As a follow up to my post here on reasons I think pastors should preach through books of the Bible, I noted these 7 reasons
1) It connects the book to the whole meta-narrative of scripture
2) It anchors the congregation in one theme or thought for an extended period of time
3) It treats the Bible as God’s disclosure instead of a self-help guide
4) It teaches people how to approach scripture on their own
5) It keeps the pastor from focusing on pet agendas
6) It keeps the pastor grounded in their task to connect people to God’s word in ways that are interesting
7) It confronts everyone with hard truths
My conviction remains firm that expository/expositional preaching through books of the Bible is a good preaching task. Expository preaching need not be focused on whole books of the Bible, but most certainly is needed in order to preach that way. But this can be done very poorly as Jared Moore cites here with Six Suggestions for Preaching a Bad Expositional Sermon.
1) Do no application
2) Use no illustrations or stories
3) Give excessive exegetical detail
4) Fail to set the text in its canonical horizon
5) Fail to connect the text to the gospel
6) Fail to preach the text with appropriate urgency and weight
Jared’s list gives some clues on why pastors might not engage in preaching in this way, and in some cases are opposed to it. It occurs to me that either they don’t understand how expository preaching is done OR have a misconception about it and particularly as it relates to preaching through books of the Bible.
Expository preaching is a way of taking the text, explaining what it meant in its context, making it relevant for today, providing the congregation with application for how it must connect to the their lives and compelling them to do something. Haddon Robinson offers this definition, which certainly can be applied to topical teaching as well;
Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers. (Biblical Preaching, 21)
So when preaching through books of the Bible, there may be a misconception that it means plodding through the book, verse by verse, line by line, giving technical detail that leaves the congregation wondering how in the world this passage connects to them. But this is not how to preach through books of the Bible. Rather, it is taking the theme of the book subdividing it into sections in ways that make sense according to that theme, identifying the big idea, explaining each block and how it connects to that theme and finding interesting and creative ways to connect it to people. The items on Jared’s list are a sure way to make this a bad process.
I’m very grateful that I have had good expository preaching modeled for me with pastors that took the time to design a series around a whole book of the Bible. I am amazed on how in my current church, the pastor creates a series and combines such a balance between exegeting the text and connecting it to the audience in ways that are relevant and creative. It takes a whole lot of time, study and prayer to accomplish this. But here’s the thing, they went to seminary and were trained how to do this. They were trained how to avoid the pitfalls on Jared’s list.
After taking my first preaching class this past semester, I have an even greater appreciation for expository preaching and the work that goes into preparing a sermon. The outlines that we had to prepare for taking the text from its proper context to application was tedious, challenging and I confess, at times drove me nuts. The importance of providing concrete ways to connect to the audience was just as important as staying true to the text. One of the assigned books was The Language of Love by Gary Smalley and John Trent, which provided an overdose on the significance of word-pictures. Why? Because it must connect to the audience.
So this gets to another reason why I think some pastors don’t preach through books of the Bible – because they don’t know how to in ways that won’t overburden, bore or confuse the congregation. It raises in my mind the importance of education and training for those who dare lead God’s people in biblical truth. That is not to say that the pastor is deficient if they have not gone to seminary because they can be trained by somebody who has gone OR have substantial exposure to what makes for good expository preaching by way of example and the wealth of written resources. The bottom line is that there is a process to engage.
I should also point out that just because someone went to seminary does not mean they will preach a good message. Unfortunately, I’ve heard of too many cases and witnessed sermons myself that provide such evidence. I believe that practice and good mentoring are key long after seminary.
But I fear that too many pastors have dismissed training as academic and unnecessary. As long as they can preach (in some cases is nothing more than eloquent speech), as long as the audience applauses and as long as they use the Bible, they may reason that is sufficient especially if they’ve done it for an extended period of time. But I wonder how many congregations are being short-changed because of pastors who are too prideful or fearful to submit to a process and instead, insist on feeding their flock a steady diet of fragmented, disconnected verses to make their Christian life better and then call it “preaching the word”. How many congregations are lured into thinking they are getting a “good word” simply because the pastor makes a compelling presentation? No, not every pastor but specifically those who dismiss a process and preaching through books of the Bible as irrelevant.
Just because a pastor goes through a book does not mean he is engaged in expository preaching either. I recently heard one very popular pastor preach through Ephesians 1:5-9 and began eisegeting meaning into the text by making the whole sermon about how our life is a mystery. Well, Paul clearly defined what the mystery was in Chapter 3 and it had nothing to do with the mystery of our lives but rather the unification of Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ. The thousands in attendance stood and applauded and it just made me sad. Not only that, why the preacher did not include vs 10, which is the continuation of the sentence from vs. 9, nor want to discuss how we are accepted in Christ puzzled me since that is precisely what that passage is talking about. But the message was delivered so eloquently and persuasively that made it quite compelling. Needless to say the presentation was very telling of one who relied on years of experience in preaching but never benefited from a solid educational process.
If pastors are to preach the word, preaching through books of the Bible and connecting it to the meta-narrative of scripture is a very good way of doing that. Because the word has everything to do with the central message of the Bible. And if they don’t know how, they should learn.