A blast from the past. Andy Stanley, in an interview with Ed Stetzer, was asked about “verse-by-verse” preaching. He called it “cheating” and … his response leaves me with a series of questions that still deserve discussion today:
What did Ed mean by “verse-by-verse”?
What did Andy understand by “verse-by-verse”?
What relationship is there between “expository” preaching and “verse-by-verse” preaching? Some have equated the two and therefore criticized Andy for dissing expository preaching? But are they the same? (I would say No.) And isn’t Andy’s point fair: that the Bible doesn’t exhibit “verse-by-verse” preaching? Or does it?
Here’s Ed’s question and Andy’s response:
Question: What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?
Andy: Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.
All Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applicable or relevant to every stage of life. My challenge is to read culture and to read an audience and ask: What is the felt need? Or perhaps what is more important, what is an unfelt need they need to feel that I can address? Because if they don’t feel it, then they won’t address it.
So how can I make them feel an unfelt need and then make them feel like they need to do something about it? But when you do that, people are like, “Man, that is amazing. You’re brilliant.” No, all you have done is unearthed a need and you talked about it. “I have never heard anyone talk about that before.” Probably, no one has ever made you feel that before. So they talked about it, but it didn’t register because they didn’t make you feel like you needed to hear about it to start with.
I believe the true defining moment of my life as a communicator took place when I was in seminary. I was asked to do a chapel for the high school academy at First Baptist Church, Dallas. So I got the message all ready to go, and I was going to preach on the story of Naaman. And God told him to dip in the water seven times and he would be healed. I had all this great stuff. And I was sitting in my one-room efficiency apartment and I was thinking, “These kids have heard everything. They go to church all the time. They are not going to remember this. This is just another chapel. What can I do so that they can remember this? I am just going to come up with one phrase and I am going to say it so many times that they can’t possibility forget it.”
So I came up with this phrase: “To understand why, submit and apply.” That was over 30 years ago and I still remember it. So I told the whole story. And I said the bottom line was: “To understand why, submit and apply. ” And I said that God is going to ask you to do some things that you might not understand why, but you must submit and apply. I had them say it over and over.
Three years go by, and I am working in the college department in the same church and a freshman walks in and says, “I remember you. To understand why, submit and apply.” He didn’t remember my name. He wasn’t even sure where he had seen me before. But it stuck in his head. And I’ll never forget thinking, “That is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to take all this stuff in the Bible, and I want to say it so simply that it gets so lodged in people’s hearts that in the moment of transition or temptation or whatever it might be, they think: What is that statement? What is that phrase?”
It is hard to take things down to that level…to help people see things from God’s perspective. That was huge for me. I think it defined what effective preaching or effective communication is for me. It isn’t three points or four points. It’s really one point that is somehow connected to a passage and it is connected to a life. And then you should stop talking because you are done.