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.

Why Preach Spiritual Leadership Series

We preach expository sermons at Parkwood, in short, because we believe the Bible is our great and ultimate authority. The Word of God is authoritative over our thoughts, opinions, and traditions. Expositional, exegetical preaching is therefore our intentional choice for sermon delivery as it most appropriately and sufficiently allows the preacher to convey both the authority of the Word and the necessity of our submission to it. For this reason, preaching through books of the Bible is the typical pattern for sermon planning (a biblical theology approach). In January, though, we typically plan a diversion in the preaching schedule to preach a series particularly poignant to the direction and/or far-reaching issues in the life of the church (a systematic theology approach). The preaching schedule is taking us through the book of Matthew, but we are currently taking the month of January to focus on a series entitled Spiritual Leadership.

So the question is, Why preach a Spiritual Leadership series? The answer, I mentioned last week at the close of the series’ introductory sermon, and these points will continue to surface over the course of the Spiritual Leadership series. The reasons for such a series are three: first, congregational understanding of the biblical instruction on spiritual leaders; second, administering great care in calling our leaders; and third, increasing leaders for the purpose of the church. 

First, it is incumbent upon spiritual leaders to ensure a proper congregational understanding of spiritual leadership. Spiritual leaders, in a context in which the Word of God is the ultimate authority, may not shepherd and serve any way they see fit, even should they choose a fitting way to shepherd and serve. Leaders, even wise and discerning leaders, must not lead according to their wisdom. The only appropriate manner in which to shepherd and serve is that set forth in and consistent with Scripture. God, having established and designed the church and the authority of the church, has therefore chosen and revealed the appropriate standard and manner of spiritual leadership. A Spiritual Leadership sermon series is fitting because the congregation should understand what the Father has communicated in his Word regarding spiritual leadership. And the present is an appropriate time for communicating and reinforcing a congregational understanding of the biblical instruction on spiritual leaders because of the large numbers that have been added to the congregation in recent years, many of which are previously unchurched, from other denominations, or from different traditions. If we believe the Bible, then we all need to know and be reminded what God has said about spiritual leadership.

Second, we need to be careful who we call as our spiritual leaders. It has been said, “We do God a great injury if we accept an unsuitable person to govern his household. Therefore, the greatest care must be taken that nobody is chosen for this sacred office in the church unless he has already proved himself” (Calvin, Acts, 88). Recognizing the great care we must take in calling men to spiritual leadership, it is prudent and beneficial to devote time in the sermon schedule for a systematic study of the Bible’s teachings regarding the roles and responsibilities of spiritual leaders. Future leaders must know what is required of them; current leaders must be reminded; and the church must understand the same before called upon to affirm and to follow such men in spiritual leadership. If we are to be faithful and careful in calling spiritual leaders, then we should be instructed by God’s Word that we may function according to biblical wisdom and not merely human wisdom.

Third, a Spiritual Leadership sermon series is appropriate for the calling of new spiritual leaders. A faithful church makes disciples who make disciples. In this growing context, new leaders are regularly needed. If a faithful church makes disciples, then a growing church develops leaders. Parkwood needs more leaders for two reasons consistent with her purpose. More leaders are needed to meet the growing demands of a growing congregation, and more leaders are needed for the increasing missional demands of sending more personnel to campuses and to the nations. We need a Spiritual Leadership series because we need more spiritual leaders. We need to develop leaders as often as we grow and as often as we desire that our gospel ministry grow. And we need to send more leaders to the nations and to campuses as long as we seek to obey the mission of God to magnify his glory and proclaim his gospel in all the world. 

Considering these reasons – congregational understanding of spiritual leadership, care in selecting leaders, and the continuing need for more leaders – a Spiritual Leadership series is both acceptable and beneficial. I pray as a result of this series that Parkwood would continue to grow in our understanding of spiritual leadership, take great care in selecting leaders, and develop increasingly more shepherds and servants who will lead here in Gastonia, at future campuses, and among the nations.