One-to-One Bible Reading: A Simple Way to Fulfill the Great Commission (Part One)


Jesus’ command to make disciples doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. In fact, there are many seemingly ordinary things Christians can do to make an impact on those around them.

Kevin Halloran recently conversed with Sean Martin, LRI’s Director of Training in Europe, to talk about one-to-one Bible reading.

Listen to the audio below (or through this link) or read the transcript.

Kevin: Can you start off making the case for one-to-one Bible reading?

Sean: I want to start on the personal level. My case for one-to-one Bible reading goes back twenty years to when I became a Christian. The man who led me to the Lord met with me regularly to read the Scriptures, pray, and disciple me. It had an enormous impact on my life and I’m very grateful to God for that.

One-to-one Bible reading is something that captured me on the personal level as a disciple of Christ in my early walk and I’ve kept up one-to-ones the last twenty years as I’ve walked with Jesus.

To make the case for one-to-one Bible reading, I think it’s helpful in the midst of being in the trenches of life and ministry to go to the 10,000-foot level and ask, “Why do we read the Bible anyway?”

Two Core Convictions

1. The Bible is the Word of God

The prime reason I read the Bible with people and would encourage others to do so as well is because we believe, as evangelical Christians, that the Bible is the Word of God. We believe that God speaks, and what He has spoken has been written. We believe that the Word of God brings life and transformation. When God speaks, things happen.

Consider Genesis 1 when God spoke the creation into existence. As He spoke, so it was. As He spoke, so it was. That’s a common refrain in the creation narrative. We see that creation and life is a direct result of God speaking. In Isaiah 55:10-11 God compares His Word to the rain that comes down from heaven:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose…”

We need to ask ourselves: do I share that conviction? Do we really believe that God is a speaking God and that what He has spoken is written in the Old and New Testament Scriptures? Do we believe that His Word still brings life and transformation today?

This is why we share the gospel with unbelievers. As we tell people the gospel message, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 it is the power of God to save those who believe, both Jew and Gentile. This is a conviction that underlies all Bible ministry, not just one-to-one. Do you share that conviction?

2. Christ commands us to make disciples

Secondly, we have a conviction about the Great Commission. In Matthew 28, the risen Lord Jesus says He has all authority on heaven and earth and commands all disciples in every age to make disciples of the nations. One-to-one Bible reading is another way to fulfill the Great Commission.

How do I make a disciple? I can read the Bible with someone one-to-one. Both they and I will grow as disciples of Jesus as God’s Word speaks its life into our hearts and as we pray.

“One-to-one Bible reading is a simple way to fulfill the Great Commission.” Sean Martin

One-to-one Bible reading is a simple way to fulfill the Great Commission. One of the reasons I like one-to-one Bible reading is that you don’t have to be a professional pastor, a great evangelist, or seminary educated. What are the qualifications? Three things: 1) Do you love God? 2) Do you love people? 3) Do you love the Scriptures? That’s it.

Whether you’re a new Christian, a mature Christian, young, middle age, or old—it doesn’t matter. It’s a simple way to fulfill the Great Commission. Sit down with someone for an hour a week to pray and read the Scriptures together, and watch God do His work. I’ve seen God do it over and over again as I do one-to-ones and as I’ve been discipled myself. It’s terrific.

Kevin: One of the challenges I had when I first started one-to-one reading is focus. There are a lot of different rabbit trails you can go down trying to answer every question someone might have from the text. What is your main focus in one-to-one Bible reading?

What are the qualifications for one-to-one Bible reading? 1) Do you love God? 2) Do you love people? 3) Do you love the Scriptures? That’s it.

Sean: I think focus is a key word Kevin because, in some senses, one-to-one Bible reading time is like any meeting. Imagine a work meeting, for example. Many people express their frustrations for meetings because we thought we were going to meet about a certain topic, but we talk about other things and go on tangents. A one-hour meeting turns into a three-hour meeting. If you don’t have a focus, a goal, and some organization, the same thing can happen in your one-to-one.

