preaching so that we make serious study seem tedious. But to act as if that’s not possible just because we’re careful to be expository is a bit unrealistic. If you disagree, I praise God for the amazing preachers that you have been uniformly exposed to. May their tribe increase!

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  • Jay Brennan

    I just came across this old blog post (thanks to the amazing archives of the Internet) and it was helpful for thinking about lectionary vs. sequential preaching, for this next season of preaching. Thanks!

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  • cashcraze

    I came across this blog searching to find out if it is recommended or not for a pastor to preach in the same book for years. We have been in the same Gospel on Sunday morning for 4 years and are only in chapter 6. Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings are program teaching and not preaching. There is no end in site and I feel like I am being served a spiritually unbalanced diet, but at the same time know I am supposed to be faithful to my church. Internet sermons aren’t enough, even if they are from “the best” (MacArthur, Sproul, etc). Please pastors, I beg you to make sure that your congregation has a healthy balanced diet of Scripture.

    • David Murray

      So sorry to hear this, but it’s sadly a common story. Very few pastors have the abilities of a Lloyd-Jones or a John Macarthur to preach consecutively through books over many years. BTW, Lloyd Jones preached his most famous consecutive series on Friday evenings.