Three Ways to Keep Consecutive Exposition Fresh

Keeping Consecutive Biblical Exposition Fresh

This is a continuation of an interview with Tim Sattler. Part One: Why Consecutive Expository Preaching? Eight Reasons Why It’s Needed. Listen to the audio below (or with this link) or read the abridged transcript below.

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin: Some think that consecutive exposition is great for books like Philippians or James, but not so great for longer and more difficult books like Ezekiel, Isaiah, or 1-2 Samuel. Consecutive exposition might bring to mind Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ preaching through Romans for decades and cause some to think, “That’s not for me and my congregation.” Are there ways to preach books without getting bogged down?

Tim Sattler

Tim Sattler

Tim: There are. You don’t want to preach through Deuteronomy and have your people sense that you’ve been there 40 years, do you? You want them to feel like they will soon cross over the Jordan and something new will come.

Here are a few practical ways to keep consecutive exposition fresh:

Idea #1: Preach big chunks.

Tim: Understanding the genre of the text helps with this. Too often preachers are most comfortable preaching through epistles and approach larger books like epistles. Just because it’s a large book doesn’t mean you have to go through it in 15 years. Narrative lends itself to larger chunks to preach through. Romans does too. It would be good if we could get more comfortable preaching through larger chunks. And if we’re preaching through small chunks, we are probably fragmenting the text. We need to be preaching through an author’s complete thought. If we are preaching through complete thoughts, the preaching will go faster.

I’ve found personally in preaching narrative that young kids go home and they’re reading ahead. It’s not getting boring for them; they want to know what’s happening next. If we’re doing it right, taking larger chunks is very helpful and needful and will help us carry the story along so as to keep it fresh in people’s minds. If you take smaller chunks, you could be coming back to the same thought, again and again, every week.

Kevin: It also forces preachers to have a really good understanding of the story as a part of a whole, which makes it that much more interesting. And people want that.

Idea #2: Take breaks.

Tim: A lot of preachers stop what they’re doing in the summer. If you’re preaching through Judges, you could slip Ruth in the middle of it because it is a similar timeframe and it is the opposite of the story. It would be exciting to preach Ruth right in the middle of this downward pull of Judges to see a story of God’s great salvation and kindness to his people.

You can use the church calendar for breaks, but I don’t think you need to take many. If you’re doing exposition right, people will keep on with you and want the next thing to get to the conclusion. People feel the need for breaks is if it’s bogging down. I sit through a 2.5-hour movie and I don’t feel like I need to stop and take a break. I want to see the entire story.

Idea #3: Representative exposition.

Kevin: Representative exposition is another option. What are the pros and cons of representative exposition?

Tim: It’s an interesting approach. I was recently asked to preach ten sermons on 1–2 Samuel. I thought, “What are the ten sermons? What are the key thoughts that would help carry the story along?”

The danger in it is you pick everybody’s favorite story and you make it a series through all the popular stories but they’re not necessarily connected in carrying the story that the author has for you in the book. You could miss the set up for the main stories. You’d have to be really adept at telling the story up to that point. The other danger is that your preaching could be thematic through a book. Then it becomes more informational and not transformational. The themes dominate on a doctrine or a practical issue but it doesn’t necessarily flow from the author’s intent in that moment or section. There are some dangers in it.

We should be able to, with a book, break it down into a few sections. We should help people see what the portions of a book are about, but we should connect it to the whole of what the author is unfolding in a book. We’d have to know how this story (or book) begins and how it ends, where the author is going, and how that unfolds—and then pick out some of the key points.

But, I think this is a lot more work. You run the risk of losing important tensions, like in narrative, that are there on purpose. If we by-pass them, we miss the climax of the story. I think representative exposition can be done, but I think it is a lot more work and requires a lot more skill than just preaching through the book.

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Eight Reasons Why Consecutive Expository Preaching is Needed

Why Consecutive Expository Preaching - Reasons

Listen to our interview on consecutive expository preaching below and subscribe to our blog or YouTube channel for future interviews.

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Leadership Resources International wholeheartedly recommends consecutive expository preaching (also known as sequential expository preaching).

Since there are differing definitions of consecutive expository preaching and several misconceptions, Tim Sattler (the International Training Director for LRI) recently talked with Kevin Halloran to clarify why consecutive exposition is LRI’s preferred and recommended method of preaching. What follows is an abridged transcript. Email subscribers can listen to the interview here.

What is consecutive expository preaching?

