I have found it rather easy over the years to convince our Talbot students of the value of expository preaching. The challenge comes when our students leave the classroom and find themselves ministering to church folks who live in a sound-bite culture, and who have a strong affinity for topical sermons that “scratch ‘em where they itch.”
Most Sundays find the three pastors who share preaching responsibilities at my church teaching through a Bible book, verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter. To explain why we do so—to make a case for expository preaching—I wrote the following rationale awhile back for our church newsletter. We have now included it in the materials we use in our Membership Class, and our people have found it quite informative. Perhaps you will find it helpful, as well.
Making a Case In the Church for Expository Preaching
What I Want to Hear. . .What I Need to Hear
Early in January, after Brandon passed around the preaching plan for the first half of the year, someone asked, How do you guys decide what to preach on from Sunday to Sunday? The answer to this question affects a lot of what we do at Oceanside Christian Fellowship and it has an eternal impact on all of us who consistently worship together on Sundays. So, I thought I’d take a moment this month to let you in on some of our reasoning along these lines. I will share three “principles we live by” and two “extremes we try to avoid.” These values are “on the table,” so to speak, before we even get around to picking Sunday topics and passages. Once you read them, you’ll see why we preach the way we do:
Principle #1— We come to church to meet with God, so the Bible must remain central to what we do in our Sunday teaching. After all, God’s Word is our only trustworthy source of information about God and His ways with us. If church is all about God, then church had better be all about the Bible. Pretty straightforward.
Principle #2— It is not enough for OCFers to come and receive Bible truth from trained pastors on Sunday morning. As your pastors, we must also equip you to feel increasingly comfortable with the Bible yourselves, so that you can read and study God’s Word on your own during the week.
Principle #3— Your pastors must connect the eternal truths of God’s Word with the daily circumstances and needs of your lives, and we should do so in such a way that everyone—skeptical seeker or seasoned saint—has something to take home and think about or work on during the week.
As you might imagine, remaining consistently and equally faithful to all these principles on any given Sunday is an almost impossible task! But we do the best we can over the course of a year and, in the process, we try to avoid two extremes, each of which would compromise one or more of the principles outlined above:
Extreme #1 — Focus too much on where WE are at.
People generally find topical preaching (addressed directly to felt needs) very attractive. But there are some pitfalls associated with preaching topical sermons every week. The first problem is that a person can attend church for several years, hearing sermon after sermon dealing with themes like Success on the Job, Having a Healthy Marriage, andFinding Fulfillment in Life, and never gain the kind of familiarity with the Bible that would encourage him to study God’s Word on his own! The Bible remains a foreign book full of tidbits of Godly wisdom which only the ‘paid professional’ (the pastor) can discover and deliver, as he prepares and preaches his messages each week. The second pitfall of a topical approach is less obvious. But it may be even more serious. Preaching that is intentionally preoccupied with our felt-needs tends to start with us and end with God. This kind of “teaching trajectory,” in turn, subtly but effectively communicates a whole worldview—one that is diametrically opposed to Scripture. It says: We are at the center of the universe, and God is here primarily to meet our needs and to fulfill our agenda. Well, this is the just kind of thinking we want to avoid here at OCF, not the kind of thinking we want to subliminally reinforce by the way we craft our sermons!
Extreme #2 — Focus too much on where the BIBLE is at.
Did a pastor just write that?! Did Pastor Joe just write that?!!! Yep. At some point in our preaching we have to get out of the first century (or the eleventh century B.C., in the case of Samuel and David!) and into the twenty-first. This means that Sunday morning will always be a worship service and never become just a classroom. Don’t misunderstand. We hope you learn something on Sunday. But we do not want our preaching to impart only information. We want you to meet your Lord in the Biblical text and come away with hope and direction for your life. So we try to be relevant.
Putting It All Together
Now how do these Principles and Extremes cash out in the way we plan our Sunday sermons? Well, they make things pretty simple. In an effort to be faithful to Principle #3, we will, at times (typically January & summer) program some topical sermons. But when we do, we try real hard to keep God at the center, where He belongs. Over the course of a year, though, you won’t hear a lot of topical messages on Sunday at OCF. Instead, we are usually preaching right through a book of the Bible (Principle #1). Our recent pattern has found us in the New Testament in the fall and the Old Testament in the spring. When we finish going through a book like Romans (Fall & Winter 2010-11), for example, we hope you will be familiar enough with the text to go home, read the book with understanding, and make it your own—for the rest of your life! Hang out with us consistently for a few years. . .and just think of how much of the Bible you’ll know! The Goal: For you to have access to the Word of God to find hope and direction for your own life on a daily basis (Principle #2)—something you’ll never get from hearing topical sermons week after week.
So, you might not get what you WANT every week at OCF: something that scratches your felt-needs right where they itch. But we promise to do our best to give you what you NEED: a big-picture exposure to God and His Word that gives you a basic biblical foundation for a lifetime of study. Because the Christian life is not a 100-yard dash—it’s a marathon.
You’re part? (1) Be there consistently, to get the whole flow of the Bible book, (2) Be there attentively, to actively think and reflect on what is being said, and (3) Be there openly, to let God have His way with you on Sunday mornings! God will be honored and we’ll all be better for it!