Don’t Assume Familiarity

It happens all too regularly.  The preacher zeroes in on a specific text and preaches it, assuming that the listeners are familiar with the broader context and flow of the book in which it is found.

Even if you are mid-series, don’t assume familiarity.  It takes more than one or two brief overviews to help people feel comfortable in the broader context of a passage.  It is easy to think that since this is week three of six, they will be tracking on the flow of the book.  They may not.

Even if you already gave a a mini-overview in this message, don’t assume familiarity.  You might have just given a thirty second sweep over the top of the book in your introduction.  But now that you are into your message, you can’t assume they will be automatically spotting the connections you are hinting at in reference to how this text follows on from the preceding.  Be overt.

Recognize that many in our churches feel much more daunted by the Bible than we might expect.  It is easy to assume a level of familiarity that simple isn’t there.  Also, many in our churches dip into the Bible for proof texts and to answer questions in Bible study groups, but don’t read books in flow and so don’t have familiarity with books as a whole.

We would do well to consider it one of our privileges to help folks become more familiar with books as a whole.  It takes time, but it is worth the effort.  The spiritually mature tend not to be the pocketful of proof text people, but rather the grasping the message of books as a whole kind of folks.  So what to do?

1. Repeatedly offer helpful clear flowing summaries of books and larger sections when preaching from within them.  It takes work to summarize effectively in order to do this (the kind of work the preacher is supposed to be doing, however!)

2. Consider overview sermons at the beginning and/or end of book series.  Why is this so seldom done?  Surely having worked with the bits, people would be delighted to see the whole fit together.

3. Consider stand-alone whole book sermons.  With the overt goal of motivating people to get into the book for themselves, these can be highly profitable messages.

4. If your messages always skip around the canon like a four-year old after cake, or if your series are always topical in nature . . . consider the benefits of teaching through a book now and then.

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One thought on “Don’t Assume Familiarity

  1. A few weeks ago we finished an extended series in the book of Hebrews. We had preached through from start to finish over the course of around 30 weeks.

    At every point during the series, if the preacher presented a “where have we been so far” style introduction it provoked lots of positive comments from members of the Church. Even in a very long series sticking with the same book and similar themes, people always appreciate being reminded of context.

    We also did something a bit different and rather brave to conclude the series. Instead of ending with a final round-it-all-up sermon, our final week in Hebrews was a complete read through of the book from start to finish. We got various members of the congregation involved, reading about a chapter each (I was impressed at how well this worked, everyone read very well and it flowed smoothly from one reader to the next). The response on that Sunday was amazing, we had dozens of people come forward for prayer and the reading had so clearly and deeply impacted people.

    It was brave and never tried before in our Church, but I am sure we will do something similar again in the future.

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