I had just become senior pastor two months earlier and now, at the annual sermon planning retreat, I was to give direction for our preaching for the upcoming year.
Our church was known for biblical preaching, but I sensed we were in a topic-driven rut that basically had rotated a handful of relevant biblical themes in our teaching year after year. It was time for a change, and so I suggested a yearlong study through the book of Deuteronomy.
My wife’s reaction was a big “thumbs down.” When a staff member heard my proposal, she simply said, “Seriously?” A peer said he would give me a job when the elders fired me for such a bad idea. Many people were surprised, others were doubtful, and I even wondered . . . but I forged ahead.
For me, the preaching challenge of doing something no one else was doing—and my deep conviction that all Scripture really is “God-breathed” (yes, even Deuteronomy)—sealed my decision.
Here’s what happened when our congregation spent 54 weeks in the seldom-preached fifth book of the Bible.
We affirmed the high position of the Bible in our church.
One might think preaching from this seemingly obscure Old Testament book for a whole year would eventually bore the preacher, the congregation, or both. But it never happened. We even preached Deuteronomy through Christmas and Easter, and the congregation remained engaged throughout.
The Bible took center stage and became the focus, instead of clever titles and newly packaged themes. Our preaching proclaimed anew the Bible as the power of our teaching.
We found extremely relevant themes throughout our teaching.
To preach through one book for an entire year didn’t mean we became less creative or relevant; it actually challenged us to be more so. During our preparation we found some 21st-century themes emerge, and we could package them with equal creativity.
Nothing is more in touch with culture than the 10 Commandments, which we called “THE X.” We preached a series on leadership, legacy, journey to the promised land, Jesus, money, etc. We even preached from Deuteronomy 25:11, 12 (check it out, you won’t believe it) as part of a subseries called “You Asked for It,” where our congregation chose the texts we preached.
Our preaching became more relevant and creative than during our topical years.
We were inspired to search the Scriptures as never before.
One advantage of preaching through Deuteronomy is we discovered verses many had never seen before. Some couldn’t believe the Bible was so interesting, and others remarked they had no idea God covered so many things. Still others loved locating the Old Testament people of God in time and place (this in spite of my poorly drawn maps). We found during this season of preaching that our people dug deeper throughout the week trying to tie together other Scriptures. Our preaching actually caused us to study harder and read more of God’s Word.
We taught in a way that felt unforced.
I often have felt a bit manipulative when planning a series to get our congregation moving in a certain direction (for example: to increase giving, preach a series on giving).
When you choose to preach through a book, however, you simply preach what is next. And guess what? Deuteronomy is filled with lessons about giving and every other topic we would normally cover for the growth of our congregation. Preaching about them as we worked through Deuteronomy felt natural, not contrived.
Our people have come to trust we are simply teaching the whole of God’s Word and not what we want to emphasize. We leave the timing for topics up to the Holy Spirit, and he doesn’t miss! Our preaching covered all of the topics as we covered all of the Scriptures.
Our year in Deuteronomy was a lesson to our church and to this pastor. We have continued to follow a pattern of lengthy studies through books of the Bible without regret.
Mike Baker serves as senior pastor with Eastview Christian Church, Normal, Illinois.