To focus, I use the Swedish Bible Study Method. When I start to meet with someone one-to-one to read through Genesis a chapter at a time, I say, “I want you to read Genesis ahead of time. I’ll read it too. Let’s answer four questions before we come so we’re prepared.” Those four questions are:

  1. What do you see? What stands out in the passage?
  2. What questions do you have about the passage? If Moses was here and you could ask him a clarifying question, what would your question(s) be? We’ll wrestle with those questions together as we look at the text.
  3. What is the heart of the passage? What is the main thing the author is trying to say?
  4. What is the intent or application of the passage? What was the application for the original audience, and what is it for us today?

These four questions give us a focus and drive the meeting. We know those questions will shape our time and we will move methodologically through the questions. It’s a rich time and helps us avoid rabbit trails.

Our goal isn’t to answer every single question, but rather to understand the main idea of the text, apply it to our lives, and pray over it.

In Part Two, Sean shares recommended books of the Bible for one-to-one reading and tips for preparing.

Review: Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy

I love the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus teaching two disciples how the whole Old Testament testifies of Him in Luke 24. It mesmerized (and still mesmerizes) me thinking of Christ as the culmination of the entire Old Testament. For a while though, I was disappointed that Luke didn’t include a transcript of their conversation for us!

I wanted to understand more how the Old Testament pointed to Christ but didn’t know what to do. I didn’t realize it at the time that I lacked an understanding of biblical theology, something that is vital for every Christian and especially preachers. Yet, while there is a great need for preachers to understand biblical theology, most preaching books barely touch on biblical theology.

Thankfully Graeme Goldsworthy, the Aussie theologian, wrote Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (read 30 quotes). He defines biblical theology as “nothing more nor less than allowing the Bible to speak as a whole: as the one word of the one God about the one way of salvation” (7).

Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture lays out his methodology of biblical theology as it relates to expository preaching (Part One) before applying his methods to eight distinct biblical genres (Part Two). Goldsworthy’s stated purpose is to “provide a handbook for preachers that will help them apply a consistently Christ-centered approach to their sermons” (ix).

Not Easy, but Vitally Important

Goldsworthy grieves how much evangelical preaching misses the unity of the Bible story:

Texts are taken out of context; and applications are made without due concern for what the biblical author, which is ultimately the Holy Spirit, is seeking to convey by the text. Problem-centered and topical preaching became the norm and character studies treat the heroes and heroines of the Bible as isolated examples of how to live. The old adage about a text without its context being a pretext needs re-examination. (15-16)

Biblical theology is not easy, Goldsworthy concedes, but is essential to truly understanding the Bible’s message and what it means for us today. Goldsworthy shows the Christological focus of the Scriptures by unpacking the sometimes-tricky dynamics of Old Testament typology, law versus gospel, promise and fulfillment, along with the telos of the Bible. In doing so, we are reminded time and again just how badly sinful humanity needs to hear the message of Christ:

Why would you even want to try to preacher Christian sermon without mentioning Jesus? Is there anywhere else we can look in order to seek God? To see true humanity? To see the meaning of anything in creation? … If we would seek God, he is most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. If we would see what God intends for our humanity, it is most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. If we would see what God intends for the created order, we discover that it is bound up with our humanity and, therefore, revealed in Christ. (115-116)

The book’s second half provides framework, examples, and practical tips necessary to preach Christ from all literary genres of Scripture. This section (for which ‘handbook’ is a great label) is helpful, but not comprehensive (which would be near impossible). You may choose to skip around in this section to the genre of a book you are currently studying or one that you have difficulties with.


As the title of this book suggests, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture is most valuable to preachers and other communicators of the word. It compellingly shows that failing to preach Christ from all of the Scriptures comes with great danger:

Any sermon, then, that aims to apply the biblical texts to the congregation and does so without making it crystal clear that it is in Christ alone and through Christ alone that the application is realized, is not a Christian sermon. It is at best an exercise in wishful and pietistic thinking. It is at worst demonic and its Christ-denying legalism. (124)

This book’s unique contribution is combining biblical theological methods with practice. Most other books won’t provide a theological feast as rich (and important) of the first half, nor the practical guidance of the second—let alone the combination. Many preachers will find themselves consulting this book after they read it, even if it is a little erudite and lengthy. (Handbooks aren’t always meant to be read straight through.)

