I’m coming up on the two year anniversary of my time here at Heucks Retreat Baptist Church. Having said that, I understand that I’m still a novice at youth ministry and ministry in general. That’s why I don’t want to sound like I have everything figured out. But I would like to do a short series on youth ministry, specifically on preaching in student ministry. This is a topic that isn’t often discussed; rather, most discussion on youth ministry prioritizes outreach or the need to involve parents. Preaching, though, must be brought to the forefront since it is God’s primary way of building up the body of Christ. Today, we will focus on the need to preach through whole books of the Bible.
The preaching in most youth ministries revolves around topical series. On occasion, topical series can be quite useful for a student ministry, so this is not a blog post to rail against the use of them. Actually, I’m planning on doing a three-week series this summer on recognizing the messages that are being “preached” through the songs, movies, and books that students encounter every day. I do believe, though, that the teaching should primarily be focused on the systematic preaching of whole books of the Bible.
Why is this the case? I’ll give you several reasons:
First, it helps to keep us out of doctrinal error. When your sermon each week skips from book to book and your focus is on one single verse from a random book, it’s very easy to rip the verse completely out of context (the context into which the Spirit of God inspired it to be written). On the flip side, when we preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible properly, we must deal with the literary and historical context surrounding the passage. I understand that it is possible to fall into error while preaching through books of the Bible, and that it’s possible to preach a topical sermon while doing justice to the context; I’m simply speaking in generalities. The systematic exposition of books of the Bible gives us fences to guard our sermons from error.
Second, it helps our students to see the unity of the Bible. By preaching through books of the Bible, students, theoretically, should see how books fit together. For example, I finished preaching through the book of Philippians Wednesday night. My students should understand how Paul’s letter progresses and how certain themes run throughout the book. (They may not see these things crystal clear, but that is not due to any fault on the part of the book, just the fault of their not-so-skilled youth pastor.) If, on the other hand, we pick individual texts every week, the students are not able to see how the Bible has a beautiful unity to it.
Third, it helps to teach our students how to properly read their Bibles. This is the goal of our teaching ministries isn’t it? Don’t we all want to produce disciples who can adequately handle the Word of God? They will slowly learn this as they see us preaching, while bringing the historical, cultural, and canonical backgrounds to bear on the meaning of the text. Otherwise, we are sending them out to do a task without the proper tools. They are digging for gold without a shovel or pick.
Fourth, God inspired whole books to be written, not disconnected sayings. He inspired Paul to write his letters in a specific setting. He inspired Matthew to order details differently than Mark and Luke to organize his account differently than Matthew. All of these things happen for a reason. Until we’re laboring through whole books of the Bible, we’re not really forced to discover why. We’re short-changing ourselves and our students when this is the case. Live out your belief in the doctrine of inspiration.
Fifth and finally, it brings balance to our teaching. We all have certain themes or topics that have profoundly impacted us throughout our lives. It is the passages that speak to these themes that we’re so often drawn to. By working through whole books of the Bible, we are forced to emphasize other themes and doctrinal truths that are present in Scripture. For instance, if you’re always emphasizing the individual nature of our relationship with God, walking through a book of the Bible will eventually lead you to focus on the corporate nature and importance of the church. Therefore, this keeps us from giving our students a lop-sided theology.
Let me say that I understand this can be quite difficult. This approach forces us to address certain verses that are tough to interpret, but that shouldn’t stop us. We will be better preachers and followers of Christ in the end. You see, this makes us truly depend on the Spirit of God to illumine our minds to discover the meaning of the text. Often, we simply stick with the safe texts, the ones that we can figure out on our own. It shows our lack of dependence on God when it comes to preaching.
Again, let me acknowledge that there is a place for the topical series within the church. But it shouldn’t hold a place of preeminence in our teaching ministries.
Minister, preach the Word. Preach it in the form that God inspired it: whole books.