Expository Preaching Defined and Defended

Having given the month of January to the subject of spiritual leadership, we’re back to our study through the book of Matthew in February until… well, for the foreseeable future. So now might be a good time to answer the question “Why spend so long preaching through only one book?” Answer: “I’m committed to expository preaching.” Let me demonstrate my rationale.

What is expository preaching? Expository preaching is explaining the biblical text from the biblical text, declaring meaning and exhorting listeners to obey its teaching. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, agrees preaching at its most basic level is reading, explaining, and applying the text. Also in agreement, Robert Thomas, Professor of New Testament Emeritus at Master’s Seminary, says its distinctive quality is its instructive nature. Someone who subscribes to a different discipline of preaching may be driven by his opinion, his thoughts regarding relevance, or his perception of audience preference. An expositor of God’s Word, though, ties himself to the Scripture and is therefore driven by the text in his preaching calendar, his emphasis, and his outline. The preacher is not delivering a speech of his own creative liberties but communicating a message that has already been delivered in God’s Word.

 Why expository preaching? Surely this question deserves an answer since many argue against such discipline directly and many more subtly suppose its error in their preaching. I will defend expository preaching in two brief points. First, the Word of God is our authority. As authoritative, the people of God need to hear the divine message from the divinely inspired writer as much as possible. For this reason, I am committed to preaching through a passage of Scripture in the sermon and through Bible books in the preaching calendar. While the preacher cannot completely remove himself, his experience, and his context from his preaching, he needs to preach the Word and not his opinion, his agenda, or his hobby horse. He needs to, very literally, rely on the text. A ‘he must increase; I must decrease’ approach is altogether necessary. 

Second, expository preaching is exegetical not eisegetical, designating the flow of meaning out of the text to the preacher not into the text from the preacher. The exegetical nature of expositional preaching rests on the sufficiency of Scripture. Because the Word is sufficient, no deficiency exists to be bolstered by the gifted preacher. I will therefore lean not on my creativity or intelligence in contriving messages but am committed instead to preaching expositionally and exegetically through a text and through books of the Bible relying on the sufficiency of Christ reflected through the sufficiency of his Word.

The authority and sufficiency of the Word therefore drive my commitment to expository preaching. I am preaching not a sermon here in Matthew, there in Exodus, and another in Acts, but verse-by-verse through books of the Bible. Sure, the preacher must seek guidance and wisdom in choosing the book or occasionally preaching a theological topic, but expositional preaching most effectively delivers the infallible Word of God to the people of God.

New Growth Group Material

Parkwood unveils new sermon-based Growth Group material today. This new material has one component – Bible Study Guides – designed for everyone and a second component – GG Leader Guides – designed for Growth Group leaders. Each of these Guides will be available one week in advance of the text being preached and studied in GGs during the week. For example, I will preach ‘The Death of John the Baptist’ next Sunday, February 7, so Bible Study Guides and GG Leader Guides are available today in the lobby and downstairs, on the website, and on the City so that you can begin preparing this week for next week’s sermon and next week’s GG discussion.

The theological and methodological inspiration for sermon-based GG material comes from the desire that increasing numbers of people would be equipped to study their Bibles and engaged in GG discipleship. To this end, Bible Study Guides introduce a text of Scripture and teach the student of the Word to study the text through several basic steps of Bible study: observe, ask, gospel, apply, and share. These Study Guides secondarily lead the Bible student through a set of discussion questions that will focus on the primary point of the text from a biblical theology perspective. 

Visual inspiration for the annotated steps of Bible study, while typical of basic hermeneutics (art and science of Bible interpretation) and foundational to exegetical (authority residing in the text and meaning coming from the text rather than being read into the text) study of the Scriptures, originated from an excellent article written by Marshall Segal at desiringGod.org. Segal’s goal is similar to our goal of equipping Christians to study the Scriptures, and his article is also written for the context of small group discipleship. For further preparation, consider reading his article Six Questions to Ask When Studying the Bible in a Group

This new strategy for Growth Group material carries massive potential for the growth of all believers, and I am sincerely encouraged and excited as we begin to make this available today. I pray you will be encouraged as you avail yourself of it, that this material will be as beneficial to you and your GGs as we expect and hope. 

Call for Spiritual Leaders

This week we complete our series on Spiritual Leadership. Remember the reason for the series? As has been mentioned multiple times, Spiritual Leadership is being emphasized this January for three reasons: 1) congregational understanding of biblical spiritual leadership, 2) care in the calling of spiritual leaders, and 3) the need for increasing our spiritual leaders. I would like to focus here on the third reason for leading us to consider Spiritual Leadership. As the current spiritual leaders of Parkwood, we believe that now is a critical time to call new shepherds and servants. 

Why do we need spiritual leaders now? We need spiritual leaders because of growth, campuses, and obedience. The first reason is growth. We need to increase our spiritual leaders due to numerical growth. Parkwood has grown by approximately one hundred members annually in recent years. These new members illustrate tremendously more shepherding and serving responsibilities, as well as significantly greater ministry potential. In accordance with the physical growth, we must increase the number of shepherds and servants at Parkwood. Gratefully, we have also experienced proportional spiritual growth, which provides us with quality members to whom we may communicate this need for spiritual leadership.

