The High Cost of Holiday Sermons, Part 1
In light of the fact that the Bible instructs pastors to preach the Word verse by verse (cf. 1 Tim. 4:17, Col. 4:16, Matt. 28:20, et al.), I'm always intrigued by the excuses I hear for why pastors don't. Some justify their non-expository sermons with sheer pragmatism, opting for a give-the-people-what-they-want mentality (contrary to 2 Timothy 4:3). Some rationalize their topical sermon series by pointing to the revelatory preaching of first-generation preachers like the apostles (as opposed to the explanatory preaching demanded of second-generation preachers like Timothy). Still others don't believe in verbal, plenary inspiration (contrary to 2 Timothy 3:16), making it obvious why they treat the Bible like a buffet to be perused rather than a book to be proclaimed.
But one interesting excuse that is far too common is the idea that there simply isn't enough time to preach God's Word verse by verse and book by book. The idea behind this is that if a pastor plodded along sequentially through Scripture (teaching the Bible just as the Holy Spirit wrote it), there are simply not enough minutes in one lifetime to preach through a meaningful portion of Scripture. In a sense, I sympathize with this line of thinking, if a pastor's fear is based on not addressing the full counsel of God. After all, history leaves us with stories of Puritan preachers who were known to devote literally dozens of sermons to only a single verse. That kind of overbearing tenacity is just as unhelpful.
Yet, of those preachers who don't believe they have time for sequential exposition, I wonder how many of them preach holiday sermons every year. You know the routine—on Easter they preach a Resurrection-specific message (perhaps from 1 Corinthians 15), near Christmas they preach an incarnation-specific message (perhaps from Luke 2), and so on and so forth. Every year specific Sundays are tailored to the particular holiday at hand.
Truth be told, there is a high cost to these annual holiday sermons, and it cuts right through the excuse of not having enough time for sequential exposition. To that end, a little bit of basic math can go a long way in demonstrating why.
For the sake of the math, we'll make a couple of simple assumptions. Let's assume a pastor preaches six holiday sermons every year: one for the New Year, one for Easter, one for Mother's Day, one for Independence Day, one for Thanksgiving, and one for Christmas. Obviously some pastors preach fewer, and others more, holiday-specific sermons. And the particular holidays may vary from place to place. But we'll assume just an average of six per year. Let's also assume that the pastor is with his church for thirty years. He started preaching as a young man, with a commitment to his church over the long haul.
The math is simple: 6 x 30 = 180.
Over the course of his ministry, he would have preached a whopping 180 holiday sermons!
Now let's see what exactly that cost him (and his congregation). Let's assume that it would require five sermons for an expositor to preach through a single chapter in the New Testament. Again, some chapters might require more, and others less, but on average let's say it takes five separate sermons to make it through a given chapter.
The math is, again, simple: 180/5 = 36.
Over the course of his ministry, instead of preaching holiday sermons, he could have preached through 36 chapters of Scripture!
To put it in perspective, that means that instead of devoting the pulpit to particular hoildays ever year, such a preacher could have worked his way through:
Galatians (6 chapters)
Ephesians (6 chapters)
Philippians (4 chapters)
Colossians (4 chapters)
1 Peter (5 chapters)
2 Peter (3 chapters)
1 John (5 chapters)
2 John (1 chapter)
3 John (1 chapter)
Jude (1 chapter)
In other words, a congregation could have been led from the depths of depravity to the heights of heaven over the course of ten New Testament epistles!
No time for sequential expository preaching? That's not what the numbers show.
Numerically speaking, there is a high cost to preaching holiday sermons each year. But in reality, the fundamental problem has deeper roots. After all, when it comes to Christianity, new ideas are often old errors. That's where we'll pick up next time.