Last week, I had the privilege of helping teach a workshop on expository preaching in Alexandria, VA at Del Ray Baptist Church. The Charles Simeon Trust – a ministry dedicated to the task of convincing, encouraging, and training pastors in expository preaching – hosted the week. The Simeon Trust has been used significantly by God in my life to reinforce my central commitments to pastoral ministry and not least preaching.
Even though I am an ‘instructor’, I leave every workshop tired but also full. I learn something every time. It’s like spring training. Whether you are a rookie or an all star, you need to go to spring training. Work on the basics is always good. I am encouraged to see a whole new generation of young pastors who are eager to faithfully handle God’s Word and are just as eager to see their congregations grow into Christ-likeness through the ministry of the Word. Considering that, I thought I would scribble some thoughts down on the basics of why I am so committed to expository preaching as the main pulpit diet of our church.
First, I believe the Holy Spirit speaks through what He has spoken.
Hebrews 3:7 reads: “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says”… OK, what is so remarkable about that? Well, what follows is not a fresh revelation that the writer of the Hebrews is sensing from the Spirit. He goes on to quote Psalm 95. Back to his set up. The Spirit is speaking in the present tense according to the writer, but when He goes to give the Spirit’s statement, it is a Scripture that was penned centuries before. In other words, the Spirit still actively speaks a fresh Word through the ancient Word he spoke in the Scripture. The truth does not change. The content does not change. The intent does not change. But the power and immanence of God is experienced every time the Word is read, sung, preached, and prayed. That is amazing! So, preaching expositionally is relying on how the Spirit first communicated in such a way that the preacher gets out of the way to let the Spirit work today. I don’t think there is anything wrong per se with topical or semi-expository sermons (we are in a semi-expositional series right now). But I do think the most powerful transformation, over time, happens through the regular diet of exposition.
Second, expository preaching teaches people to read and study the Bible themselves.
My job is not to be the resident Bible expert. My job is teach the Bible in such a way that you all become more and more familiar and competent in Bible study and teaching in your own right. The best congregational listeners are expositional listeners, who are trained to look at context, structure, themes, tie-ins to other parts of the Bible, and how to see the way any particular text reflects upon or points to Jesus. I find that church members who are mature handlers of the Word listen to sermons in the best sense of criticality – as an active listener who thinks and listens at the same time with humility and eagerness – and lack the worst parts of critical listening – pointing out hobby horses, getting caught up on side issues, disagreeing on an application and losing the main idea, etc. So, a big fruit of exposition is that it teaches congregations how to study the Bible and it keeps the preacher accountable to their growing abilities. A church member who says, “Pastor, I don’t know how you got there, but that was an awesome sermon,” is not complementing their pastor.
Expository preaching is not meant to be academic. It is not meant to be for mature Christians only. It is certainly not the counterpoint to evangelistic and practical preaching. In fact, I think expository preaching is the best way to proclaim the gospel to non-Christians. The centrality of expository preaching lies in what I stated at the outset: it respects the context, structure, Biblical connections, and Christ-centeredness of a Biblical passage which the Spirit of God inspired into the Bible and through which He works TODAY. Therefore, if the goal of preaching is formation into the person and work of Christ and only the Spirit can do that, then I am going to use methods I know the Spirit is loyal to.