What is expository preaching? What makes a sermon good? What kind of preaching do we need? What kind of preaching can we live with? What kind of preaching can we live without?
Those are questions that I’ve been asking myself when my family and I sampled the church options in Charleston after we moved last year. The task of finding a good church home is never easy. It’s all the more complicated when the one seeking a church home was previously a pastor. We all have in mind the type of church we’re looking for. But, as an ex-pastor, I also have in mind how I’d do things. How I’d do things and how they’re done are rarely the same. That applies to the preaching we heard as well.
Thus, for five months, my family went in and out of numerous churches. Some we were drawn to for a variety of reasons. Some we visited on several occasions and one of them we eventually joined. Others we knew the minute we walked in the door weren’t going to be right for us. Still others we had to wait until the preacher opened his mouth before we came to that conclusion. Ultimately, it is the preaching, not the worship style, not the children’s ministries, not the friendliness of sister Sue standing by the front door, that drew us to our new church home.
We were looking for a preacher who rightly handles the word of truth. We were looking for an expository preacher who teaches what the Bible teaches, no more, no less, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse. Surprisingly, fifty years into the evangelical movement, that’s not an easy thing to find.
So, let’s go back to the basics. What is an expository sermon? Simply put, an expository sermon is one in which the preacher exposes the meaning of the text to the hearer and then helps the hearer apply those truths to his or her life.
What makes a sermon good is a little harder to define. It must be biblical. It must be God-centered. It must be based on the author’s intent (the Holy Spirit is ultimately the author). It must be engaging (note I didn’t say “entertaining”). It must be educational (I must learn what the passage really means). When all those things come together by the grace of God for 30 minutes (or longer) on Sunday morning, it’s a marvelous thing. When they don’t, it’s a waste of our time.
For the sake of argument, then, let’s consider the benefits of biblical, expositional preaching over against the sermon that is supposedly expository but fails on a variety of levels.
When it is done well the hearer learns about God and himself.
When it is done poorly the hearer leaves befuddled by haphazard definitions of unknown Greek terminology.
When it is done well the hearer knows the context and the content of the passage or book presented.
When it is done poorly the hearer feels that one must be a seminary trained exegete to rightly understand the Bible.
When it is done well the hearer sees the relevance of all Scripture for his or her life.
When it is done poorly the hearer believes that some texts aren’t really all that important either because they’re ignored altogether or because their original intent has been so glossed over as to suggest the text isn’t really relevant after all.
When it is done well the hearer discovers that he knows more about the Bible today than he did yesterday.
When it is done poorly the hearer walks away scratching his head wondering why he even bothers to try and read the Bible.
When it is done well the hearer can’t wait for the next installment in the sermon series.
When it is done poorly the hearer can’t wait for the praise team to return to the stage.
When it is done well the hearer wonders at the glory and grace of God.
When it is done poorly the hearer marvels at the ability of the preacher.In today’s church, there’s much that passes for preaching. There are preachers who can tell a good joke. There are preachers who are great storytellers. And, then, there are preachers who know how to communicate the truths of Scripture, imparting wisdom into the souls of men who are dying of spiritual thirst. It’s to our eternal shame that there are so many of the former and so few of the latter. God help our people. God help the church.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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