Overall, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture is a very important book. It will challenge the preacher’s assumptions and encourage him to dig into the Scripture text for himself, which is the only way to grow as a preacher of Christ. I think that it will encourage many to preach Christ and the gospel in diverse ways as it imparts insights on the unsearchable riches of Christ from various parts of the Bible. This won’t be the only book of preacher needs on biblical theology and preaching Christ, but it would be hard to find one more helpful to someone with an intermediate grasp of biblical theology. For those wanting a more introduction-level book, we recommend God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts (free video course), which is an accessible introduction.

Today, I’m content we don’t have Jesus’s sermon from Luke 24. (Although I’d still like to read it!) Christ wants us to discover His glorious riches for ourselves in all 66 books of the Bible.

Our task of preaching Christ from all the Scripture will never be easy. But as we faithfully labor and grow in understanding, our joy will grow as we see the One to whom the law, the prophets, and the Psalms testify and preach Him to our people.

30 Quotes from Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

One of our recommended books on biblical theology is Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy (read our review). In what he describes as a ‘handbook’, Goldsworthy helpfully explains many facets of biblical theology’s intersection with expository preaching and shares his methods applied to eight different genres of Scripture. Below we share quotes from the book to give you a taste of its richness.

“We believe that preaching is not some peripheral item in the program of the local church, but that it lies at the very heart of what it is to be the people of God.” (1)

“There is, first, the correct assumption that the Old Testament is Christian scripture and that, despite the difficulties in doing so, it must be appropriated for Christian people.” (2)

“The Resurrection is portrayed as the event that encapsulates and fulfills all the theological themes of the Old Testament.” (6)

“Biblical theology is nothing more nor less than allowing the Bible to speak as a whole: as the one word of the one God about the one way of salvation.” (7)

“As evangelical preachers, we will need to work very hard to ensure that the nature of our preaching is truly biblical. Using Bible texts, focusing on biblical characters, or using well-worn clichés that are asserted as biblical are not in themselves a guarantee that our preaching is essentially biblical.” (12)

“We must also recognize that the unity of the Bible has suffered by default in the evangelical camp. This is nowhere more clearly evident than in the way the Bible is preached by many evangelicals. Texts are taken out of context; and applications are made without due concern for what the biblical author, which is ultimately the Holy Spirit, is seeking to convey by the text. Problem-centered and topical preaching became the norm and character studies treat the heroes and heroines of the Bible as isolated examples of how to live. The old adage about a text without its context being a pretext needs re-examination.” (15-16)

“I will seek to show that a biblical theology consistent with evangelical presuppositions has great explanatory power and preserves the sense of the unity of scripture while also recognizing the great diversity that is there.” (16)

“I can think of no more challenging question for the preachers self-evaluation and to ask whether the sermon was a faithful exposition of the way the text testifies to Christ.” (21)

“Geerhardus Vos defines biblical theology as ‘that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.'” (22)

“If we allow at the Bible to tell its own story, we find a coherent and meaningful whole. To understand this meaningful whole we have to allow the Bible to stand as it is: a remarkable complexity yet a brilliant unity, which tells the story of the creation and the saving plan of God. Preaching, to be true to God’s plan and purpose, should constantly call people back to this perspective.” (22)

“I know it will not always be a simple matter to show how every text in the Bible speaks of the Christ, but that does not alter the fact that he says it does.” (21)

“Biblical theology helps to deliver the preacher from the doldrums of not knowing what to preach about. It is the fitting helper to expository preaching, that’s strangely neglected in the literature dealing with that subject.” (30)

“When done properly, preaching Christ from every part of the Bible need never degenerate into predictable platitudes about Jesus. The riches in Christ are inexhaustible, and biblical theology is the way to uncover them.” (30)

“Jesus didn’t invent biblical theology. He showed himself to be the real subject of the biblical theology that had been developing ever since human beings first received revelation from God.” (52)

“The idea that evangelical pastors can be sent to have ministerial oversight of congregations without first having a solid grounding in biblical theology is one of the scandals of our time. Show me a church without a good appreciation of the Old Testament and biblical theology and I’ll show you a church with a weak understanding of the gospel.” (52)

“Probably one of the most useful things we can do in this manner [that is, making the Bible’s storyline clear] is to help our congregation to engage biblical history without fear.” (69)

“Salvation was not an afterthought brought on by the unforeseen catastrophe of the fall. This Christocentric perspective is vital to understanding the Bible, and the preacher should constantly remind the congregation of it.” (79)

