Monday, January 16, 2012

Sequential Expository Preaching and the Holiday Calendar

Lots of expositional preachers depart from their normal practice of preaching through books of the Bible around Christmas and Easter, and maybe a few other times of year. I don't intend to dump on that practice, but I want to argue that it's often unnecessary.

In God's king providence, our church's series through Leviticus lined up remarkably well with the calendar over the past few weeks:

12/25: Leviticus 16 (the Day of Atonement). If you can't think of an appropriate way to handle that text on Christmas morning, you probably shouldn't be preaching.

1/1: Leviticus 17 (guilt, blood, life, and cleansing). Maybe a bit of a reach, but it's not too hard to see how some of those themes relate to the first day of a new year.

1/8: Leviticus 18 (laws concerning sexual immorality). I don't see any particular connection between the text and the calendar here. In fact, for awhile it looked like our pastor would land on this text on 12/25. And even I would argue against the prudence of sequential exposition in that event.

1/15: Leviticus 19 (a bit of a grab bag of laws related to holiness, but with a particular emphasis on justice and oppression in relationship to foreigners). And today we remember Martin Luther King's birthday.

1/22: Leviticus 20 (opens with condemnation of child sacrifice to idols). On the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Look, I realize that the anti-sovereigntists may argue that this is coincidence, or we just got lucky. But I actually want to suggest that you don't really need texts to line up this neatly in order to make sequential exposition connect with major holidays.

Think for a second about how many holidays relate to freedom, sacrifice, gratitude, and grace. Is it not fairly obvious how each of those themes relates directly to the over-arching message of Scripture? Or even more directly, aren't each of these themes foundational to the gospel?

Let me put all my cards on the table. I think you ought to explain what every text you preach has to do with the gospel and the big story of the Bible. And if you're doing that, it really may not be so difficult to explain to your congregation how just about any text relates to the major cultural observation that everyone has, at the very least, in the back of their minds when they walk in your church's doors.


David Stertz said...


I largely agree with you on this one but I would suggest two qualifiers. First, there is something to be said for knowing your audience and one's audience will be dramatically different depending on your ministry's surroundings. For instance, I pastor in a rural area where there are few churches to begin with. At the major holidays such as Christmas and Easter we often have 25 percent of those in our attendance whom I don't believe are genuine Christians. In such cases I would rather preach from texts that are easier to grasp in terms of gospel content. While Leviticus, like all of the law, clearly leads us to Christ, some paths are easier to follow than others.

Second, sometimes I find it beneficial to speak from the texts that are easy to pick the luscious fruit of the gospel from. For instance, leading up to Easter I was working through the book of Daniel. Few books contain God's master work of providence and redemption and few books so readily point us and the people of Israel to the Messiah. Yet even still the trappings that surround so many of Daniel's accounts and his prophetic utterances make it difficult for people to see Christ clearly. I sometimes look at major holidays as opportunities to take a break and to give people something more basic which is helpful to a diverse group of mature and maturing believers.

Ben said...

Though we're in a city, our attendance on Christmas has a similar profile. You're right that some texts are more workable than others. Leviticus 16 was much more appropriate than chapter 18. But several chapters of Daniel could work quite nicely at Christmas or Easter, and I'm not sure I can think of a better book to be preaching around Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, July 4th, Columbus Day, Veterans' Day . . .

Josh said...

What do we preach on Mother's Day? kidding . . .

Paul said...

I have learned that you don't preach on Satan on Mother's Day! My Pastor has always resisted being controlled by the calendar and one year on Mothers Day he just continued his series and the theme was Satan (not sure of the text). One lady let him have it at the door : )

One thing I have seen work well is to reference the particular holiday somehow in the introduction. This seems to appease the expectation some have and allows you to keep plowing.

Calvin is a great example of this. I would have to dig up my church history notes for the specifics, but the story is told that when Calvin came back to Geneva (I think) after being gone for some time, he entered the pulpit and picked up right where he left off with the next verse somewhere in the Minor Prophets I think.

The exhortation from our teacher, Dan Miller, was that if we allow the calendar to set our preaching schedule, we won't preach the whole counsel.

Ben said...

Paul, can't argue with the Satan stuff. But this contrarian would still find it tempting.

David, let me just expand on my previous comment a bit in case it wasn't clear. The reason I think Daniel is so great on so many national holidays is because the message of Daniel undercuts the confusion of American patriotism with Christianity.

In fact, the central message of Daniel also helps us avoid preaching inter-testamental history or speculative eschatology, and that's important on every Sunday, not just holidays. And by the way, here's what I see as the central message, spoken by Nebuchadnezzar, and echoed by Darius and Daniel himself:

"[H]is dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

Don Johnson said...

FWIW, I almost never preach a message related to Mothers on Mothers Day or Fathers on Fathers Day. I don't do what I call Greeting Card Holidays.

At Christmas, I usually take a break from whatever series I am in for a special Christmas series on some aspect of the biblical theology of Christ. These Christmas series are usually at least 4 weeks. This year I started in November and ended on Jan 1 on the theme "Son of David" ... really too big a topic for the seven weeks I gave it, but in the end I thought the series was profitable.

In our area, we rarely have an influx of extra visitors of any significance at any season of the year. Things are very secular around here.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

David Stertz said...


I want to be clear for you too! I don't disagree with what you stated in your original post. I hope that my "qualifiers" did not come across as a disagreement. Nor do I disagree with your assessment of Daniel as a great book to use on so many holidays because I, like you, detest the confusion between the clear distinction of American patriotism and Biblical Christianity. I also agree that God's sovereign control over all affairs of humanity - civil or individual - is definitely the central theme of Daniel's masterpiece. Eschatology (speculative or otherwise) and any inter-testemental history that might occur in the book only point to God's sovereignty anyways.

My two qualifiers are essentially pointing to one main idea - I don't view the calendar as something I am enslaved to. Rather, I view it as tool to sometimes be used to help get to additional texts and truths that are useful to our congregation. At times I exercise that tool. Most times it is ignored.