By Ryan Moffat
What is essential for a great preaching? Some say creativity, others story-telling, others cite the use of powerful metaphors, and still others point to the ability of a preacher to connect a passage to one or two practical applications. While such things are not inherently bad, it is my conviction that more important than any of these is one’s underlying approach to preaching. And, of the various approaches to preaching, I am convinced of the supremacy of expository preaching.
Expository preaching is an approach to preaching wherein Scripture itself determines the content of the sermon. Rather than starting with the question, “What do I want to say?”, it begins by asking, “What has God said?”. In short, expository preaching seeks to expose people to the word of God, and to make the main point(s) of the sermon the main point(s) of the passage.
This approach can be compared with four main alternative approaches:
Springboard Preaching: In this approach, the preacher selects a key word or idea from the passage, and then expands upon that key word or idea at length, rather than truly exposing the main point(s) of the passage.
Topical/Series Preaching: In this model the preacher appeals to Scripture to enforce a pre-selected topic. Rather than starting with “What does Scripture say?,” this model starts with “What do I want to say?,” and then looks to Bible passages to support that main topic.
Devotional Preaching: In this model the preacher begins with a text, but rather than expose the main idea(s) in the text, expounds primarily on his feelings about the text. In so doing, he appeals to the affections (a good thing), but fails to shape the mind (cognition) and the will (volition.
Running Commentary Preaching: With this model, the preacher tries to stay faithful to the text, but misses the forest for the trees. In this type of preaching, the preacher usually reads a small portion, comments on it, and repeats that cycle several times for the sermon – though never truly shows how the passage works together as a whole to make its main point(s).
Having explained what expository preaching is (and what it isn’t), here are ten reasons why I believe that an expository approach to preaching is superior to other approaches.
- Expository preaching shows the congregation that the preacher is getting the sermon material from the Bible
It’s all-too-easy to simply speak about you own ideas, or to talk about various problems that exist in the culture. A commitment to expository preaching provides a safeguard against doing so.
- Expository preaching teaches a congregation how to read their own BiblesA steady diet of expository preaching, over time, helps a congregation to read the Bible better. This is something that is often lost in approaches to preaching that forsake exposition out of a desire to provide supposedly practical or relevant messages.
- Expository preaching takes seriously the communication strategies of the Bible usesThe Bible includes many different genres (e.g., narrative, poetry, and discourse) and uses a variety of metaphors and word pictures to communicate the most important realities in the universe. Expository preaching takes seriously the form God chose to communicate His message in, rather than disposing of the form for the sake of the content.
- Expository preaching keeps the congregation on God’s agenda and not on a “pet theological concern” of any one individualI remember hearing a very well known pastor preach a series where, no matter what the passage said, he ended each sermon with a call to the cause of “Pro-Life” advocacy. This type of preaching, regardless of the worthiness of the cause, places the preacher’s own agenda before the agenda God has set forth in Scripture. Expository preaching helps the preacher stick to God’s agenda.
- Expository preaching forces the preacher to handle culturally taboo subjects.Expository preaching forces the preacher to take on difficult or controversial issues that, left to his own preferences, he would avoid teaching on. You can’t get through too much of the Bible without having to deal with sensitive real life issues like money, marriage and divorce, sexuality, and the problem of evil.
- Expository preaching confronts and challenges our default cultural narrativeAs Tim Keller points out, we are all living out a “life narrative” – though we are often not aware that we are doing so. Our culture tells one story about the nature reality, and unless that story is challenged, we are prone to simply assume it is true. Expository preaching exposes people to the counter-cultural story of Scripture, and challenges our default understanding of the nature of reality. In doing so it ultimately points people to Jesus, because the biblical narrative, from first to last, really is all about him.
- Expository preaching demonstrates a belief in the sufficiency of ScriptureOur priorities are evident in what we give time and attention to. We can say that Scripture is sufficient, but if, from the pulpit, we spend little time exposing people to it, then how sufficient do we really believe it is? Expository preaching evidences that we truly believe Scripture is sufficient.
- Expository preaching encourages ongoing Bible study, because the depths of the Bible can never be fully plumbedTruly being exposed to the text makes a person aware of how much more there is to learn from God in Scripture. To truly deal with the biblical texts, a person will need to become acquainted with topics he or she previously thought little (or not at all) about, such as the temple and the priesthood, the sacraments, church governments, and so on. In this way, expository preaching – for both the preacher and the congregation – continues to spark interest in new topics.
- Expository preaching follows the model set by the Prophets, Jesus, and the ApostlesIn Scripture, when the Prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles are engaged in public proclamation, the primary example they provide looks a lot like what I am here calling ‘expository preaching’. Whether in the Prophet’s exposition of the Pentateuch, or Jesus’ exposition of the Old Testament in Luke 24, or in the first sermons in the Christian church, delivered by those such as Peter in Acts 2 and Stephen in Acts 7, the model set forth is that of exposing people to God’s word.
- Expository preaching helps us understand the right questions about God, ourselves, and the nature of reality.Scripture is not just about providing answers – it also teaches us to ask the right questions. In so doing, it changes the very way we think. By seeking after the questions that Scripture poses, we will find not just simple solutions to life’s little problems, but rather deep and sustainable spiritual growth within the life and culture of a church.