Good Exposition is not a Recipe Tour

Recipe2Some people wrongly suggest that expository preaching is like explaining a recipe, rather than letting the listeners savour the flavour of a well-cooked meal.  A good meal is the goal, not an explanation of the recipe. For some preachers this is an accurate description of their preaching, but don’t judge expository preaching by bad examples of it.

An expository preacher is primarily concerned with communicating the point of the passage, not seeking to explain the point of every detail.  Expository preaching is about effectively and accurately communicating the text, not using the text to offer a lecture in sermonic method or applied theology.

A good expository preacher knows that a story has its own way of carrying and conveying its point, and that a poem works in a different way.  Thus a good expositor preacher, preaching a story, will not dissect it into a lifeless and experience-free recipe, but will communicate the story as effectively and accurately as possible.

1. We start with the text as it is.  Expository preaching is about the text being boss of the message, not the message squeezing the text into an outline or idea that doesn’t quite fit.

2. We ponder what needs to be added to help the text communicate effectively.  Is any explanation necessary to allow it to communicate?  Perhaps an underlining of the point, exposing it for clarity, yet timed appropriately to not undermine the impact of the text?  Maybe it would help to make explicit the contemporary relevance of the story, or maybe how it fits into the bigger story of God’s Word and our world?

3. We try to avoid any undermining material.  Unnecessary and endless explanation of details, numerous unnecessary or disconnected illustrations, ill-timed statements of the main thought, commentary style titles for each segment of the passage, or even a personal delivery manner that contradicts or leeches away the emotion, tension or energy of the text.  Anything unhelpful should be purged from the message so that we are preaching the message of the text, not preaching a message using a text.

When you preach a story, or a poem, or whatever, be sure to be expository . . . but not the wrong kind that feels like the explanation of a recipe!


Necessary and Possible

In simple terms, how much of a message should be spent on explaining the passage, and how much should be spent on applying it?

Spend as much time as necessary explaining the passage. If you don’t explain the passage, your application will lack authority.  People need to understand the meaning of the passage, they need to see how the details of the text work together to convey the main point.  They need to see how it fits in the flow of the section.  They need to have confidence that any application you present is built firmly on the teaching of the passage.

Spend as much time as possible applying the passage. Once people understand the meaning of the passage, they need to see how it relates to their life.  In fact, don’t fall into the trap of explaining and then applying as two sequential elements in the sermon.  Certainly application will show up at the end and be significant in the conclusion, but it should also present itself right at the start, in the introduction, in the wording of the main idea and in the phrasing of the main points of the message.  However, proportionately, this guideline is important to bear in mind – give as much application as possible.

Don’t reverse these guidelines! It is easy to get this backwards and end up giving as much explanation as possible.  After all, you may have spent hours digging in the text.  You were excited by all that you learnt.  You enjoy Bible study.  Therefore it is easy to make a sermon an exegetical information dump.  Don’t.  Select carefully and give what is necessary, but don’t over-prove, don’t overwhelm.  Make sure you never skimp on connecting the truth of God’s Word into the nitty gritty of real life.

Simple guidelines, but I find them helpful.