“Proper interpretation of any part of the Bible requires us to relate it to the person and work of Jesus.” (84)

“The essence of the kingdom is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” (87)

“World history, written from God’s point of view and without the debilitating effects of human sinfulness and human ignorance, is ultimately the history of the gospel.” (89)

“It is thus quite acceptable to say that the Old Testament saints were saved through faith in Christ, for he is the ultimate substance of all the promises of God in which these people trusted (2 Cor 1:20).” (108)

“The central thesis of this book: all texts in the whole Bible bear a discernable relationship to Christ and are primarily intended as a testimony to Christ.” (113)

“Any attempts to relate a text directly to us for our contemporary hearers without inquiring into its primary relationship to Christ is fraught with danger.” (113)

“Since there are inexhaustible riches in Christ, and the implication of these for our Christian experience are endless, I doubt very much that there is any need for a preacher to be boring and repetitive.” (115)

“Why would you even want to try to preach a Christian sermon without mentioning Jesus? Is there anywhere else we can look in order to seek God? To see true humanity? To see the meaning of anything in creation?” (115)

“If we would seek God, he is most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. If we would see what God intends for our humanity, it is most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. If we would see what God intends for the created order, we discover that it is bound up with our humanity and, therefore, revealed in Christ.” (116)

“Expository preaching is essentially the practice of explaining the meaning of a passage of scripture.” (120)

“Any sermon, then, that aims to apply the biblical texts to the congregation and does so without making it crystal clear that it is in Christ alone and through Christ alone that the application is realized, is not a Christian sermon. It is at best an exercise in wishful and pietistic thinking. It is at worst demonic and its Christ-denying legalism.” (124)

“If we are not going to proclaim some aspect of the riches of Christ and every sermon, we shouldn’t be in the pulpit.” (126)

“In preparing a sermon we should pray that the Spirit of God will be active to reveal to us the riches of that word. Yet the Spirit’s ministry is not an automatic and mystical thing. He works through our minds and our efforts to responsibly explain the biblical text.” (127)

“A neglect of biblical theology means putting ourselves and our hearers in danger of losing the way so that an unbiblical application is substituted for the biblical one. Biblical theology is, I submit, a matter of giving free reign to the great Protestant principle that was enunciated at the Reformation: scripture interprets itself.” (128)

“Being able to label the genre is not as important as understanding the nuances of each literary expression and what the author wants to achieve by it.” (137)

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But Isn’t One-to-One Bible Reading Inefficient? (Part Three)

This is Part Three of an interview with Sean Martin on One-to-One Bible Reading. Listen to the entire interview below or read Part One or Part Two of the transcript.

Kevin: I think many would agree that one-to-one Bible reading is a great ministry idea, but feel their lives are too packed already with pressures of life and ministry. They might even say, “This isn’t an efficient use of time because I’m only meeting with one person. When I preach a sermon, I preach to the whole congregation.” What would you say to that person?

Sean: I would say a few things. First of all, may God keep us from the place where we think we are too busy to make disciples. All Christians are called to make disciples. That’s the command of the Lord Jesus—it’s not an option.

May God keep us from the place where we think we are too busy to make disciples.

One-to-ones are great because it is a simple way to make disciples. You meet with someone an hour a week. Meet them in the early morning if you need. I used to meet with a guy who was a very busy banker. We met every Friday morning at 6 am. It was hard for both of us to get up that early, but that was the only time we could carve out in the week for it, so we disciplined ourselves to do it. I remember many Fridays feeling sorry for myself when the alarm went off at 5:30 am to go to the one-to-one. I’d be thinking on the way “this is really early,” but every time once we got going, we said at the end “it was worth it.” It’s always worth it.

We’re never too busy to make disciples. The question you have to ask yourself in ministry if you are too busy is are you letting the urgent overtake the important. We can feel that emails are urgent or texts or meetings, and yes, we need to attend to those things. But what we’re primarily here to do is make disciples. That’s important. I want to make sure that the important overtakes the urgent in my schedule.

It’s like going to the gym. You might feel too busy at first, but you have to get yourself going. Once you go and have momentum and are seeing results, you want to make time for it.

