Why Pentecostals Don’t Preach Expository Sermons
- 2007 1 May
I am an expository preacher, and I am also a Pentecostal. Admittedly, these two categories are not often used in the same sentence, much less to describe the same person. But why is that, when so many of the convictions that shape each view are similar—a high view of biblical authority, a reliance on the Holy Spirit to empower our preaching, and a shared desire to let biblical truth meet human need?
After having thought, read, and asked around regarding those questions, I have come up with some possible answers. None of these are intended to be critical of Pentecostals (of which I proudly count myself); rather they are suggestions for why we have not characteristically been more interested in expository preaching.
1. We Mistake Expository Preaching for a Method Instead of a Philosophy.
Many preachers were introduced to expository preaching as one approach among many, rather than seeing it as guiding principle—i.e., the main idea of the text will be the basis for the main idea of the sermon. Once that guiding principle is in place, the form the sermon takes (inductive, deductive, narrative, illustrated) varies depending upon what will best communicate to the audience. The form a sermon may take changes; what does not change is that the text governs the sermon. Expository preaching is a philosophy not a method.
2. We Have Seen Expository Preaching Done Badly.
Expository preaching has suffered in the hands of its friends. Well-meaning preachers have thought that to be expository meant to offer their listeners nothing more than a running commentary on a text or heavy exposition and little application. Nothing will dissuade Pentecostal preachers more than an approach to preaching that appears dry or unrelated to the needs of people.
Fortunately a commitment to expository preaching does not require we choose between relevant application and biblical content. As one of my preaching professors said in seminary, "Application justifies and focuses the exposition."
3. We Don't Believe Expository Preaching Allows Us to Deal with Contemporary Issues.
On the surface, this concern seems genuinely valid. However, probe a little deeper and you will see that clear exposition of the Bible will make one address several contemporary issues (some which many of us would prefer to avoid!). As an experiment, try to preach a book series through the book of James, or the Sermon on the Mount, the book of Corinthians, maybe the Ten Commandments and watch how contemporary your preaching becomes.
4. We Have Misunderstood Our Source of Authority.
By what authority does the preacher speak? The ultimate authority of the sermon does not reside in the preacher's call, or in the preacher's position, but in the Scripture being preached. Authority can only come when one can say, "Thus says the Lord"; and this cannot be said until what is being preached actually comes from the Bible properly interpreted and applied.
5. We Believe that Making Room for Expository Preaching Means not Leaving Any Place for other Approaches to Communicating the Gospel.
Preaching involves the proclaiming of the gospel and sees the preacher as a messenger, or herald of that gospel. Technically, it is not a sermon unless the Bible is being explained and applied. This does not mean there should not be a prominent place for speeches, reflections,testimonies, etc. givenfrom behind the pulpit nor does it follow from this that there is no place for other mediums of communication or an expansive use of the arts. But it is helpful to understand the difference so that there is a clear understanding of the function and importance of each.
Expository preaching will not be the only thing we do behind the pulpit, but we should seriously consider making it the main thing.
6. We Are Afraid too Much Preparation Will Replace the Leading of the Holy Spirit.
One could argue that Pentecostals have been so committed to being led by the Spirit that they have neglected the other essential practices needed for good preaching, such as preparation, organization of the message, planning a preaching calendar, staying with the sermon notes while delivering the sermon, and allowing the main idea of the text to be the main idea of the sermon.
Do not underestimate the Holy Spirit's ability to lead you in planning. If the Spirit can guide you at the altar, during your prayer time, or in day-to-day living, He can certainly give you wisdom to plan. Remember that the preaching plan, like all plans, are projections that are based on the best information you have at the time, if it needs to be revised then do so. The Holy Spirit will guide you.
Let this be clear: there is nothing inherently contradictory about being led by the Spirit and preaching expository sermons. Both commitments require effort, patience, and a willingness to let God have His way.
7. We Have Not Thought Through the Implications of Preaching from an Inspired and Authoritative Bible.
Expository preaching is a logical commitment for Pentecostals who have such a high view of Scripture. It is a matter of record that our doctrine is "…by and large a statement of conservative evangelical theology." If you were to review any doctrinal statement of the major Pentecostal denominations (Church of God in Christ, Four-Square, Assemblies of God, Church of God Cleveland, Tennessee) you would find that phraseology such as "infallible," "immutable," "verbally inspired" and "authoritative" are prominent in describing the nature of the Bible. Thus, one leading Pentecostal scholar, Gordon Fee, observed, "…the mainstream of traditional American Pentecostalism has treated Scripture in very much the same way as have other forms of American fundamentalism or evangelicalism."
Expository preaching assumes the power and authority of Scripture. Expository preaching presents the power of the word as it is explained and applied to the lives of people. Pentecostal's strong commitment to the authority of the Bible should lead us to utilize more intentionally expository preaching.
We Define Pentecostal Preaching in Terms of Style Instead of Substance.
When people think of Pentecostal preaching they commonly think of a delivery style that is characteristic of Pentecostal worship (exuberant, spontaneous, simple speech, etc.). Without wanting to dismiss the distinctions found in much Pentecostal sermon delivery, it would be a mistake to think that Pentecostal preaching is primarily understood in terms of style. Indeed you cannot fully appreciate what motivates this zeal unless you define Pentecostal preaching in terms of theology.
A most helpful definition of Pentecostal preaching was offered by R.H. Hughes. He wisely refuses to distance Pentecostal preaching too much from preaching done by other evangelical ministers. Hughes focuses not on differences in delivery, instead he addresses the unique theological emphasis that Pentecostals have, most notably Acts as a pattern for the life of the church along with speaking in tongues, gifts of healing and spiritual warfare.
Assuming his definition is correct, Pentecostal preaching should be defined in terms of doctrine instead of delivery. Does it stress the need of the church to be empowered by the Holy Spirit? Does it teach that the works of the Holy Spirit through the disciples in the Book of Acts is more than just a record but instead a pattern for Christian service and spirituality? Does it create expectation in the lives of the audience regarding Gods ability and willingness to work through spiritual gifts, yesterday, today and as long as the church is doing her work?
If the answer is yes, then that is Pentecostal preaching; and it is my conviction that expository preaching will help to firm up, clarify, and better explain the exegetical base from which those doctrines emerge.
Why Pentecostals Should Preach Expository Sermons
Expository preaching is a philosophy that—when done intentionally and thoughtfully—will provide Pentecostal preachers with the ability to deal with relevant issues with confidence that their proclamations are firmly based on the rightly divided Word of God. It does not limit creativity or minimize the value of other forms of communication but rather helps to clarify what preaching really involves and grounds the speaker and the audience in the scripture.
Expository preaching does not require that one deny his culture, personality or delivery style; but the Pentecostal preacher rather takes those vital ingredients and weds them to the proclamation of the authoritative, transforming message of the gospel. Ultimately, the greatest value of expository preaching for the Pentecostal preacher is the opportunity to partner with the Holy Spirit from the determination of the biblical concept to the final delivery of the message.
Jeff C. Magruder is Assistant Professor of Bible and Church Ministries at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, and Senior Pastor of Abundant Life Assembly of God church in Grand Prairie, Texas.