So how do you preach to a culture that has no Biblical framework to begin with? What is the best way to feed God’s sheep, when the sheep are all newborns? In America, Western culture has given the modern day pastor an edge. (though this edge is slowing going away as secularism continues to strengthen) The pastor can come to his audience knowing pretty well that the people he preaches to have some type of basic Biblical knowledge. Even if many have never gone to church before, references to Scripture still abound in pop culture.
Watch a sporting event and you can learn about David and Goliath. Watch Bugs Bunny, and you will learn how Satan tempts you with his lies. Go to any hospital, and you will see the image of the cross. And think about some of the sayings we have. "Turn the other cheek." "Be a good Samaritan." "Take the plank out of your own eye first." "The handwriting is on the wall." All these come from the Bible. While more and more Americans are losing their religion, it’s just too hard for one to isolate him or herself from the message of the Bible.
Because of this common knowledge, many American pastors feel the freedom to preach topical sermons. (Sermons written around a certain topic, where a pastor will jump all over the Bible finding verses that speak to this topic.) While I won’t get into the merits of topical preaching here, this style of preaching can be lost on an audience with zero Biblical knowledge. This is why I highly recommend expository preaching (preaching through a book of the Bible) to missionaries reaching out to an audience that is starting at square one. I also recommend preaching through large chunks of scripture in one sitting.
Why expository preaching? First, think of it like an anchor. Anchors are used to slow down ships or to keep a ship in one spot in the ocean. This is what we want to do with our audience as well. We want to slow them down and keep them in one spot. The bible has many characters, many stories, and many different authors (though there is really one author) with many different writing styles. To jump back and forth through scripture without any frame of reference is like a ship being tossed about in a storm. It creates confusion in an already difficult situation.
Expository preaching can be a way for a new Christian with no frame of reference to grab hold of a single setting in the Bible. They can learn a lot about a few characters week after week in a repetitious manner. This helps to establish a foundation for them that can be built upon as they grow in their faith.
Why the large chunks? I say this mainly for the context of the story. Sometimes the best explanation for one verse is already written in the verses surrounding it. Take for instance Matthew 15:13. “He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.’” This is a great verse that talks about the teachings of men in contrast to the teachings of God. Yet it is hard to know what Jesus is talking about here unless you start in verse one and read through to verse twenty in this chapter. Once you do this, then you will see come to life a story where the Pharisees condemn Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands before they eat. The washing of hands was a man made tradition and not prescribed by God. This leads to us to verse thirteen and Jesus’ explanation that not washing hands doesn't defile a person, but rather what flows from the heart makes a person unclean.
Knowing context is great, but where do we begin with people? Where’s square one? Is it in Genesis? Is it in the Gospels? How about Romans? These are all good starting points. My first instinct would be to say the Gospels, but I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here as long as you are pointing your audience to Christ. Whatever book you decide on, make sure to stick with it. Once you have finished one book, you will probably have a better feel for where the members of your church are at. Then you can use a little more discernment as to what book to teach from next. Remember, “... the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correcting and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17 - ESV)