Expository ministry: A comprehensive vision
When God speaks, creation obeys. When he spoke the universe into existence, it happened (Gen 1:3-26). When he speaks into the cold, dead hearts of sinners, a new creation appears (2 Cor 5:17). When preachers exposit the Word of God and announce that Jesus is the Christ, the church is built (Matt 16:16-18). Whenever God’s Word is proclaimed, something comes into existence that wasn’t there before.
Even a casual observation of the evangelical landscape reveals that much of this church-building, Christ-centered, truth-driven, gospel-proclaiming, expository preaching has turned into, well, something else. If the church is going to flourish, then something needs to change.
If you’re reading this post, it’s likely that you’re familiar with expository preaching. Maybe you’ve heard it before, maybe you hear it every week or maybe you do it every week at your church. Expository preaching happens when a preacher lays open a biblical text so that its original meaning is brought to bear on the lives of contemporary listeners. Expository preaching is a call to deliver from the pulpit what has already been delivered in the Scriptures. If this happens at your church every week, then praise God. This is the kind of preaching God’s people have always needed – and nothing has changed. It’s the kind of preaching that Christ modeled when he explained to his disciples “the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27). It’s the kind of preaching commanded in the Great Commission, practiced in the early church, reinforced in Paul’s Pastoral Epistles and demonstrated throughout church history. It’s not the job of the preacher to improve upon the program God instituted in the first place.
Unfortunately, many churches aren’t getting expository preaching from the pulpit. This is a primary cause for the epidemic of biblical illiteracy in the pews. Preachers aren’t teaching the Bible, and they’re not teaching their people how to read it and study it for themselves. Not surprisingly, people grow disinterested in the Bible.
Faithful, expository preaching is instead being replaced with whatever scratches the itching ears of our self-centered, consumerist culture. Ironically, this pursuit of relevance has achieved just the opposite. People don’t see the immediate impact that the Bible has on their lives because preachers are too busy trying to chase the bankrupt idol that is relevance.
Why has expository preaching been exchanged for this pragmatism? Because it’s hard work. It takes serious commitment to spend time studying week-in and week-out, praying through the text, allowing it to marinate the preacher’s own soul, spending time in the original languages, trying to place himself in the first century and reading the insights of men past and present with more wisdom than he.
If God’s people are going to be presented “mature in Christ” (Col 1:28), then biblical, expository preaching needs to return to the sacred desk of local churches. If you’re working faithfully to exposit the Scriptures, then this book will encourage you to excel still more and give you some allies along the way. If you’re wondering if the Bible is what your people really need, then this book will call you back and remind you that God provides all his people need in his Word (2 Tim 3:16). All he calls preachers to do is open the Bible, study it and proclaim its message.
Expository preaching, however, is about more than preaching. It’s about preaching and the preacher; the ministry and the man. People need preaching grounded in and guided by the Scriptures, and they need preachers grounded in and guided by the Scriptures.
There’s a reason the majority of the biblical qualifications for leadership in the local church center on character (1 Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9). Such a noble calling requires noble character. The last thing the church needs is a preacher who preaches against adultery one day, and is found guilty of it the next, or a preacher who preaches self-control, but clearly lacks it in the way he uses the Web, consumes and eats. Churchgoers know they can trust the preaching in their pulpit only as far as they can trust the preacher who steps into it every week. The fruitfulness of a man’s ministry will never exceed that of his life.
God’s people need expository preaching from godly men who lead expository lives and do expository ministry. If the man is going to be an expositor in the pulpit, then he had better be an expositor in the study, in the home, in the prayer meeting, at the kids’ soccer games and all the other places where he lives out God’s call on his life (i.e., everywhere). The same commitment demanded in the study lays claim on the entirety of the preacher’s life and is to be applied relentlessly, the commitment to live out God’s Word as the final authority rather than our own minds. A commitment to this kind of lifestyle is the recipe for faithful, expository preaching and faithful, expository ministry.
And a funny thing happens when preachers start living faithfully and start preaching the Bible: their people start to want more of it. Your church members will begin to recognize that God’s Word is to be desired more than gold, and is sweeter than the honeycomb (Ps 19:10). They start to crave the “solid food” of God’s Word (Heb 5:12). They can’t get enough of it. They want to hear more preaching and teaching. They want to know how to get more out of the sermon. They become grateful for faithful preaching. They want to know how to read and study the Bible for themselves. They want to know what resources they can take advantage of in their personal study.
And if you’re a preacher, you want this for your people, but you must remember that your church will never esteem God’s Word any higher than you do.
But we’re not just equipping and encouraging preachers here. We’re going beyond the preaching, past the preacher to his people, the recipients of the expositor’s ministry. The goal is never to have one guy in the church (the preacher) who knows how to read his Bible and how to use it to have an impact on people’s lives. Local churches should brim with people equipped to use their Bibles in their own lives and that of those around them.
When Luther and the Reformers advocated for the priesthood of all believers, they were reminding Christians that individual people are ultimately responsible for the eternal state of their soul.
So, whether you’re in a church with consistently edifying sermons or with crummy, boring preaching, you are the one who will stand before God. So it’s important for you to know how to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Pet 3:18). Fortunately, God has not left us alone in this glorious task. He has given us fellow believers, the local church, pastors, the canon of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he has “granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3).
Dan Dumas is senior vice president for institutional administration at Southern Seminary. He is a church planter and pastor-teacher at Crossing Church in Louisville, Ky. You can connect with him on Twitter at @DanDumas, onFacebook or at DanDumas.com. This article originally appeared in A Guide to Expository Ministry.
Preaching is not an advisory role based in religious expertise but a prophetic function whereby God speaks to his people. For this reason the Expositors Summit is designed to strengthen and instruct preachers and students for the glorious task of expository ministry. You’re invited to join R. Albert Mohler Jr., John MacArthur and H.B. Charles Jr. for the explication of God’s Word and gospel fellowship.
“When a man is apt in teaching the Scriptures there is a power to move men, to influence character, life, destiny, such as no printed page can ever possess.”
– John Broadus