Tim Sattler

Tim Sattler

Tim Sattler: It is simply an approach to preaching that remembers each book of the Bible has a central message intended by the author. To understand what the message is, you need to understand the whole, not just parts. It’s not a definition that says, “You have to preach so many verses a week, this few or that many”—it’s really unfolding the whole book and communicating the author’s message, not ours. To do that, we have to see the book in its entirety.

That said, you might find yourself preaching smaller texts or longer texts depending on your gifting as a preacher in communicating. Consecutive exposition is mainly making sure that you’re preaching through an entire book because that’s the way the book was communicated by God. He didn’t give us just verses or segments, He gave us a message through an author to an audience. And we have to know what that entire message is.

Kevin: Just like watching a clip of a movie doesn’t tell you the whole story, sometimes by only seeing clips you don’t even understand what the clips or movie is about. You need the whole book for the whole picture. Now we will walk through eight reasons for consecutive expository preaching.

1. Consecutive exposition demonstrates a confidence in the authority of the Bible.

Tim: The Bible sits over us, not we over it. If we are not telling the story or message the way God gave it, we are actually putting ourselves above the Bible—picking and choosing. Exposition goes further to your view of inspiration. If we believe in a verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture; and if we believe that the thoughts, the words, the very heart of the author and communication is from God; then we have to say what God says, not what we want to say about the text. The way a preacher handles the text reveals what his view of inspiration is.

The Bible is not an encyclopedia of history. I think many times preachers or people in the congregation view it that way—just as an encyclopedia of a lot of stuff like important doctrines. Very few people sit down and read an encyclopedia from beginning to end. Usually, we go to an encyclopedia to get some information that we add to the information we are conveying. That’s the way a lot of people look at the Bible.

The way a preacher handles the text reveals what his view of inspiration is.

From the very beginning with Moses, God wanted His spokesman to communicate what He said. He made it very clear that you have to say what God says. It’s the same way with Samuel: When God brings His Word back in the time of the judges in 1 Samuel 3, to this wicked priest Eli, Samuel said everything. And it says, “God did not let any of his words fall.” Which means there was a pleasure in God that His man said what He said. In order to do that, we need to preach through books and get to the message God is communicating.

This doesn’t mean you have to preach every word and comment on every word. You have to preach what the main thoughts of the author are. Because all of those words add up to that. If we preach too small of sections, we will wind up importing our own theological ideas into the text, instead of seeing how the full passage communicates. In preaching, the art is getting to what the intention of the author is.

2. Consecutive exposition through books of the Bible is the way that most accurately communicates God’s message to us.

Tim: God has communicated His Word in the way He wants it to be heard. The best way to communicate what God has given us is to preach the books God has given us and not just pick and choose passages here and there from other books. I think many people have a view that the Bible is just a collection of verses, and they don’t know how they all connect. They may know some stories, but they don’t know the full story of the Bible. We need to do our best to communicate what God has said in the way He has said it. The Bible is a marvelous piece of literature from beginning to end, but it’s all one story. When we communicate it rightly, we capture people’s hearts.

Kevin: The way I think about consecutive exposition compared to picking and choosing your favorite verses or passages is like a puzzle. You don’t want to focus on just one piece, you want to focus on the big picture. You lose so much without the big picture. He has given us a whole book, and we need to understand that artificial frameworks (like chapter and verse numbers) are helpful for navigating the book, but they are not inspired.

Tim: You keep it in context. You keep it in the storyline. It keeps the preacher from his hobby horse and under control. It keeps him communicating what God has said.

3. Consecutive exposition helps the congregation read the Bible better.

Tim: This needs to be a goal in preaching every week. As you explain the text, one of your goals is to show the simplicity of reading the Bible for those in the pew. If it’s done well, it becomes a model of how one should approach and read the Bible. It’s not like you want people to walk away saying, “Wow, he’s so good, I think I’ll come back next week.” You want people walking away saying, “Wow, he’s helping me read the Bible.” Then, they can help others understand what the Bible is saying as well.

See: Preaching to Make the Bible User-Friendly

4. Consecutive exposition forces preachers to tackle tough topics that they might not choose on their own.

Tim: Some preachers don’t want to preach on sin, idolatry, immorality, or money; and this forces preachers to tackle the subject as it comes along. Also, when there are sensitive pastoral issues going on in your church, somebody might sit there and think, “Oh, he’s preaching that because I’m going through this.” They can’t say that if it’s the next thing in the text. They can’t say, “All he wants is money because he’s always talking about money.”

Kevin: This gives the pastor freedom where he doesn’t need to worry about potential accusations or confusion as to why certain things are coming up.

