VERSE BY-VERSE PREACHING
M. G. RICKARD
Because God has blessed Los Gatos Christian Church abundantly, people want to know why. I can’t give a good answer, for we have had no greater talent nor opportunity than many other churches. Maybe the best answer is that it is the sovereign will of God regardless of our human effort or in spite of our work and plans.
Still, I know what one key ingredient is. My people have urged me to include it. I always mention it whenever I speak on church
leadership and church growth. Surprisingly, as vital as I think this part is, a great many preachers do not share my enthusiasm and tend to discount the importance of verse-by-verse preaching, of expository preaching. It is number one in our priorities of important things.
My own experience with this manner of preaching goes back many years to the day I went to Bible college professor named Ralph Holcomb.
“Ralph,” I asked, “We have had many new members added to L.G.C.C. in the past several months. What shall I preach so as to minister to them while not neglecting the others!” I had in mind that he would suggest a series entitled “Holy Spirit” or the “Body of Christ” or the “Life of Christ” or “Ten Steps to Spiritual Growth.” Maybe he even had a source for the preparation of such messages.
I did not expect his answer. “Why don’t you take a Bible book and preach through it verse by verse!” I was silent, not receptive. “Get a simple outline from a few verses and then teach the material, applying it to present needs.” He could see that I wasn’t jumping up and down with enthusiasm. I nodded, expressionless. It sounded like hard work for a person who doesn’t happen to be studious by nature. I wasn’t sure that I could do it. And I was afraid of boring people to tears. He wouldn’t let up; after all, I had come in to ask his advice. “Marv, you’ll feed all of the people all of the time. Sometimes it will suit those more mature in the faith. Other times it will be just right for new believers. The Holy Spirit will take such preaching and make it come alive in the hearts of the people!”
I saw his point. “Where would I begin! Which Bible book?” With no hesitation Ralph Holcomb answered, “Ephesians. That is the one you should choose.” I went to the Christian book store to see what helpful material I could find. Watchman Nee’s Sit, Walk, Stand was good. Dr. Harry Ironside had a book of his sermons, In the Heavenlies, and William Barclay had a little book with a section in it on Ephesians. I already had The Glorious Church by Wilbur Fields. I “covered” Ephesians in twelve weeks, two sermons per chapter. Hardly an in-depth effort, but it was a beginning.
People began to comment. “I was blessed by the message.” “I am enjoying Ephesians.” “I am eager for next Sunday to come as I have questions about the next section.” “I wish I had brought a notebook.” “Which book will we study next!” And the attendance climbed steadily – 400, 700, 1000, 1200! Growth in lives was evident, too, not because of my preaching, but at least assisted somewhat by the preaching and exhortation. Evangelism continued to be my burden. Somehow I discovered that there is no text for a sermon that does not lend itself to inviting people to Christ. Never have I had a moment’s struggle in closing with an appeal for souls. Interestingly, the number responding increased as the church grew!
As I looked around in the church world I found several preachers who were doing as I was. Usually they were experiencing numerical growth in their churches. Some were becoming well-known for their verse-by-verse teaching-preaching. Many others stayed with themes and topics and God blessed them as well. But for me, I loved it and became committed to this manner of preaching the Word. I found ten advantages:
1. It builds knowledge of the Word in the people.
2. It has continuity from Sunday to Sunday.
3. It develops consistency from week to week.
4. It fills a great void in modern preaching, that is, the absence of a verse-by-verse approach in most pulpits.
5. It feeds the people, whatever their level.
6. It eventually covers every important subject.
7. It eventually covers every doctrine.
8. It disciplines the preacher! to study ahead, to deal with difficult passages, to keep him off of “hobby horse” themes
9. It converts the lost and brings in a harvest.
10. It increases church income! (No one can criticize the preacher for dealing with stewardship responsibility when it is obvious to all that stewardship is the subject of the verses considered that Sunday!)
Few churches these days fill their buildings on Sunday evenings. Many fundamental churches have more empty seats than occupied ones. Most liberal churches are dark on Sunday nights and have been for a generation. Yet expository preaching can help to pack the auditorium. Admittedly, Revelation is not the easiest book to preach from but it is in the Word. A blessing is promised to those who study it. For a solid year of Sunday night services, I preached verse by verse through this book of prophecy. Sunday evening attendance averaged 2500. It was during this year that we began Crossroads Bible Church. Rich Marshall, their pastor from our staff, simply continued the messages in their rented gymnasium, with several hundred attending. More recently I announced a new series for Sunday nights through the Book of Daniel. Again attendance was large and consistent through the several months needed to complete the study.
One Sunday morning series which took all the Sundays for an entire year was a verse by verse study of the Sermon on the Mount.
Incidentally or providentially, the crisis over homosexuality and the ordinances which favored special treatment and acceptance came right after the studies on “Ye Are the Salt of the Earth,” and “Ye Are the Light of the World.” As salt and light, the people took their stand.When summer and vacations come continuity is lost in verse-by-verse studies, yet some kinds of Bible exposition lend themselves well to summer. A study of some of the Proverbs, some of the Psalms or the thirteenth chapter of Matthew with its parables can follow the verse by verse preaching plan with every message standing alone.
I’m a firm believer in expository preaching. Let me add one more point. A side benefit to the congregation is the fact that preaching through Bible books tends to keep the preacher from accepting invitations which take him from his pulpit. An interrupted series quickly loses momentum and continuity. Once broken, it is hard to regain. It is better to stay at home and preach.
PRINCIPLES TO PONDER
1. “Faithfulness in giving the best has big long-range results.”
2. Fervent verse-by-verse preaching builds the church.