What criteria can you use when planning a series in a longer book that you don’t want to last for years? Obviously we’re not obligated to cover complete books in a series, but how might you do that selectively rather than comprehensively? Here are some pointers:
Foundation – Know the message, flow and structure of the book. In order to plan a series that selectively represents the whole, you need a good awareness of the whole. Without this you are likely to end up with a plan that doesn’t represent the book, or you’ll start into the series and end up preaching every passage (which might be appreciated . . . but only “might be” – your church may not want you to try to be Martyn Lloyd-Jones!)
1. Select key moments in the book. In every book there are key moments of transition or anchor points for the flow of the book. For example, a selective series in Mark’s gospel would need to be touching heavily on the transition that occurs at 8:27-30 and the following couple of paragraphs. Equally, Mark 10:45 is fairly critical, perhaps with the following story which is somewhat transitional as the final step before Jerusalem.
2. Select key examples in the book. There are some passages that may not be at a transition point, but are just very typical of the style and message of the book. For instance, Mark 4:35-41 as an example of Mark’s pattern of following teaching with testing.
3. Select an example in a sequence, but show the whole progression. Often a book will string together a series of stories making a similar point, such as in Mark 2-3. So you might select an example in the sequence demonstrating Jesus’ authority, but also show briefly how many such stories there are in the section. This covers a lot of ground, but can make quite an impression as people feel the weight of the authority demonstrated by the whole sequence.
4. Select passages you want to preach. As long as you have the other three types of message included, there is nothing wrong with selecting based on personal motivation – the fruit will probably show in your preaching if you are motivated!
5. Keep the big idea of the book clear throughout. Consistently, even if subtly, reinforce the big idea of the whole book to cohere the series.