For the last year and a half I have been teaching through the book of Hebrews. I just finished chapter 6. I teach through books of the Bible at a snail’s pace for several reasons, if you don’t that is OK, God still loves you…probably. It’s not the only way to teach the Bible but some would say it’s “the only right way.”
(Disclaimer, I don’t think verse-by-verse teaching is the only right way to teach the Bible, I just prefer it)
I’m going to outline four reasons that I prefer teaching verse by verse through books of the Bible
Reason 1: It’s how I learned the Bible
The first is from my formative years as a follower of Jesus. I was saved by grace my senior year of high school. It was then I started attending church regularly again (I grew up going to Sunday School, but had stopped at the start of High School). I became a little frustrated by the discontinuity of our youth lessons that were mostly topical. I wanted to know how the Bible fit together and the overarching narrative, not just random tidbits. I had decided that I would read through the Bible starting from the beginning to see who God really was for myself, and was getting a little bogged down in Leviticus. I needed someone to teach me how to study the Bible, and a purely topical approach with fancy handouts, wasn’t doing it for me.
When I started college I went to a BIG church that ran over 3000 on a Sunday morning. It was a little overwhelming since there were only 43 people in my senior class and 587 on the population sign. But something happened Sunday after Sunday that I had never experienced. The preacher was preaching verse by verse through a book of the Bible (I think it was 1 Peter). He was tying the whole book together, week after week. The whole church operated that way. The college small groups spent the semester going trough a book of the Bible. To me it was amazing, and it taught me to see Scripture as part of a whole. The single verse is part of a paragraph, the paragraph is part of a section, the section is part of a book, the book is part of a set (Gospel, Pauline epistle, Historical Book, etc) and that is part of the Bible. And the Bible tells a single story, the story of God’s redemption of his creation through the Life, the Death, the Burial, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. I’m not going to lie, when I first started teaching others about Jesus and the Bible I copied this approach. Even today if I’m dealing with a difficult passage I can go this church’s website and search chapter and verse to see if this pastor has preached it. (He never concerned himself with fancy titles. His sermon title would be “John 3:16-17” and so forth. He spent over five years in Matthew). So the first reason, I like teaching verse by verse is that it just clicks with me, and it suits my personality. (Here is a link to this church http://centralbcs.org/sermons if you are interested)
Reason 2: I do it for myself
My second reason is also personal. I teach through books of the Bible for myself. I like doing in-depth studies and many have said that “you learn more by preparing to teach than you ever do in a classroom.” Many times it is extremely difficult to teach a section of Scripture. I can’t keep the my audience captive for hours at a time. And I’m not good enough of a preacher to hold their attention for hours at a time. (Also I don’t confuse length with quality) You have to break things down into bite size chunks, while still maintaining unity with a whole. The first book I ever taught through was Romans. It took me 48 sermons. I was young, 21 years old, inexperienced, untrained, and pastoring a small rural church while attending the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor where I got a degree in Christian Ministry & History. A mentoring pastor told me that I should go with something easier. “Romans, is a difficult book to teach through,” he said. And he was right! But it was the right thing for me. I was forced to study, to wrestle with texts that I didn’t fully understand, theological issues that I didn’t know the proper names for, correct a lot of false assumptions, and most importantly admit that I don’t have all the answers. I read so many commentaries, had three study Bibles, it was SO hard, but entirely worth it. So selfishly. I preach through books because I grow from it.
Reason 3: I force myself to cover difficult and unpopular issues
My third reason is to force myself to cover hard issues in scripture. Try preaching verse by verse through 1 Corinthians. And tell me about what you do when you come across Paul telling people not to marry, about women not being allowed to speak in church, about head coverings, etc. I don’t know about you but I’m not looking forward to that sermon, but one day I will preach through 1 Corinthians verse by verse and I’ll have to. Taken out of context, these passages and topics have been misused to a great deal. (Ok the Bible has been twisted for evil purposes for thousands of years, see Matthew 4 when Satan misquotes scripture to Jesus.)
Some try to explain these truly difficult passages away, or ignore them. But when you go verse by verse you maintain the historical whole of the Book, and are able to look at these difficult passages through their cultural and historical lens to see the bigger truth that God was communicating. If you just pick and pull verses you can honestly make the Bible SEEM to say whatever you want it to. That puts you in the same category as Satan, and that’s not a position that you or I want to put ourselves in.
Reason 4: I believe in the long run this best helps my youth.
My fourth reason is that I have a limited time with my youth. My previous post is about how my core group will be gone in a year and a half. That’s not much time to teach them all I think they need to know about their faith. But if I can have them walk with me, verse by verse through a single book of the Bible, they will know that Book very well and will be able to go back to it. At some point whether they stay in church or not they are going to face a trial. My hope is that they will remember, “Hey, back in youth group ‘what’s-his-name’ went through Hebrews and there was a part that said something about what I’m going through.” And, because I make everyone open a bible every week, they will be able to find Hebrews and as they read it they’ll see all the truth of God’s Word. So the fourth reason is that I believe it helps people learn to use the Bible and learn to understand the whole chapter and verse thing.
I do not lock myself into a single method of teaching, even though I have my preferences.
Finally I would like to say I’m not saying that this is the one and only way to teach the Bible. We all have different personalities and gifts that God uses to bring glory to himself. I do not exclusively teach verse by verse. I like using the book I’m teaching through as a backdrop to work in short topical series. For example; when I got to Hebrews 6:1 “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (ESV). I did a 6 week topical study called “Moving toward Maturity” and I covered some basic tenants of the faith that I felt the youth needed to know. Back when we were studying how Jesus is greater that Moses, I spent a few weeks teaching through the story of Moses, using the Experiencing God study. I’ll also take breaks to teach about important subjects. I’m going to kick off the new year with the 5 Solas of the Reformation and as we head into Valentines day I’m doing a series on what the Bible teaches about marriage. (I’ve got a lot of annoying teenage couples in my group, and 83% of people get married, so it seems like something I should make time for). [83% is a made up stat, and is a running TV show character’s joke]
So should you teach verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible? Absolutely, YES! Should it be the only way you teach? NO! I say you should because I think you personally will be edified by the effort and so will those you teach. We should always be pushing ourselves and our congregations to grow deeper in their understanding and relationship with God, and that means doing something different from time to time. It shouldn’t be the only way you teach because you need to know the people God has placed in your charge and teach them what they most need. It’s really cool though when your verse by verse teaching happens to hit the right subject on just the right day for and just the right people are there to hear it. But at the same time, if you are a born again follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit lives within you and gives you discernment to know what you should teach.
My hope is that if you are a Bible teacher that has never taught verse by verse through anything you will give it a shot. If you are a fuddy-duddy who thinks that the only way to faithfully teach the Word of God is to do it verse by verse…well…um… maybe it would be better if you just unread this… and not leave mean comments. It hurts my feelings.
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)