Consider this post a case for expository preaching. I’ll explain that in just a moment.
But think about the title for a moment. We’ve all known this feeling, right? You’ve been there and I’ve been there. I think the title has some real magnetic qualities. However, when you mention expository preaching to some people, they still balk.
This might be a situation where some preachers consider the cure to be worse than the disease. I’m not one of those though.
Let me suggest that expository preaching is sustainable preaching, a method of preparing messages that is doable over the long haul. I believe that by making a strong commitment to this method of sermon preparation is the best way to avoid this type of Thursday panic.
However, some people resist it. They have their reasons, they say.
“It’s dull,” they say. Well, so is some topical preaching and probably even some narrative preaching. Any sermon has to be delivered with passion. But that doesn’t make it great or effective.
Others will decline on the basis of relevancy. Ah, yes, the pervasive value of the contemporary church, relevancy. We must be relevant, even if we don’t have anything of substance to say. That’s not to libel topical preaching as glib and superficial. But exposition of the Scripture is very relevant, if it is done correctly. Begin with the text but, before you move directly to today, ask what it meant then and to them (the original hearers) and then interpret it in light of the cross of Christ. At that point, you will have plenty of relevant things to say. And they’ll be grounded in the Bible.
Finally, others are uninterested in expositional preaching because they believe it is disconnected from contemporary needs. Actually, this is just a variation of the relevancy argument. However, there is safety in beginning with God’s word and then moving to human need instead of the other way around. If Scripture is true, then we can trust that it will adequately address what we need as human beings while holding up the glory of God as the supreme value.
Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, has said that the decline of expositional preaching has been driven by pragmatic and personalism. The former says, “It’s all about results” and topical preaching is deemed to be more usefulness in the contemporary church. The latter says, “It’s all about me.” Expository preaching waned as consumerism ramped up in American Christianity. A felt need, rather than a biblical text, was deemed to be the best starting place for a sermon.
Before I make a case for expository preaching, let me offer a working definition. (Certainly there are many available to consider.) First, it is preaching that seeks to “expose” what is in the text rather than “impose” one’s own thoughts on it. Secondly, it is preaching that covers larger blocks of Scripture, such as entire books in the Bible or portions of those books. Finally, it is preaching that begins with the text and then attempts to show how the truth of that particular passage expresses the gospel storyline and thus relates to life.
So why am I advocating for expository preaching? It promotes a sustainable preaching ministry. I believe it addresses the problem expressed by the title of this post. It helps deduce “preacher’s block” at determining what Sunday’s sermon will be address. On Monday morning I can begin my preparation because I know what passage I will be working with that week. I will be working with the passage after the one upon which I just preached.
Instead of expending energy beginning Monday morning trying to determine what I am going preach next Sunday (and every preacher understands that Sunday comes around with surprising regularity), I can immediately throw myself into grappling with that week’s text.
Also, expository preaching fosters greater balance in a preacher’s pulpit ministry, keeping him less susceptible to preferred topics and subjects. We all have pet topics and “hobby horses” that we want to ride. Though we may try hard to stay balanced, we can still miss the mark. Probably the most influential factor that prompted me to commit to expository preaching was the statement made by a professor in a seminar: “there is an inherent balance in the word of God and if we preach systematically, we too will be balanced.”
Finally, it allows the treatment of controversial subjects as they arise. Some social issues that need to be addressed can be in the normal course of expositional work. Certain issues relating to individual congregations can be addressed in a similar fashion. This prevents a church member from accusing their pastor of “picking on” them.
While there are other methodologies for preaching–topical and narrative–and even combinations of them, expository preaching is the safest way of balancing the two tensions in between which every preacher lives, the meaning of the text and the demands of today.