How to Progress in Preaching
Expository preaching comes from the belief that the Bible is the living Word of God and a desire to bring out what is in the text of that Word in such a way that the audience hears from God Himself and meets Him in the sermon.
Our purpose in preaching is to speak God’s word in such a way that the listeners grow in their knowledge of God and are transformed to be more like Christ. Col. 1:9-10 - For this reason, since the day we heard about this, we have not stopped praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the full knowledge of God's will with respect to all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
A. The first step is to believe that the text of the Bible that we are looking at is in fact the word of God and to be committed to presenting that message rather than our own ideas. We are God’s messengers presenting His word not ours. II Cor. 4:1-2 - Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
B. The next step is to make sure that we understand what God has said in a particular text so that we can clearly and accurately present that message to others. “I never preach unless I feel I have the mind of God as regards the sense of the passage”, Charles Simeon. This requires diligent and careful study, being prayerfully dependent upon the Holy Spirit to help us understand His word. The development of good inductive Bible study skills is very important for this step.
C. If we are going to be effective in presenting the word of God to others we must first receive it ourselves. The message of the word must travel through our lives before we can present it to others in an authentic way. Before our hearts can be engaged with our people as they listen to the message we must have listened to the message ourselves and dealt with the issues it presents to us. Then we can humbly identify with our people as they deal with the message God has for them. This helps us not preach down to our people but to be gentle and compassionate with them as they grapple with the demands and blessings of the word even as we do in our own lives.
No one wants to preach boring sermons and there is benefit in learning the skill to construct and present a sermon that is interesting. But the most important ingredient in an interesting sermon is the genuine passion of the preacher. It is difficult to be bored listening to a preacher who is excited to share what God has revealed to him, and then us, in His word.
D. The key concern of our preaching is that the people would hear from God Himself through His Word. We must then be careful in the way that we present the Word so that our preaching does not distract from its message or purpose. Our goal is not so much to convince people to believe something but to present the Word in such a way that it convinces people to believe what it teaches. Consider Paul’s thoughts in I Cor. 2:1-5. When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God, for I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
In Paul’s day great emphasis was placed on eloquence and rhetoric in public speaking, especially if one wanted to convince others of his message. Paul deliberately chose to forgo this method. Although I am sure his messages were well prepared, his purpose was to present the message of Christ clearly and simply so that people would not be convinced by his skill or persuasiveness but by the gospel itself. He depended upon the Holy Spirit to convince people through His Word rather than through Paul’s brilliant preaching.
Some writers on the subject of preaching refer to what is called the Fallen Condition Focus, FCF. Essentially this refers to the fact that as fallen creatures we all have many things that we need to hear from God. Often that has to do with our sin but not always. Sometimes we need understanding, at other times we need encouragement or strengthening. Ultimately, we are weak, broken creatures that need the Word of God to transform our lives, conforming us to the image of Christ. When the Word changes our hearts it also changes the way we think and live as well. Every time we preach we need to take this FCF into account and realize that there is something important that must transpire between the Word by the power of the Holy Spirit and the hearts, minds and lives of our people.
E. The length of the text chosen for the sermon needs discussion. In general if we are attempting to preach expositional sermons, we must choose a text that is long enough to contain a complete thought. If we focus on a word or phrase we are really preaching topically or theologically. Usually this means that we will want to choose a paragraph or more as our text. A single verse may sometimes suffice especially in a series of sermons. For example, we might preach through the beatitudes taking one blessing each week but doing so in the context of the whole passage.
Which passages should we preach from?
In every church there are issues and situations that need to be particularly addressed from the Word of God. This requires the preacher to choose texts that have something to say that addresses those issues. This then may be described as a topically driven approach to choosing what to preach on. It is not that we are preaching topical messages but that the expository messages that we preach are from texts chosen to meet the issues. One problem that may develop from this approach is that the congregation never confronted with a large portion of the Bible but only those texts that the preacher thinks are relevant. He may even skip certain passages because he does not want to deal with them or considers them too controversial for his church.
Another approach is to preach consecutive passages as the preacher works through various books of the bible. Then all the passages are eventually addressed, nothing is skipped or avoided. Each passage is taught in its own context and whatever the text deals with the congregation deals with. This is the more natural way for the congregation to learn the scriptures because that is how they were constructed by God. The problem with this method is that some issues may not be dealt with for some time until the congregation comes to a passage that deals with that issue. Also, in lengthy books the congregation may tire of working through all the way through the book.
One solution may be to preach about 1/3 of the time from texts chosen topically and 2/3 of the time working through book studies. This balance has proven beneficial for many.