Recently I wrote about the benefits of preaching longer series through larger books of the Bible, including the major Old Testament books. Those books which might take significantly longer include the major prophets such as Isaiah as well the Pentateuch and the history books. It’s possible to spend a year or even longer working week by week through one of those books. I also believe that you should consider preaching systematically through Psalms and Proverbs.
If you are going to tackle a larger book, requiring a longer series, how should you go about it? There will be a few questions and concerns no doubt. These might include questions about how to hold people’s attention for that period of time and how to ensure that they continue to receive a breadth of Biblical teaching. Secondly, you might be concerned about how visitors will cope with a one off visit when you are mid series. Then there are those who come along less frequently and those who join you mid-series.
Here are a few thoughts. First, you may want to think about how you prepare the church to enjoy and benefit from longer series. It may be with a newer congregation that you feel that it is worth building up to longer series and perhaps doing a shorter series where you did into a book first before returning to it in a few year’s time. Though maybe there’s benefit in just jumping into the deep end and normalising this kind of preaching.
You can help visitors by making sure that your sermons, whilst fitting into the longer series are also to some extent self contained so that they can go away having benefited from the visit. Similarly, when I’m working through a larger book, even though in a sense there is the one main preaching series, I tend to break the main series down into lots of little mini series that follow a theme and section over several weeks.
This also gives you the option to introduce breaks. You might want to look at Isaiah in three parts, interspersing a term of teaching from the prophet with a term of preaching from the New Testament or a few weeks of topical preaching. Christmas and Easter series as well as something different through the summer will provide natural breaks and then you will have visiting preachers coming too.
My view is that there is a balance to keep here. You may want to put those breaks in to help people persevere but if you put too many in or for too long then you end up stretching the series out over a longer period of time so people lose track of how it all fits together.
You can help new people get a sense of where things are by providing recaps and by taking time to show how this week’s message builds on and fits into the context of what has gone before. This should primarily be to help those joining part way through. I don’t think we should over compensate for the irregular attendee. We want to help them to see why weekly attendance is crucial. We must allow for those who are constrained by work and family commitments which is a good reason for having midweek Bible study groups that track the Sunday teaching.
Keep width by showing how the message of the book links to the other Testament. As well as referring to this in your sermon, you can also use small group time to lean into this as well.
Discover joy in spending time dwelling in the book yourself. In fact, don’t set out to preach a long series on a book that you haven’t spent many months in yourself for personal devotion and preparation. Primarily people will pick up on how you approach the book. If it’s a dread and a drudgery for you, then it will be for them too. However, if you are enjoying the book, learning much and growing a lot then this will become infectious for the congregation.