When Expository Preaching Almost Isn’t

One approach to preaching a text is a particularly well worn path, but at times it verges on leaving the territory of the expository.  If done well it doesn’t leave the territory, but it sometimes gets close to the fence.  Let me see if I can help you see what I mean.

Imagine you have a preaching text, perhaps a section of, let’s say, ten verses.  A fairly common and standard approach is to come up with a series of points that cover those ten verses.  Perhaps you take a keyword approach – three reasons, four benefits, three challenges, etc.  By using these key words you are able to construct a series of points that are parallel and technically cover the entire text.  In the preaching of that text you will, by means of your three or four points, preach the whole passage.  You will probably have a liberal sprinkling of illustrations throughout.  At various points in the message the listeners will look down at the text.  Traditional, tried and tested, faithful expository preaching.  Probably.

It all depends on whether the points you are preaching are the points of the text.  This is where the keyword approach can run into difficulty.  Rarely did Paul, or Peter, or John, set out to list a series of thoughts in parallel form.  Consequently, the processing of the text into your points might result in processed text (and like food, excessive processing can wring the nutrition from it).  Now I need to be careful here because the approach described above can be a very faithful approach to preaching, and very effective.  But I’d like to offer a nudge:

When you preach, are you overtly or implicitly saying “my message (on this text)” and “my points”?  Or, are you overtly and implicitly saying “Paul’s message in this text” and “Paul’s point.”  Exposition that isn’t by the fence at the periphery of camp exposition, but sits right in the middle, is exposition where the text is not just the source of the propositional content and historical background, but where the text is really the boss of the message.  The best expositions are where the listeners haven’t just been informed about the text, but where they have entered into the text, the text has entered into them, and where the text has been set free to do what the text was intended to do.

Too easily some of us don’t really do what the text does, but instead we focus just on saying what the text says, and actually end up helping the text out by nursing it through with the aid of our well planned structures and materials of interest.

Expository, but only just.

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2 thoughts on “When Expository Preaching Almost Isn’t

  1. We develop a message that we believe the text is saying, or we explain what the text is saying.

    I do both. But what I like to do best is explain the meaning of the words in the text and how they fit into the text it self.

    While I have in mind the whole chapter, I generally have only time to look into one verse at a time, if I am lucky. I rarely every finish the material I have set out to deliver.

    Maybe one of these days I will get it, its only been 40 years of trying. But I love it.

  2. You have hit the nail on the head with this post. Expository preaching (so called) is usually just barely expository and is instead creative-tory. In an attempt to create a cohesive unit from the text the preacher overly processes the text to become what he wants it to be.

    I am not saying that this is not a good way to deal with a text. However, as you mention, seldom was a text written with 3 points in mind. Many times it is difficult to create a true expository sermon that is well organized because the underlying text isn’t as organized as we would like it to be.

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