Tim: It helps a pastor learn how to shepherd people because you are preaching through it with the author’s intent. That’s going to give you the shepherding intent for the people of God. You don’t need to come up with a five-step principle on your own when the text gives it to you.

5. Consecutive exposition makes it easier to schedule preaching series and get the most out of prep time.

Tim: If you’re preaching one-off sermons every week and clearly communicating literary context to your people, those are the harder sermons to do. You really need to know how they fit into the whole message of the book.

Kevin: And thinking in terms of the whole book is extremely beneficial as you plan out your church’s preaching schedule. You can know for months and months what passage you will preach on what week. This allows for a more strategic prep time. For example, if you know all of your preaching topics for the next eight weeks, that gives you eight weeks to study the more difficult passages and think of helpful illustrations or applications. And, say four weeks into your series a major event or pastoral issue comes up in the congregation, you can hit the pause button and pick your series back up after a couple of weeks.

Tim: If a 9/11 happens, and everyone is thinking about that on Sunday, and you just keep on going through Proverbs because that’s where you were, you are probably not going to be shepherding your people well. Those sermons are harder because you need to make sure you’re doing your contextual work and know where what you’re bringing fits in.

I remember preaching through Matthew once, and I stopped when we got to the issue of hell. I had a man in my congregation that didn’t believe in an eternal hell; he believed in an annihilation. We took a week to explore what the Bible does say about hell. I adjusted my schedule because I knew there was a guy who needed to hear that. This can happen depending on the church calendar but is generally the exception.

6. Consecutive exposition helps people see the overall story of Scripture.

Tim: So much preaching is disconnected from the overall story of the Bible. There seems to be a resurgence to try and get back to that. It’s important to connect people to biblical history. It connects people to what God is doing in the world today.

We are self-centered and try to bring the Bible into our story instead of seeing how we fit into the Bible’s story.

Kevin: This is crucial for developing a biblical worldview in our people, seeing each book in Scripture in terms of the whole story, because it is the story of humanity, the story we are a part of today.

Tim: We are self-centered and try to bring the Bible into our story instead of seeing how we fit into the Bible’s story. I think as we are preaching through the Bible’s story, we still deal with the same issues. We are still fallen people in trouble and God is working through our lives. It does give us a settled confidence as we see what God is doing through the Scriptures and why He is doing it.

Related Resource: Free Bible Overview Video Course: God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts

7. Consecutive exposition preaches the full counsel of God, allowing preachers to have a clean conscience before God.

Kevin: When Paul gave his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he said, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God….” Paul preached the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and it brought freedom for him and a clear conscience. He didn’t have to worry.

Paul preached the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and it brought freedom for him and a clear conscience.

Tim: Going back to the first point about inspiration, our conviction needs to be to proclaim what God has said, and all that God has said. This is a good way to do it without any personalized agenda, without any framework driving us, it’s a good way to stand before God and say, “I was faithful with what you commissioned me to do.”

Kevin: And knowing that James 3:1 says teachers will face greater judgment, it is crucial that we can have confidence in God’s Word and preach with a clean conscience. We’re not preaching our words, but His.

8. Consecutive exposition removes potential distractions.

Tim: We touched on this in #4 above. Someone says to you on a Sunday morning, “I feel like you were in my living room last night.” “I was in counseling with you on Thursday, and I became the illustration of your sermon on Sunday.” Consecutive preaching removes obstacles of people saying “He’s talking about me to them” rather than, “Oh, he’s talking directly to me because this passage was here for me today.”

Part two covers Three Ways to Keep Consecutive Exposition Preaching Fresh.

Related Links:


Like Father, Like Son: Planting Healthy Churches in Nepal

The son and grandson of Christian workers in Nepal had no desire to follow them into ministry. Besides seeing his father endure persecution and rejection, Lazarus Thulung experienced a great loss on the very day he was born. His mother died in childbirth.

The father, N.D. Thulung, with Hindu ancestry, became the first person to offer the gospel to his village in Nepal. But as N.D.’s wife lay dying, the pagan villagers offered no help, concluding the gods were judging him. They refused to even assist with her burial.

In his bitterness, N.D. questioned God for allowing his suffering. Yet he gave his son a hopeful name and persevered in ministry. Driven from his village, he moved to another region and successfully planted several churches. Over the years, N.D. witnessed God’s faithfulness to both change his son’s heart and draw the young man into ministry. And he has now seen the Lord raise up Lazarus to become a recognized leader in Nepal’s church-planting movement.

Lazarus Thulung with his father, N.D.

