Monday, January 22, 2007

The Power of Verse-by-Verse Teaching

Bob Hyatt, an ECM pastor who has an otherwise pretty good and helpful blog, has posted a blogpost "ruts.." where he makes the following statement:

When I started, 2 1/2 years ago, at this "teaching pastor" thing, doing it week in and week out- I had a lot to say. Now I've said it. And said it. And said it.


Bob's not real thrilled with the Calvary Chapel movement - seems to have somewhat of a bugger of a burr in his saddle over the fact that we don't consider ourselves to be a denomination. Seems to be unable to parse the difference between sharing common doctrine and vision vis-a-vis an actual, honest-to-God denominational structure.

That, and he's not precisely jumping for joy that some of the critiques of the Emerging/Emergent Church Movement are coming from the CC camp.

He seems to forget that the most telling, most incisive, most devastating critiques come from other sources (Johnny Mac, Koukl & Krew, etc - and if you want a really good unintentional critique of the ECM, read pretty much anything by Scott McKnight).

But I partially digress.

Back to Bob's bodacious botheration.

This illustrates the major strength of the primary, sine qua non distinctive of the Calvary movement: Expositional, verse-by-verse, Genesis-to-Maps teaching through the entire Bible.

Chuck Smith, the titular head of the Evil Empire (as perceived by a good chunk of the ECM and at least one Blog Of Which We Do Not Speak) has this advice:

When I first started out in the ministry, my sermons were all topical sermons centered around evangelism. I had two years of sermons, so every two years I would request the bishop for a change of church, and then I would move to a new area and preach my two years of sermons again. I did this in four communities until I finally landed in Huntington Beach, California. By this time my older daughter had started school and personally, I loved living in Huntington Beach. It was a lovely little beach community of only 6,000 people at the time, and I began to really know and like the people. But I was running out of sermons because preaching topical sermons, it is rather difficult to find the text. When you're searching through the whole Bible to find a text to preach on each week, it is difficult because the Bible's a good-sized book. Every week, though, I found myself going through, reading until some text really hit me. And of course, I had to have three sermons every week and it began to get difficult for me to find my text, especially since it had to be in the area of evangelism. Once I found a text, I was able to develop it, but finding a text was always a problem.

I came across a book at that time called the Apostle John, by Griffith Thomas and in the middle of the book, he had outlined studies of the book of First John. I began to read his outlined studies of First John and found that they were great expository outlines of this little epistle. There were 43 outlines, and I thought, "Wow, I can spend another year here in Huntington Beach if I just teach First John." So I announced to the people on a Sunday morning, that the next Sunday we would begin a study of the First Epistle of John.

The very first thing that Griffith Thomas explained in his book is why John wrote his epistle in the first place: in chapter one he said, "And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full"; in chapter two he said, "These things we write unto you that you sin not" and in chapter five he said, "These things we have written unto you that ye may know that you have eternal life."

I announced to the people that we were going to begin a study on First John and I said, "Now, there are three reasons why John wrote this little epistle. By next Sunday I want you to be able to tell me the three reasons. When I greet you at the front door when you come to church, if I ask you three reasons why John wrote that epistle, I'm expecting you to be able to tell me." I had people calling me in the middle of the week saying, "We've read the thing through seven times and we can only find two reasons, are you sure there are three?" And I said, "I am sure there are three; keep reading." My sermon that Sunday morning was the purpose of the book. I had three points: reading the book will give you fullness of joy, freedom from sin and assurance of your salvation.

There are six places in which John points to Jesus Christ as our example. So that Sunday I said, "Now, next week I want you to find the six places where John points to Jesus Christ as our example, and the key words are as he, or even as he. Six places where he has pointed to Jesus as our example. Find them."

Again the people started reading through the book and it took them 8, 9, 10 times to find all six: if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with the other; if we say we abide in Him, then we ought also to walk even as He walked. He is our example in our walk. We ought to be walking as He walks, walking in the light as He is in the light, our example in righteousness and purity, for we are pure as He is pure, we are righteous as He is righteous. He said we should love even as He commanded us. And finally, as He is, so are we to be to this world.

The next sermon was false professions that people make. First John lists seven false professions with the key words if a man says, or if we say. I said, "Find the false professions that people are making." The congregation was reading through the book again, and the following Sunday, we dealt with the phrase "to know." How do we know what we know? I had them reading through the book again. I then started an expository study through the book. Beginning with 1:1 and going straight through the book of First John, I spent a whole year in the book.

The interesting thing was that in a year's time, the church had doubled in attendance. I had not given invitations in every service to accept Christ, but we had more conversions and water baptisms that year than any previous year. And the exciting thing was that the people had a greater joy in their walk with the Lord than they had ever known before. They were experiencing real power over sin, and they were assured of their salvation.

Isaiah said, "'As the rain cometh down from the heavens and returns not thither, but it waters the ground that it might give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, so is My word that goes forth out of My mouth,' saith the Lord, 'it shall not return unto Me void. It shall accomplish the purposes for which I sent it.'" If God sent us this little epistle of First John to bring us fullness of joy, to bring us freedom from sin, and to bring us assurance of salvation, that's exactly what's going to happen to the people as you teach them that book. God's Word won't return void. Our words probably will, but His Word won't. If you are faithful in teaching His Word, it will accomplish the purpose for which God sent it. And that's why, when you read an epistle, it is always good to ask yourself, "What is the purpose of this epistle? Why was this written?" Find the purpose, and then you'll find out what it is that God is working out in your life and what you could be expecting to happen as you make a real study of that epistle or of that gospel.

