Probably the single most popular trend in evangelical preaching today is the use of sermon series, a 4 or 6 or 8-week series that covers a large topic, one week at a time. The topics can be as practical as stress reduction or marital advice, psychological with a focus on addiction or guilt, or focus on a book of the Bible or a theological issue like the atonement. While some sermon series draw their inspiration from time-honored preaching traditions, some of the topics can be quite worldly. They seek to help Christians live more fulfilling lives, but end up focusing more on the Christian than the Christ.
Sermon series seem to be a pretty recent invention. Pastors love sermon series because they allow him/her to choose the topic and simply use the Bible as needed. And this is the downside to them. The Bible is not always used as the inspiration for the sermon, but as the justification for the topic. When that happens, the congregation can be starved of Bible teaching that does not conform to the vision or message the pastor wants to offer. Even when the Bible is used, it can easily be taken out of its original context and applied in the way most convenient for the sermon.
What's the alternative? Rather than having a church determine a message based largely on market research and the "felt needs" of a demographic, it seems that a more faithful approach might be to let the Bible dictate the preaching. Using a sermon topic to influence the passages of the Bible makes for easier preaching, but this does not appear to be the pattern as laid out by the apostles. Paul sought to preach nothing except Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Peter's great sermon in Acts 2 is all about Jesus and his saving work, not a message on how the hearers can live a better life. And there is little to indicate in any of the apostles' letters that the teaching and preaching should be on the holiness of God, the Gospel of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, not the felt needs of an audience.
Sermon series can certainly be faithful to the scriptures and easy for the hearers to follow. But if a pastor chooses not to use sermon series, it is likely because he allows the Bible to influence the message of the sermon, rather than the message influencing which Bible passages are selected.
If you are in a congregation that heavily relies on sermon series that do not first and foremost draw on the Word of God, consider visiting a congregation that still uses a traditional lectionary, or a cycle of readings rooted in the seasons of the Church year. In addition to your own Bible study, you will likely find it a great help in learning more of God's Word.
The Best of the Tradition With a Heart for Evangelism and Discipleship
As First Lutheran now is putting out its own podcast, future sermons will be available there. The best way to stay up to date with First Lutheran's sermons is to subscribe to that podcast or go to the link above to hear individual sermons.
To learn more about the thinking behind our sermons, check out this blog post.