As far as it being strategic because you’re only meeting with “one person”—you’re not meeting with one person. We should have a training mindset in ministry. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul says to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”

“What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2

This verse presents four generations: 1) the Apostle Paul 2) Timothy, his protégé 3) faithful men who are able to teach and 4) others.

Once you start meeting one-to-one with somebody, I lay out the 2 Timothy 2:2 vision from the start: “This one-to-one doesn’t stop with you. I’m going to start meeting one-to-one with you, we will do this about two to three months, and at that point we’re going to have a conversation together and I’m going to encourage you to find two people to meet with and read the Bible with.” And what happens is by the third month or so, people are beginning to see the benefit, they’re enjoying it, they’re seeing a change. I ask them to think about one or two people they can have a one-to-one with. That one person starts meeting with two, and I tell them to challenge the people they meet with. Before you know it, the one-to-one that you started has grown exponentially.

You could start a Bible reading movement in your church.

You could start a Bible reading movement in your church. You could start a Bible reading movement in your high school if you’re doing this. You could start a Bible reading movement in your community.

It’s never about just one person, if you bring the training mindset into it, you can have a Bible reading movement all over.

Kevin: One thing I’ve heard you mention Sean is that you Facetime or Skype with guys we train if scheduling or proximity are issues, technology can make it very easy.

Sean: Absolutely it does. Sometimes it can’t be face-to-face. There’s a young man in ministry in a Central Asia country who wants to talk regularly about certain issues. We read through Scriptures and talk through things regularly. FaceTime allows us to do that.

There’s also a young man who moved to Brazil recently who is going through rough lives in life and ministry and again, I just had a chat with him over Facebook Messenger Video. It’s not quite the same as face-to-face (we are physical beings) but still, if Facetime and Messenger Video are what you have, it is an effective way to shepherd people around the world. It’s terrific. I wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise—letters take a long time!

Kevin: Thanks for the encouragement, Sean. And I know you wanted to recommend a resource on One-to-One Bible reading.

Sean: I would recommend to anyone who is thinking about one-to-one Bible reading or wanting training to read One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm. It’s an absolutely superb book—I think it’s the best I’ve seen on the topic and I recommend it to everyone.

Other Featured Interviews:

How to Prepare for a One-to-One Bible Reading Session (Part Two)

This is Part Two of an interview with Sean Martin on One-to-One Bible Reading. Read Part One or listen to the entire interview below.

Kevin: What are some of the books you read the most with different types of people?

Sean: With an unbeliever, I typically go to Mark’s gospel. It’s a way to meet Jesus as He walks off the pages of Scripture. It’s short, punchy, clear, and narrative with a lot of action. Unlike John’s gospel, there aren’t as many theological abstractions like the “I Am” statements that take a lot of time to explain. I find Mark a more straightforward and it gets to the heart quickly of who Jesus is, what He came to do, and what it means to walk with Him on the path of the cross. Mark, in my opinion, is the best book for an unbeliever.

For new believers, Colossians is my go-to book. It’s like a mini-Romans. It’s a gateway to the gospel and explains the gospel well. In the first chapter Paul reminds the Colossians of what the gospel is and the fruit it bears in faith, hope, and love. The latter half of the chapter makes clear who Jesus is and what He did on the cross, His supremacy as Lord, and the sufficiency of His sacrifice. The following chapters work out the implications of the gospel. What does it mean to put on the new life and leave the old behind? What does living out the gospel look like in married life? At the workplace? I find Colossians to be a foundational book. It’s straightforward and a great book for new believers.

With more mature believers, I work back and forth between the Old and New Testaments. I’ll ask, “What’s a book you’ve never read before that we should read together?” Some years ago a guy I was meeting with said, “I’ve never really read Isaiah.” We spend a whole summer working through Isaiah. (We did an overview—we didn’t go verse-by-verse for 66 chapters.) We had a terrific time.

Related Link: 12 Books of the Bible for One-to-One Reading

Kevin: How do you typically prepare for a one-to-one session? It’s probably different for you since you know these books well.

Sean: If you’re a pastor or someone in full-time ministry reading this, know that it’s important to not over-prepare for a one-to-one. If someone comes to meet with you, whether you’re aware of it or not, they will automatically look to you for the answers. “Sean, you’re a pastor, you just tell me.” (When I was young that was a great temptation because I was excited about the Scriptures.)