Training Indigenous Pastors

Alan Ginn is the Director of Asia at Leadership Resources International (LRI), which exists “to equip and encourage pastors around the world to teach God’s word with God’s heart.” Ginn oversees LRI’s efforts in five countries of the Himalayas, including Nepal, which he visits every six months to instruct national pastors in biblical exposition as part of their Training National Trainers (TNT) program.

In the fall of 2008—the same year Nepal’s Hindu monarchy yielded to demands that included more religious freedom—both Lazarus and his father began LRI’s training in their country. By this time, Lazarus had completed college and grown in his faith through the ministry of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ). He had also attended a Filipino seminary and returned to Nepal with a big goal.

“I had [a] vision to plant churches in every village [sic] of Nepal by 2020,” Lazarus said.

To advance that goal, the younger Thulung partnered in 2006 with a church planting organization, ServLife International. In his 10 years as Director of Himalayan Development, Lazarus oversaw the planting of approximately 117 churches in 34 of Nepal’s 75 districts. He reported that more than 4,200 new believers were baptized through 2016.

Despite Difficulties

Nepal is a small country about the size of the state of Arkansas but with ten times the population—nearly thirty million people. And most Nepalis live in valleys along mountainous terrain or in other rural areas difficult to access. This country’s challenges include issues of illiteracy, health, and dire poverty that breeds child labor and human trafficking. It also struggles to recover from widespread devastation after a 2015 earthquake.

Besides the physical obstacles in reaching Nepal with the Gospel, a great religious and cultural divide separates East and West. In a 2014 article for The Gospel Coalition (TGC), Michael Heitland, president of ES4M (Equipping Saints for Ministry), stated that Westerners will fall short in reaching Nepalis, who “suffer from the spiritual darkness of either Hinduism, with millions of deities, or the self-deifying religion of Buddhism.”

ES4M works predominantly in Nepal and shares LRI’s focus of equipping leaders to handle God’s Word properly. The church in Nepal is “on the move… Christianity is exploding,” Heitland said.

According to current statistics by Operation World, a church has been planted in every district of Nepal. And at least some believers can be found in nearly all of this country’s 380 people groups and castes.

Working Together to Exalt God

The efforts of both LRI and ES4M are bearing fruit in Nepal by investing in indigenous pastors according to 2 Timothy 2:2, “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (ESV). Both Ginn and Heitland have also supplied church leaders with needed biblical support materials—Bibles and books provided without cost by TGC International Outreach (IO). Though mostly in English, the resources are useful to many Nepalese pastors who read and speak the language.

Ginn views IO’s Packing Hope materials as supplemental to the LRI training. “They are God-exalting, Christ-honoring, and Scripturally centered,” he said.

Those resources for Nepal have included several books by John Piper, such as, A Sweet and Bitter Providence. Based on the story of Ruth, the book helped N.D. Thulung to see God’s hand in working all things for His glory and for the good of His people.

Another book by Piper, Life as a Vapor, encouraged Lazarus and his wife to live in light of eternity as they grieved the death of their adolescent son—born with cerebral palsy. This book helped Lazarus to better understand the trauma in his life and to help others who face sorrow and loss.

Beyond Nepal’s Borders

N.D. and Lazarus Thulung both graduated from LRI’s four-year TNT program, which qualifies them as “mentor trainers.” They have since passed on their training to more than two hundred other Nepalese church planters, according to Ginn.

The father and son now serve as strategic partners in LRI’s work in expositional training in Nepal and neighboring countries. Their separate churches are under the umbrella of Jyoti Great Commission Church, a fellowship of churches in Nepal.

Since passing his leadership role with ServLife to another man in late 2016, Lazarus further helps with the training of Nepalese and Bhutanese pastors in the U.S. These pastors have established churches among the diaspora population in several large cities—Atlanta, Houston, and Columbus (Ohio).

Including N.D. and Lazarus, LRI currently has fourteen trainer-led groups in Nepal. Their efforts, along with the work of other faithful and courageous pastors and ministry partners in this country, are multiplying leaders and healthy churches well beyond this country’s border.

Kevin Halloran serves with Leadership Resources, an organization that equips pastors worldwide in expositional preaching. He’s a member at The Orchard EFC in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where he helps lead the Spanish ministry.

Patti Richter writes and edits International Outreach stories for The Gospel Coalition and contributes faith articles regularly to several publications. She lives near Dallas, Texas, and teaches children’s Bible study at Lake Pointe Church. 

[Lazarus Thulung photo provided by ServLife International. Father and son photo from Alan Ginn].

Learn more about partnering with Leadership Resources to equip national pastors in biblical exposition.

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