I have been a student of preaching since my first sermon preparation class at Southeastern Baptist Theological College in 1998. And, I am not a student of just any kind of preaching, but expository preaching. It has been my pleasure to learn and grow in the task of expository preaching.
Recently, several things have caused my attention to think about the benefits of expository preaching. Positive instances at my church, conversations, and online discussions have led me to blog on this topic. There will be several posts in this series on the benefits of expository preaching.
1. Increases Biblical Literacy
Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix in their book, Power in the Pulpit, list biblical literacy as their first benefit of exposition. George Barna in “The State of the Bible 2013,” a biblical literacy study commissioned by the American Bible Society, discovered only 42% of Americans could name the first five books of the Bible. This same study revealed that 80% of Americans consider the Bible as sacred or holy, and 88% of Americans own a Bible. More people own a Bible and consider it holy than can name the first five books of the this same Bible. What’s the problem? Biblical illiteracy.
Systematic exposition through a book of the Bible acquaints the preacher and the audience with all the nuances of that particular book. These nuances include people, theological terms, geographical locations, biblical customs, and world history. Over time, the congregation who sits under regular, systematic exposition will grow in its biblical literacy — oftentimes without realizing that it is occurring.
Biblical literacy is achieved in a greater sense through expository preaching because the preacher is forced to deal with the text. This is not always the case with topical or thematic preaching. Over time, the church is exposed to numerous books of the Bible. Biblical places, themes, words, people, and geography are repeated; therefore, the church is constantly exposed to the Bible.
Take, for instance, some of the issues that listeners will be exposed to in an expository series through the book of Jonah:
- Geography: Tarshish, Nineveh, Joppa
- People: God, Jonah, the sailors, the king and people of Nineveh
- Biblical themes: disobedience, sovereignty of God, Sheol, God’s grace, repentance
- Cultural issues: boats, sailors, pagan gods, casting lots
- Faithfulness in expository preaching over time will produce a more biblically-literate congregation.
2. A Storehouse of Preaching Material
In their book Rediscovering Expository Preaching (Word Publishing, Dallas, 1992), John MacArthur and The Master’s Seminary faculty list several expositional advantages on page 20. Advantage number 4 is that expositional preaching provides a storehouse of preaching material.
An irrevocable reality of preaching is that Sunday comes once every week. For some preachers that also means a Sunday morning and evening sermon, not to mention Wednesday night prayer meeting and other speaking opportunities. The congregation expects to hear a sermon of some sort whenever the church conducts regular worship services. A burden has been placed on the preacher to preach.
What will he preach? Where will he go to get an idea or outline for a sermon? What subject will he treat in the sermon? What will be the structure of the sermon? All of these questions will be answered if the preacher has adopted expository preaching as his solitary method for addressing his congregation. A text of scripture will provide the subject and structure of the sermon when expository preaching is done.
The Bible contains 66 separate books, a total of 1,189 chapters containing 31,103 verses. It would be virtually impossible to preach through the entire Bible in a typical pastoral tenure. However, Dr. W.A. Criswell did accomplish the task in an 18-year time period while he was serving as the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Criswell recounted his experience in a 1966 article in Christianity Today.
Through the method of expository preaching, the preacher can be certain he has a storehouse of preaching material for years to come. A preaching calendar (a topic I may blog on later) is an added advantage to the expositor. Monday morning means the preacher studies the next text in sequential exposition of a Bible book or the next pre-selected text. Gone is the stress of trying to be ingenious enough to pick a sermon subject and build a sermon structure. The preacher is now free to allow the text to form the sermon. There is no longer a need for sermon outline books or “sugar stick” sermons.
Sequential exposition through a book or books of the Bible will produce a multitude of sermons for any worship service in the local church. I undertook the task of preaching through the book of Genesis on Sunday evenings at my current church in the summer of 2011. It took approximately two and a half years to preach through Genesis. We took breaks on Sunday evenings for holidays and other church events. Some of these sermons considered a paragraph of text, while others were formed around an entire chapter or episode in Genesis. I am currently preaching through the gospel of Luke and have been doing so for a little more than a year. We are currently in chapter nine. I have preached through shorter books on Sunday mornings, including: James, Jonah, Galatians, and Judges. Sunday mornings have also included expository series preaching with titles such as “Saved and Sure,” “Revival,” and “Stewardship for All of Life.” In these series, each sermon was a stand-alone expository sermon of a text that fit in the series.
Expository preaching will give the preacher confidence that he will never run out of material to preach. Should he preach through the Bible in its entirety as Criswell did, he can go back to Genesis and begin again.
3. The Preacher Cannot Preach His Favorites
Preachers are not unlike other Christians in that they have favorite topics that are addressed in God’s Word — whether it be God’s love, His grace, the Holy Spirit, evangelism, or the family. Our human constitution tempts us to approach God’s Word like we approach food — favorites and not so favorites.
However, any expository approach to preaching will prevent the preacher from preaching on his favorite subjects. My seminary professor referred to this as “riding his theological hobby horse.” Most preachers will be tempted to preach on subjects that they feel an affinity with or that they are comfortable talking about.
Second, many preachers will be tempted to preach out of their favorite type of biblical genre. I grew up in a church with several lay preachers who preached at the jail and the nursing home in our community. These men oftentimes preached on Sunday or Wednesday nights in our church. One dear brother had a love for 1 or 2 Kings. It was virtually an established fact that if he was going to preach he would preach from one of these historical books of the Old Testament. A preacher will be tempted to preach only a specific type of biblical genre, whether it’s the historical books, the prophets, the gospels, or the epistles.
Expository preaching will prevent the preacher from preaching his favorite biblical subject or out of his favorite biblical genre. This is especially true if a preacher practices sequential exposition a majority of the time. The preacher will be forced to preach the next pericope whether it’s a chapter, psalm, episode or paragraph. Gone is the freedom to pick and choose subjects and texts. As a result, the congregation will find it difficult to accuse the preacher of playing favorites.
Preaching in an expositional manner is not the only way to teach and preach the Bible, but its advantages outweigh other methods. The Pastor who decides to approach his pulpit ministry with expository preaching will reap rich rewards the longer he preaches. God has promised to bless His Word. Anyone who preaches or teaches God’s Word line by line and chapter by chapter will be blessed by God. The preacher and the audience will reap God’s richest blessings.