Many people today hear preachers talking about preaching, and they get lost in the fog of ambiguous theological language. When a congregation hears a pastor reference expository preaching, often there are members in attendance who have no idea what expository preaching actually is. This is not only true of members in the average evangelical church, but it’s likewise true of many students of preaching, who think they understand what expository preaching is, but fail to truly grasp the different levels and component parts of this central task of the local church. As we consider the health and strength of the local church, it is essential to answer two vitally important questions related to what we call expository preaching.

Question #1: What is Expository Preaching?

Before we can talk about the importance of this approach to the pulpit, we must first define it. Expository preaching is the style of preaching through the Bible in a verse-by-verse method. Sometimes different language is attached to this style of preaching such as expositional preaching, sequential expository preaching, and topical expository preaching to name a few of the alterations. Haddon Robinson, in his book titled, Biblical Preaching, defines expository preaching by saying:

Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers. [1]

In short, expository preaching is a method of preaching that seeks to unpack, explain, define, and expound the selected text of Scripture in the precise way that the original author intended it to be read and explained. Haddon Robinson writes, “Ideally each sermon is the explanation, interpretation, or application of a single dominant idea supported by other ideas, all drawn from one passage or several passages of Scripture.” [2]

A preacher’s duty is to explain the passage of Scripture with such detail that the full intent of the original author is accomplished. John Calvin referred to this process as expository explication. This process will involve several different levels.

Preparation (From Desk to Pulpit)

  1. Text selection.
  2. Read text (and surrounding/related text).
  3. Define verbs (and other ambiguous language).
  4. Identify the main point of the selected text.
  5. Identify supporting points.
  6. Organize the structure (follow the natural flow of the text).
  7. Consult commentaries.
  8. Write sermon manuscript.
  9. Add illustration and application to finalize the sermon manuscript.

Proclamation the Act of Preaching

One of the main accusations directed to the category of expository preaching is that it’s boring, lifeless, and nothing more than a mundane running commentary read from the pulpit. If that’s what people think of expository preaching, they’ve never heard a proper sermon proclaimed. Certainly many attempts at expository preaching have resulted in nothing more than a monotone preacher reading from his lengthy manuscript in the pulpit. To discredit the entirety of expository preaching based on one or two poor examples, however, would be tragic.

The delivery of an expository sermon is essential. Getting the manuscript nicely organized and precisely developed is only part of the duty of the preacher. Now, the sermon has to be properly delivered to the people. Preaching involves the following layers that make up a sermon:

  • Proclamation
  • Explanation
  • Confrontation
  • Exhortation
  • Correction
  • Persuasion
  • Motivation
  • Edification
  • Illustration
  • Application
  • Conclusion

Preaching and teaching are not the same. Good preachers can do both in the same sermon, but preaching is distinct from teaching. The common Greek words διδσκω (teaching) and κηρύσσω (herald, preach, proclaim) help us to see the differences between the two functions. Martyn Lloyd-Jones defined preaching by writing:

What is preaching? Logic on fire! Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. I say again that a man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one. [3]

Therefore, expository preaching, when properly prepared and passionately proclaimed, should never be viewed as a boring or lifeless attempt to communicate information. Preaching without passion isn’t true biblical preaching—whatever else it might be called, it cannot be classified as preaching.

Question #2: Why is Expository Preaching Essential?

If true authentic preaching is expository preaching, a church built upon the foundation of shallow, topical, and seeker sensitive preaching must be avoided. Albert Mohler writes, “Where the authentic preaching of the Word takes place, the church is there. And where that is absent, there is no church. No matter how high the steeple, no matter how large the budget, no matter how impressive the ministry, it is something else.” [4]

The most biblical way of preaching the Bible is, without a doubt, through the delivery of an expository sermon. Paul instructed Timothy to “rightly handle the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Any mishandling or casual approach to the sacred task of proclaiming the Word of God is forbidden. Therefore, the preacher must care about expository preaching because he will one day stand and give an account to the Lord for how he cared for the flock of God. Certainly, it must be stated that to preach a topical sermon isn’t sinful. There are necessary times for topical sermons or perhaps a topical series of sermons in the life of a church. However, the main diet of the church should be based on sequential expository preaching through books of the Bible.

The preacher’s primary duty that transcends all other job responsibilities is to faithfully feed God’s people through the Word of God (John 21:15-17). This responsibility should cause any preacher to approach the sacred task of God with a sense of humility. John Knox once said, “I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble every time I enter the pulpit.” [5]

In addition to the preacher, every church member should care about expository preaching. The people in the church should demand God’s Word to be preached properly and with great care. To be a good communicator or to be funny is not found in the qualifications of an elder (1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1). The ability to teach the Word is an essential qualifier. Just as people desire for the Constitution of our nation to be handled with care and not misrepresented, with much more care should members of God’s church demand that the sacred Word of God be read, interpreted, and explained. It would be wise for every church member to do the following:

  1. Develop an ear for exposition. Learn to love and appreciate faithful expository preaching through books of the Bible.
  2. Track along with the study and consider incorporating a recommended commentary (consider reaching out to the pastoral staff for recommendations) into your weekly reading that follows the sermon series.
  3. Seek to encourage your pastor by communicating to him in person, or by letter, in order to show appreciation for his devotion to the grind of faithful expository study and preaching.

Expository preaching will pay great dividends towards healthy church growth. Remain patient and be steadfast in your work as a church member to cultivate a church culture that expects and appreciates expository preaching. Mark Dever, in his excellent book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, states:

The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow…If you get the priority of the Word established, then you have in place the single most important aspect of the church’s life, and growing health is virtually assured, because God has decided to act by His Spirit through His Word…The congregation’s commitment to the centrality of the Word coming from the front, from the preacher, the one specially gifted by God and called to that ministry, is the most important thing you can look for in a church. [6]

In the end, expository preaching is the preacher’s method of feeding the church faithfully. Although young and immature churches need to develop a taste for such healthy food, over time the church will grow to crave proper biblical preaching for their health and spiritual well-being.

References:

  1. Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 21.
  2. Ibid, 33.
  3. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 97.
  4. Albert Mohler, Feed My Sheep, Don Kistler, (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 2002), 18.
  5. Cited in: Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 94.
  6. Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 25, 38.