I am an apologist for expository preaching. I am not so devoted to it that I believe it is the only way, but I think it is the best way. I believe this because its safer and more effective. It is safer because I am spending much more time explaining what God has said than I am giving my opinion. It is more effective because people can find a blog or a talk that can give them 3 steps to a better life anywhere, but the church has a monopoly when it comes to the scriptures. “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). No one and nothing else can offer what the scriptures can offer, so the best method of preaching is the one that stays closest to the Word. For as Paul instructed Timothy and my Pawpaw instructed me at my ordination, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV).
Here are 4 myths about expository sermons.
1.Expository sermons are boring
A seminary professor once said in class right before oral presentations “In my class you can be wrong, but don’t be boring.” Of course he was slightly joking, but in reality you can have the correct information and deliver it in such a way that you are no longer being faithful to that content. Being boring kills content! The preacher does not have a responsibility to entertain, but he does have a responsibility to not be boring. There is most certainly a line that should not be crossed, and the preacher is not to entertain at the expense of being faithful to the content. However, the message contained in the scriptures is worthy of a captivating presentation.
The preacher is probably the most guilty party when it comes to this issue. This is partly due to the fact that he is the one doing the most public speaking, giving him more opportunity to be boring. However there is no excuse for being consistently boring. Sure some topics are more boring than others, but the Gospel is not ever boring. The proclamation of the story of Jesus, which is what makes preaching preaching, should not and cannot be boring.
There is a very healthy movement in preaching right now that is seeking to correct some of the shortcomings that come with thematic/topical preaching. This expository preaching movement is one of the best moments to come through the seminaries and local churches in quite some time. There is just one problem, many of these sermons will bore you to tears in the name of being faithful to the scriptures. It is as if there has been a spiritualization of boring preaching, and the more boring you are the more faithful your sermon is. This however just does not make sense.
If the goal of the preacher is to get the message from the pulpit to the pew than he falls way short when he preaches boring sermons. It honestly doesn’t matter how good his exegesis is, if he cannot communicate that message to the people in his congregation than he has just wasted everyone’s time including his own. There is no doubt that expository preaching is the most effective way of communicating the Gospel and the most faithful way of preaching, but good exposition is not boring. Boring preaching is not faithful preaching. The expositor must be faithful in exegesis and in delivery.
2. Expository sermons lack structure
I often hear preachers say they don’t like to preach three point and a poem sermons, but rather they just like to “walk through the text.” I’m not really sure what is meant by that statement, but it sure does sound ultra spiritual. However, what comes out is not quite as “organic” as they might like. In fact, what usually happens is that this image inside the preacher’s head of this profound verse by verse teaching that will leave the people awing at his brilliant exposition becomes a jumbled up random mess of unorganized information.
I am obviously exaggerating, but expository preaching, even if you want to be more specific and say verse by verse teaching, doesn’t have to be unorganized. A little structure can drastically improve the sermon, and that is because the text has structure. The biblical writers were not random, the text has structure and brilliant structure at that. Look at the use of chiasm in Mark’s gospel, or the use of alliteration in Psalm 119. The scriptures are full of organizational and structural techniques that and not only genius but also beauty to the text. Therefore the sermon should have a structure, but that structure should be dictated by and reflective of the text.
Adding structure to the sermon will benefit both the preacher and the congregation. It will allow the preacher to stay organized. He may still chase rabbits, but the trails will be shorter. The congregation will appreciate a little structure to the message, because with structure the message can be received and remembered. On a side note, structure can also cut down on the whole boredom issue. Adding structure does not add that much more time to the preparation process. The expositor needs to be faithful in the study first and foremost and then organize what he has gleaned from his harvest there in order that it might be heard.