Increasing spiritual leadership is wise for the second reason of campus development. The growth of the main Gastonia campus is apparent, but added to that growth, we must consider our Kings Mountain campus, our active sending to the Lake Wylie campus, and future plans for others campuses. Parkwood is growing. While we must make decisions to account and plan for that growth, we must not be content to monitor our current situation alone. If we do so, we will be unprepared for the future and will eventually turn inward. The heavenly Father is broadening Parkwood’s reach for the sake of the gospel, and we must prepare for Lake Wylie and future campuses by increasing our spiritual leadership.

Not only is it wise to call more spiritual leaders, it is necessary for the sake of obedience. Parkwood should increase her spiritual leadership and more men should respond because God is calling some to be spiritual leaders. If he is calling, then current leaders must call; and if your Father is calling you and your church is calling you, then you must respond. Be stewards of God’s grace. Be stewards of his Word (Titus 1:7-9). Your stewardship is from joy, and your stewardship is for obedience – remembering, brothers, the accounting of Hebrews 13:17. We could be wrong, but we don’t think so. We think the Good Shepherd is calling spiritual leaders to be shepherds and servants. Is God calling you? Are you going to be obedient? I pray for the unidentified shepherds and servants among us that you will identify yourself, answer the call, and be obedient that our God might use you in his church for the sake of his gospel to shepherd and serve his people.

Whether or not you are called to vocational ministry, everyone is called to ministry. Remember, the extraordinary realization is the ordinary nature of the qualification (1 Timothy 3:1-13). If God is not calling you to spiritual leadership – in the formal sense of serving as shepherd or servant – he is certainly calling you to maturity and to ministry; and, in that regard, this spiritual leadership series is for every follower of Christ. But if you believe that you are called vocationally to shepherd or serve at Parkwood, please do not delay your obedience. In consecration and prayer, write your letter today communicating the Lord’s call on your life as you understand it. If you do, you may find that you are part of the Father’s provision for Parkwood’s growth and campuses, and in so doing will be obedient to the One who purchased the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28).

Sermon-Based Growth Group Material

In the past we have used small group curriculum from Lifeway or Gospel Project, while at times venturing into writing our own curriculum. Certainly we are grateful for the godly men who serve the church through writing these curricula, but Parkwood has determined sermon-based material is the best method for our Growth Groups as well as the best overall approach to Bible interaction. Sermon-based material is the greatest opportunity to accomplish our Growth Group’s four-fold purpose of community, maturity, multiplication, and ministry; and it holds the most potential for encouraging and equipping the greatest number of people in personal study of God’s Word. 

As we begin to publish sermon-based Growth Group material, we are also communicating a process for Bible study in five annotated steps. 

First, observe. In this first step, the student of God’s Word is encouraged to answer the question, “What do I see?” Practicing the step of observation teaches you not just to read but to read well, to take note of what is obvious while also seeing the detail in the text. Think of the context, the writer, the audience, and the relationship of the passage to the unfolding of redemption and the communication of the gospel. You want to see the main point and take note of what is said less directly. 

Second, question. Question the text to gain further understanding. Instead of being satisfied with information gained from reading quickly or reading once, ask questions concerning what you do not know or what is not clear. For example, if the text reads, “He went up from there to Bethel…” (1 Kings 2:23), ask both the obvious and the less obvious questions, Who is he? Where is there? Why is here to there said to be going up? and Where and of what significance is Bethel? Answering these questions will lead to greater understanding of the text. Also, intentionally asking and taking time to look for questions will help the reader recognize lack of understanding that may otherwise be overlooked. 

Third, gospel. In this step, look for the gospel in the text. What does the text say about sin, about man, and about God? Consider whether the text is in the context of the Old Testament or the New Testament, in the context of the covenant of works or of grace, and then consider the corresponding implications for the gospel. The text may indicate a reason for the gospel, a result of the gospel, or an explanation of the gospel. Taking time to reflect on the gospel in various texts will allow the Scripture to inform your understanding, to see the gospel across the Bible, and to thereby increase your admiration for what God is making available in the good news.

Fourth, apply. Apply the text to your life. The task of Bible study is not at once completed but fulfilled over time as it is applied to the reader’s life. We study God’s word to know God. Study without application is simply gaining knowledge, which alone puffs up, but knowledge with application is humility and spiritual growth. First read the text and seek understanding. Then pursue application. Ask yourself how you can apply the text at home, at work, in the church, at school, and in recreation. 

Fifth, share. Having completed steps to understand and apply God’s Word, consider with whom you might share it. I recall a story once told by David Platt. He was teaching internationally and recounted people crowded shoulder to shoulder into a room, even pressing against him, and looking intently at him waiting. Significantly, he never saw the whites of their eyes once he began teaching. The reason, the men gathered were not theologically hungry merely for themselves; they were hungry to hear God’s Word that they might write it down and retell it to others. Let us do the same. Let us hunger after the Word, but then let us be hungry to tell others also. 

So I would encourage you, embrace the study of God’s Word. In doing so, you can prepare for the sermon, for your Growth Group, and for sharing with others. Should you need help, consider using the steps above: observe, question, gospel, apply, and share. Get a journal and start today!