Within expository preaching, there are two practical goals worth achieving: conversion and discipleship. As Paul writes in Romans 10:17, people come to faith in Christ through the hearing of the Word of God. In 2Timothy 4:2, he charges his disciple Timothy to use preaching as a means for discipleship. Conversion and discipleship go hand in hand because you cannot be discipled unless you are converted, and you cannot be converted unless a Christian shares the Gospel with you. It is a symbiotic relationship that is grounded in the expositional preaching of the Word of God.
A preacher without a love for the lost has no business filling a pulpit. He is charged with shepherding his congregation and fostering their growth. He is also charged with adding to that congregation by way of leading others to a life-changing encounter with the Savior through preaching. The great English pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was adamant about the ferocity that preachers should approach preaching to save souls:
“Oh my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves.”
The preacher will rightly labor hard and long for the conversion of a lost person, knowing fully well that the preached Word of God is the means God uses to save the lost. The preacher must be concerned for the lost and be devoted to the cause of preaching to save the lost, since Jesus himself set this precedent. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Preaching the Word of God enables us to share in His burden for the lost of this world. Luke 19:10 states, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” We do not save people, only Jesus saves people. He has invited us to join Him on His mission to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Paul understood this better than any of the Apostles because he wrote of it so often. His mission in life was to be an ambassador for Christ and to preach the Gospel to all who would listen. 2Corinthians 5:20 exhorts, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” This is our mission, to be an ambassador for Christ. God desires to use us to make His appeal so that people can listen to Him speaking through the Scriptures which point them to Jesus.
Being concerned for the lost is an essential quality to a preacher. Every sermon must have a Christ-centered focus that takes people to the cross and shows them the redemptive work accomplished by Jesus. A preaching ministry that does not take into account the lost does a disservice to Jesus’s death on the cross.
Pastors must preach from the same viewpoint that Jesus had for the lost. To this end, the pastor should be the prime example of a Christian ambassador. The pastor is called to take care of the sheep, just as Jesus took care of His sheep. The pastor must have compassion for sinners like Jesus did. The pastor must not fear the powers and principalities of Hell because Jesus did not fear these things. Jesus stands in the gap for Christians and lost people alike and thus bridges the gap between eternal damnation and eternal life.
Pastors must preach the Gospel, stand in the gap, and fight for the souls of the lost so that they may see Jesus face to face one day. We preach the Gospel because of what the Psalmist says in Psalm 16, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” God makes known to us the path of life. He makes known to us the fullness of joy through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the most important goal of expository preaching.
Abraham Kuruvilla explained, “Biblical preaching, by a leader of the church, in a gathering of Christians for worship, is the communication of the thrust of a periscope of Scripture discerned by theological exegesis, and of its application to that specific body of believers, that they may be conformed to the image of Christ, for the glory of God-all in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Being conformed to the image of Christ is brought about through progressive sanctification and is most easily done through discipleship. Discipleship occurs when an older (at least in the faith) believer mentors and encourages a younger (or young in the faith) believer by building them up in Christ. In the rabbinical tradition of the Israelites, a rabbi chose his students for further teaching. The Christian today is prodded by the Holy Spirit to mentor and disciple younger believers.
Preaching is essential for discipleship to take place. Discipleship must continue to rely on preaching because it is through preaching that discipleship flourishes. Without preaching there is no growth from either side, faith becomes stagnant, and eventually the relationship turns into moralistic-legalistic accountability session that is void of the Gospel. This ushers in condemnation, regret, and fear of being vulnerable with someone else.
With the regular preaching of the Word of God, discipleship flourishes so that others are filled up with the grace and truth of God’s love. There is no condemnation from God because He has made us free from it due to the death of Christ as payment for sin. Therefore, discipleship must embrace preaching and preaching must encourage discipleship within the church.
Since the ultimate goal of preaching is to bring glory to God, then discipleship fits this framework perfectly. Helping other Christians conform to the image of Christ displays God’s glory! Discipleship not only works on a person’s character and heart, but also equips them to do the tasks that Christ commissioned His followers to pursue. Someone who is being discipled is following in the footsteps of the apostles, and modeling their lives after Christ. Colossians 1:10 says, “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in very good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Pastors and ministry leaders with these two goals now must ask themselves these two questions, “Has the Gospel been articulated clearly for conversion in your preaching? And how does this sermon that I’m about to preach cultivate discipleship within the church?” If your sermon can successfully do these two things then expect God to do a mighty work in your church in raising up a generation of faithful followers of Christ who will live their lives on mission for His glory.