I was able to stay another year in Huntington Beach, and with the new church growth it was greater than ever. As I was finishing First John, I was beginning to develop my own style of expository teaching. I thought, "What book of the Bible could I tackle in the same way as First John?" In seminary, I had a professor who told us that the book of Romans would revolutionize any church. I'd always heard what a glorious book Romans was but, I have to confess, I had read it many times and it didn't really turn me on. But I had a lot of confidence in that professor, and if he said it would revolutionize any church, I thought it would be fun to be a part of a revolution. So I announced to the people when we came to the end of our study of First John, "Now, next Sunday we are going to begin a study in the book of Romans."

I went out and bought all the commentaries I could find on the book of Romans and I began to develop outline studies similar to the outline studies I had in First John. I spent two years on Sunday mornings in the book of Romans. Again, the church doubled; we had more people saved and more people baptized than we ever had had before. It was glorious; it was exciting.

I picked up a copy of Halley's Bible Pocket Handbook. In fact, I made a practice of giving one of these to every new convert. I've always said the first book you should have in your library outside of the Bible is Halley's Bible Pocket Handbook. It's just full of valuable, good, background information, cultural, archaeological, historical. For a little book, it's got more nuggets and more facts than any other book I know. So, they came out with a revised edition, and it had a new cover jacket on the front. And on this jacket it said, "The most important page in this book is 867." Now, I had so admired Mr. Halley that I thought, "I wonder what he considers to be the most important page in this book?" I mean, I had always gotten a lot of value out of the whole thing. So I turned to page 867 and there he said, "Every church should have a method of systematically encouraging the congregation to read through the whole Bible." And, "Ideally, the pastor's Sunday morning sermon would come out of the area that they had been reading the previous week." He gave a suggested reading, so you could go through the whole Bible in a year. I thought that was just a little strenuous, but I thought we could go through in two years. Taking ten chapters a week, fifteen when we get to the Psalms, we could go through the whole Bible in two years. And then the thought occurred to me, Chuck, you can stay in the church the rest of your life, if you just start teaching through the Bible.

I discovered that it was much easier to get sermons when I was confined to one small area for my text, and the quality of the sermons were much better, for I was able to spend much more consecrated study on the next text I was going to be speaking from than I did when I was hodgepodging around the whole Bible. When you have to find your text within a certain portion of Scripture, it makes you really push and do some consecrated and valuable studying. So I took up Mr. Halley's suggestion, taking the people straight through the Bible and that's been my practice ever since.

At the present time (1989), we are going through the Bible at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa for the seventh time with our congregation. I have slowed down considerably. I am only taking a couple of chapters a week, sometimes three chapters, but I've really slowed down my pace going through. And I'm loving it more this time than ever because I am progressively learning more. The last time I went through I slowed down to five chapters a week. Now, I've slowed down to two, sometimes three chapters a week. By the time I'm through with the present systematic teaching, we will have a very thorough commentary on the entire Bible because I've made it a personal practice that every time I go through the Bible I read a new commentary, or sometimes two or three new commentaries, so, as a result, I've been able to read most of the major commentaries on the Bible.

4 comments:

bob said...

Funny- I spent some very formative time in a CC church... and it must have rubbed off, since I teach verse by verse through whole books of the Bible!
No, not Genesis-to-Maps, but a whole lot closer than most of the evangelical scene...

And it's still possible to find yourself saying many of the same things, in the same ways. Verse-by-verse teaching doesn't prevent ruts...

God bless the Calvary Chapel denomination!
:)

mike macon said...

Holy cow (and I mean that in the most non-Hindu way possible)... I never expected Bob to read much less comment.

Ummm, hi, Bob. ::sheepish grin::

No, the VBV style of expositional teaching won't keep you doesn't keep you from "saying many of the same things, in the same ways," as you aptly put it - but that's ironically part of the point.

The VBV style has the (in my opinion) huge strength of forcing you to deal with the subjects in the Bible to the degree the Bible deals with them, to the extent the Bible deals with them, in the context in which the Bible deals with them, and in the frequency at which the Bible deals with them.

Hence, I find myself dealing with grace (for instance) a whole heapin' heck of a lot. ...and the Christian's individual responsibility to live in and live out grace, being a "doer of the Word, and not a hearer only."

The other huge benefit is the twin consequence that I will (a) not be able to easily avoid those subjects I don't really like to camp on (like giving), and (b) not be able to easily camp on those subjects I do. It becomes quickly obvious to the people when I start to wrench verses out of context to fit my preconceived (i.e., eisegetical) agenda.

...which brings up another benefit: the people are trained not to need me or any other pastor, but to feed from the Word for themselves. I then become a brother called alongside the brethren to share what I myself have gleaned, rather than becoming a de facto priestling.

Kudos for teaching expositionally through Books of the Bible - rock on!

...I'd challenge and encourage you to give a shot at teaching now through the entire Bible - and see what happens.

You can always abandon that method after one trek through.

And you can always intersperse topical messages throughout the journey through.

One more thing - don't fall for the trap of thinking that if the Spirit is having you camp on certain doctrinal themes (assuming you're continuing to teach expositionally) that you're in a "rut." Christians don't need to hear snazzy new things every Sunday; we need to hear the wisdom of the ages which never changes.

mike macon said...

...one other comment on teaching.

Jon Courson (www.joncourson.com) has taught us at pastors' conferences in the past that what he seeks to do every Sunday is to bring out some milk, some meat, and some manna.

I like that.

david rudd said...

mike,

funny thing. i followed the link from bob's blog here... imagine my surprise when your profile says, "norton shores, MI"...

i say, "hey, i know someone from there... oh yeah, it's me."

i'm the pastor of spiritual formation at calvary church in town.

even more ironically, he linked me in the same post...

shoot me an email sometime, we can do coffee at barnes and noble or the pointes.

bishoprudd AT gmail