3. Expository sermons don’t address the needs of the people
You have heard it said that, “preaching should not just be educational but transformational.” I will add to that annoying cliche and say that peaching should be pastoral. I am not just a proponent of expository preaching, but I am a huge proponent of pastoral preaching. By this I mean that the preacher is not just seeking to teach his people new things in his sermon, but he is effectively shepherding his people from the pulpit. He is addressing their needs, and giving them hope to press on. His preaching must speak to a specific group at a specific place in time.
Another myth and misconception of expository preaching is that it fails to do what is described above. The criticism is that expository sermons can never do what topical sermons do, that is address a specific need in the congregation. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, the preachers that preach the topic sermons are not only covering the same topics year after year, but they are only preaching from a select number of verses that they pull out for the corresponding topic. Beyond the fact that context is scarcely considered, in doing so they will only cover a very small amount of scripture. This leaves most of the divine word untouched along with the topics therein. The point is that topical sermons may cover a specific topic that someone or even most of the people are dealing with at that specific time, but overall the expository sermons are guaranteed to cover many more topics and meet the needs of the people all the more.
4. Expository sermons lack application
Have you ever been in that Sunday school class or small group that reads a scripture and then asks the group, “Now, what does that mean to you.” I am going to be blunt, this is where heresy is born. Asking, that question is completely fine, but it is NEVER the first question we ask, it is the last. Other methods of preaching teach people to only ask that question, they only hear about principles that make me a better person, so when they open the Bible at home that is exactly what they are going to look for. That being the case, what happens when a dear sister opens her Bible and begins to read the book of Leviticus? She will most likely become so frustrated that she shuts her Bible and waits for Sunday so the pastor can show her more about her life. There must be a better way.
The myth here is that expository preaching lacks practical application. This simply is not true, if what you are hearing does lack application than shame on the preacher not the method. The difference is this. A topical approach presents the scriptures in such a way to answer the question above, “what does this mean for me?” The expositional sermon answers the question, “what did this mean to them?” After proper study and explanation of the original intent of the biblical author, then there is a bridge built to the modern hearers. Only after all has been done to discover the original intent does the expositor ask the question, “what does this mean to me?” The result is not a dismissal of application, but a much more accurate application.
Take the story of David and Goliath for example, it is probably one of the most abused. One method of preaching will point to the giants in your life that you can conquer no matter how small you are. This may be cute and it may be what people want to hear, but I’m not sure that is the intention of the story. The expository preacher makes an alternative point of emphasis. He points to the fact that Israel was rescued from her enemies by the most unlikely of heroes. The application therefore is not, “what can I defeat in my life to make me better,” but rather it is, “God has sent his Son to be the unlikely hero you need.”
Also think of Philippians 4:13, you have seen in in football locker rooms and you have probably heard the sermon lifting you up by proclaiming all these things you can do. The expositor sees not just the verse but the entire passage, not just that passage but the whole letter to the church at Philippi, and not just the letter but the entire Bible. The application, when all is taken into account, is not that the individual Christian can win the football game or get out of debt, but the application is found in the fact that Paul just described his changing conditions in life. He talks about how he has been brought low and how he has abounded, how he has had plenty and how he has been hungry, how he has had abundance and how he has had need. After he says these things, it is then that he says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). The application therefore cannot be what I previously stated, the application is, “No matter what comes your way, whether poverty or riches, hunger or plenty, sickness or health, you can find contentment in Christ; you can do all things in Him.” The expositor must not neglect application, and the preacher must ask the right questions in the right order. He must interpret first and apply second.
In conclusion, I do apologize if I offend others who practice or prefer a different method of preaching. I am not trying to be prideful by saying my way is right and your way is wrong, my intentions are only to dispel the myths associated with expository preaching. I am by nature a critical thinker, and I realize sometimes those thoughts can come across as negativity, but I assure you that is not my goal. I have many close friends who are faithful men of God and excellent preachers at that, and they practice a different method of preaching. I must admit, that on occasion I even practice a different method of preaching. However, I stand by my claim that expository preaching is the safest and most effective way of delivering the Word of God.