Some preachers plan series in a relatively simple manner. They select a book of the Bible and then preach, unit by unit, through the book, or through a section. Others select a topic and select appropriate passages to organize a topical series. I am not critiquing either approach, but want to offer another option too.
Just as we are in danger of reading the Bible to look for a message, so we can fall into reading the Bible to look for a series. One way this manifests itself is in the sections we dismiss, as much as those we select. For instance, what if we were looking in the Psalms and were drawn to a section like the Psalms of Ascent? Well, fifteen weeks might be too long for a series, so we are tempted to look elsewhere.
As often as possible we should simply soak in the text. Like taking a leisurely bath rather than a quick shower, we should take every opportunity to be saturated by a section. Something happens once it gets into you. Let’s push the analogy and say that the skin of our soul becomes wrinkly . . . even when you step out the evidence remains.
So for example, I was preparing a synopsis of a longer study on Psalms 107-118 (the section before the Ascent Psalms). A dozen psalms that present a unified and powerful message. If I had been looking for a series, I would have gone elsewhere because 12 weeks is probably too long. (Or settled for the more obvious Egyptian Hallel of 113-118, missing the blessing of the first part of the sequence.) But after soaking in this text for a while, I can’t help but find myself thinking of creative ways to present the message of this section. Combining psalms, summarizing a block of three with a focus on one, perhaps even preaching a message that traces the flow through all twelve.
I soaked and now the wrinkly skin of my soul is looking for an opportunity to preach the section . . . in one message, in three, in five. I suppose, like a leisurely bath, there is probably a fragrance that lingers from this kind of study, too.
Sometimes we have to plan very pragmatically. Let’s be sure we also create space for soaking, slow, text-saturated, natural born series.