One thing I do to prepare is to tell the person I’m meeting with that this is a two-way street and we are both going to learn from one another. I make it clear that I am not teaching them what Colossians says, it is something we discover together. I make that clear.

Secondly, I mentioned the Swedish method, I give those questions to the person I’m reading with. I ask the same questions too. Over the years, I wouldn’t say I under prepare, but I just do the basics. I don’t pull out commentaries or my old sermons. I just look at Colossians afresh, ask those four questions, and come with a piece of paper and say, “Here are the things I thought of. What did you think of?” This is so the learning becomes mutual. This is very important. The tendency is to study up and show all you got. The purpose shouldn’t be that but to discover truth together.

If you’re a full-time ministry worker who learns not to come super prepared, I think it helps you develop the posture of a learner. We can learn things from brand new Christians. Sometimes new Christians ask me questions I’ve never thought of. I’ve thought, “Wow, that’s a really good question. I’m glad they asked it.” They make me think and work. You can always learn things from God’s people. Not over preparing is very, very important.

I want to share one more thing about preparation. A pitfall to avoid, especially as we grow in our relationship with our one-to-one, is that a friendship hopefully comes out of it, and the tendency is to want to chat and catch up all the time. I encourage people to be very disciplined. If I’m meeting someone for an hour, we have five minutes for catching up (unless they’ve just had a tragedy in their lives and it’s a shepherding moment). “What’s happening in your life? What did you think about the Cubs game? How’s work going? How was your holiday?”

Start with a quick catch up, time reading the text, prayer, forty-five minutes working through the text, and a couple of minutes sharing prayer requests, how can we pray the Scripture passage into our lives, how can we pray for our church and the world. One hour, we’re done.

Another pitfall to avoid deals with sharing your lives over time. You will be open and vulnerable with one another in this process about how God is stretching you or struggles that you’re having. The relational dynamics between men and women could lead you into areas that could be dangerous.  I always encourage men to meet with men and women to meet with women. Whether you’re single or married.

Part Three helps us see why one-to-one Bible reading is not inefficient and recommends a resource.


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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Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Battle Plan for Burnout | Interview with Bill Mills

“Burnout is largely a spiritual problem rooted in our theology, for the battles rage primarily in our hearts and minds. By theology, we are referring to more than our creedal orthodoxy. It is our practical theology in daily living which reveals what we really believe.”

“Burnout comes from the combination of an inadequate view of God and an inadequate view of ourselves.” —Bill Mills

Bill Mills has experienced burnout. He has experienced stress and ministry pressures overwhelming him to the point of feeling completely broken. He also knows the strength God provides to His children during difficult times.

In Finishing Well in Life and Ministry, Bill Mills and Craig Parro tackle the complex and often discouraging topic of burnout. In the audio interview below, Kevin Halloran chats with Bill Mills about the story behind the book, God’s provision in our weakness, and several biblical examples of servants who finished well after facing discouraging times in ministry.

Buy Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout from our Webstore or on Amazon.

Listen to the interview on YouTube and subscribe to our YouTube channel for future interviews.

Ministry Burnout Statistics:

—1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches
—80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors
—50% are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way of making a living
—70% said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons
—Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry
—80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years
—90% of pastors said their seminary or Bible school training did only a fair to poor job preparing them for ministry
—Pastors are 35% more likely to be terminated if they work less than 50 hours weekly
—80% of pastors believe their ministry negatively affects their families
—80% of pastors say they do not have sufficient time to spend with their spouse
—55% of pastors receive support and accountability from a small group
—45.5% of pastors have experienced burnout/depression and had to take a break from ministry
—57% of pastors do not have a regularly scheduled and implemented exercise routine

You may also enjoy the interview with Bill on Adequate! How God Empowers Ordinary People to Serve.

#PreachingTip: Echo the Bible’s Tone

Echo the Bible's Tone

When studying a text, part of Asking Good Questions is discovering the tone of the passage. (Understanding the genre also helps us understand tone.)

David Jackman of The Proclamation Trust recommends that we Echo the Bible’s Tone in the video below. If you like this video, you will enjoy the whole Equipped Series from the Proclamation Trust.

Also watch: Staying on the Line




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