Recently Pastor Andy Stanley was interviewed by Ed Stetzer. They discussed preaching and Pastor Stanley’s views on preaching. I was quite interested. I enjoy listening to or reading good preachers talking about how they preach because, to the delight and possible surprise of my congregation, I am trying to become a better preacher. You can find his interview and comments here. Then, pastor Stanley says something that made me fall out of my chair.
“Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.
All Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applicable or relevant to every stage of life. My challenge is to read culture and to read an audience and ask: What is the felt need? Or perhaps what is more important, what is an unfelt need they need to feel that I can address? Because if they don’t feel it, then they won’t address it.” Pastor Andy Stanley
I want to take a minute and address this comment, but before I do, let me state that I have respect for pastor Stanely. I think he is an excellent communicator, which is why I was excited to hear him discuss preaching. I hope that you do not take my comments on this one interview as my opinion of pastor Stanley’s ministry because even though I disagree strongly with the above statement, I respect pastor Stanley and his ministry. I do, however, preach verse by verse in my sermon series, and I take offense to these comments.
First, he puts down verse by verse preaching because it is not modeled in Scripture. That line sounds powerful until you break it down. To my knowledge, we do not have a complete sermon recorded in Scripture unless they only preached three minute sermons. We have synopsis of sermons in the Bible. Even the sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5-7 is a collection of sermons not a single cohesive sermon. To make a point on how to preach by what is modeled in Scripture is near impossible because we do not have enough evidence on how they preached full sermons. He should have referenced the Early Church Fathers from whom we have the earliest complete written sermons and series. The most famous early church preacher might just be St. Ambrose of Milan. We know he preached verse by verse through the creation story of Genesis in the Hexaëmeron and through portions of the Psalms in Expositio Psalmi . These are just two examples from Ambrose there are others. Preaching verse be verse has a long historical tradition in the church.
Second, pastor Stanley argues that preaching verse by verse somehow prevents you from reading your audience or culture. That is just wrong. I do not pick a book or section willy nilly and just preach through it. I pray. I look through our church directory to see the faces of my people while I ask myself and my God, what does this family need to hear. I think and take notes of conversation I have with my parishioners to help me discern the message God has for them and that they need to hear from God. Instead of addressing a need in one week and moving onto the next topic. I spend four or more weeks walking my congregation through one topic. The Bible has themes. Preaching verse by verse allows the church to experience the theme of a section. Stating that preaching verse by verse makes a pastor unresponsive to his flock is just incorrect.
Third, there are many different effective ways to preach. To think there is only one effective model of preaching is arrogant. Bryan Chapel and Fred Craddock wrote books on preaching that approached the pulpit from very different points of views, but I do not know of many that would state that either was an ineffective orator of God’s word. John Piper, Billy Graham, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, St. Ambrose, and even Charles and Andy Stanley, they all preach different, but they all preach effectively. If you preach what the Lord has given you, then you are a faithful pastor. To attack other methods of preaching that is biblically accurate is just wrong.
I do preach verse by verse, and in the light of pastor Stanley’s comments, I want to tell you why.
First, it allows me to address a need in my congregation over the course of weeks rather than a one shot deal. We jut finished preaching through Colossians. My goal was for my congregation to truly grasp the amazing truth of being a child of God means that Christ is in you and you are in Christ. I wanted them to grasp that the gospel is so much more than a ticket to heaven, but Christ’s power and presence in our lives for daily living. I believe I accomplished that better by walking through Colossians instead of trying to do that in a single sermon.
Second, I am busy! You can jump around the bible and preach from different places week after week. If that is your style and the messages that God has given you, I support you whole heartedly. But for me, I do not have time to properly study and prepare for a different book each week. Laying a foundation of study over a section of text that will last several weeks, gives me more time to visit and pastor. It also allows me to be fully prepared when I stand behind that sacred desk. I would have to cut back on my visitation and hospital visits and kids soccer games and phone calls and you get the idea, if I jumped from book to book because my study requirements would be raised significantly.
Third, expense. It is expensive to purchase high quality scholarship on the Bible. I do not have the time or skill to break down the Greek and Hebrew of the texts, so I have to rely on scholarship to aid me in understanding the original languages. That means I have to purchase books that deal with Greek and Hebrew. Once that typeface changes from English to Greek the price of the book just went up. It is expensive to collect these necessary study aids to preach. To be financially responsible for my family and to my church, I find it responsible for my books on a section of texts to last a few weeks before I need to purchase more for a new series. Yes, that includes trips to my local Bible Colleges for which I have library cards. I am thrifty. I buy what I think is needed. Thank God for digital books that has lowered the cost some and for Google books that has collected out of copyright books that helps too. But switching books of the Bible is an added expense to churches and pastors that need to be done with thoughtful responsibility.
Preaching verse by verse, allows me more time to drive a theme into the hearts of my parishioners. It allows the congregation to see the Bible has themes and thesis statements. The Bible is not just a collections of random ideas. It allows me more time to pastor and to visit, and lastly it helps me to be more financially responsible with my churches resources and my family’s. I believe that preaching verse by verse is a valid method of preaching as I do many other methods of preaching, such as following a lectionary, among many others. If a pastor is prayerfully preaching what the Lord has laid on his or her heart, I support that pastor.
To call us verse by verse preachers cheaters, is an ignorant comment from a man who has never watched faithful verse be verse preachers before the throne of God begging for a word for his or her flock.
Pastor Stanley could have shared his preaching style, which would have fasciated me because I think he is a good preacher, but he not only shared his style, he attacked others. There was no need for that because while the shepherds argue, the sheep will stray. We need to remember we are on the same team and we have a greater enemy that one another’s preaching style. Let’s unite in the gospel. Unite, despite our differences, under the gospel to reach a lost world in need of a loving Savior. If preachers faithfully preach what the Lord has laid on their heart, they are in His will. How can another put that down?