I began serving a new congregation on January 1. For the previous seven-and-a-half years, I had joyfully served the historic First Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. They had faithfully listened to God’s preached Word and together the Lord had grown us—spiritually and numerically as a congregation, spiritually and in maturity as their pastor. However, through the search committee and the congregation at Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC) in Memphis, Tennessee, God called me to serve a new flock.

So one of the first questions with which I wrestled—one I started thinking about from the day the congregation voted—was what I would preach when I got to Memphis.

I had three precommitments that limited or directed my answer to that question. 

1. Consecutive, Christ-centered, expository preaching

Throughout my preaching ministry, I have been committed to a consecutive, Christ-centered, expository preaching of God’s Word. In Hattiesburg, I took our people through Genesis, the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20), Ruth, the life of David (1 Sam. 16–1 Kings 1), Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Habakkuk, Jonah, Matthew, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians/Philemon, Hebrews, James, and the Epistles of John. In each series, I sought to show how the God of transforming grace—preeminently in Jesus Christ—meets the deepest needs of our fallen nature. That wouldn’t change in Memphis.

2. Systematic exposure to various biblical parts and genres

As you can tell, I attempted to expose the congregation to different sections of Scripture as well as different genres. While preaching is not the same as teaching, there is obviously an instructional element to it. Through my preaching, I’m trying to demonstrate how to study the Bible—which means one cannot read Lamentations the same way as Hebrews or Matthew. Also, by preaching the gospel from every section of the Bible, I hoped our people would grasp that the Bible as a single message (gospel) with a single hero (Jesus) and a single goal (cosmic transformation). That wouldn’t change in Memphis either.

3. Sensitivity to a new congregational context

I think what makes a pastor as opposed to merely a preacher is the deep desire to apply God’s Word to people you know and love. I try to do that in each sermon. But I also try to do that as I plan my preaching. I ask questions like:

  • What does this congregation need?
  • What are our struggles?
  • Where are patterns of sin showing themselves?
  • How can I point them to hope in Jesus?

Since I generally plan 12 months out, I want to be sensitive to what the Spirit is doing in revealing patterns of sin and places of discouragement. That strategy would also remain in Memphis.

Setting the Course

I also had some other considerations. Even though I went back and forth from Memphis to Hattiesburg the first five months (until my daughter graduated from high school), I generally didn’t want to recycle sermons I’d preached elsewhere. I felt it was important for God’s Word to meet me first so my excitement about the text would be evident to my new flock. So I committed to writing fresh sermons each week.

The first sermons of a ministry often set the trajectory or tone for an entire season of pastoral leadership. What did I want the church to be known for? What did I want my ministry to major on? I was sure some in my new congregation would make assumptions or take cues from what I decided to preach on in these first sermon series.

Where I Landed 

I decided to preach from three books in 2017. We started in Galatians. I chose that Pauline letter for a couple reasons. First, I had never preached it before, but I had just finished a series on Romans in Hattiesburg last year. There’s obvious overlap between the two letters, so the themes wouldn’t be foreign to me. Second, I wanted above all else for IPC to be known for majoring on the the good news that God justifies the ungodly through faith alone in Jesus alone. That gospel is how God makes new people, and that’s how he will shape a new Memphis through us.

Then, starting in May, our pastoral team and I preached a series on Proverbs. I typically take my vacation in the summer after the PCA General Assembly, which means I’m out of the pulpit four to six straight weeks. At IPC, we have six other teaching elders, and I am committed to giving them preaching opportunities through the year. But I also wanted us to capitalize on the gospel momentum we gained through our study of Galatians. So we considered what true wisdom looks like in a range of areas—money, sex, family, friendship, humility, work, words—all while seeing how each area leads us to the One who is true wisdom incarnate.

And then, on July 30 and running to the end of the calendar year, I am preaching through the Revelation. My goal is to show how this book “unveils Jesus” at every point: he is the true King of the world and the real Lord of history who has already won the victory and who will accomplish his goal—the transformation of all things. Our people need to see how the end of this biblical story shapes everything about our lives because we belong to the slain Lamb who is the reigning Lion of Judah.

As you can see, precommitments shaped the choices I made as I planned the preaching schedule. And even as I think through spring 2018 (I think I’ll be heading to Joshua), my heart’s desire at every point is for our people to be led to love Jesus more today than yesterday through the ministry of his Word.

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