2580. A good preacher should have these qualities and virtues: first, that he can teach well and properly; second, that he has a good head; third, that he is eloquent.; fourth, that he have a good voice; fifth, a good memory; sixth, he should know when to stop; seventh, he should be certain and diligent in his subject; eighth, he should put his life and limb, possessions and honor into it; and ninth, he should be willing to accept ridicule from everyone.
There is nothing quite so easily noticed and remarked about concerning a preacher than his mistakes. Even though a preacher may have a hundred good qualities, he spoils it all through one mistake–that’s how bad the world is. (p. 218).
This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at my home church, Christ’s Covenant Church. We are beginning a series on the church, and the elders asked me to kick things off by doing a biblical theology of the church. The goal was to help our congregation understand our story as a people – the people of God.
Before you listen, though, let me provide two caveats. First, I only had about 38 minutes, so I had to be extremely selective in how I traced this theme through the biblical story. Second, I did not have the time to discuss the well-known issue of the relationship between Israel and the church.
The main thrust I tried to communicate is that God’s purpose from the beginning was to create a people who would reflect his glory by living joyfully and obediently under his sovereign rule. But all throughout the OT the people of God fail repeatedly. God promises to raise up a Serpent-crusher who will defeat the serpent, deal with the sins of his people, and institute a new covenant to create an obedient people. That promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who obeys where God’s people have failed, dies for their sins, and crushes the serpent by rising from the dead. He inaugurates the new covenant and pours out his Spirit to create the new covenant people of God.
Want to hear more? You can either listen online or download the audio here.
In a letter to his son Christopher, J. R. R. Tolkien attempts to explain why from his perspective so many sermons are so bad:
The answer to the mystery is prob[ably] not simple; but part of it is that ‘rhetoric’ (of which preaching is a dept.) is an art, which requires (a) some native talent and (b) learning and practice. The instrument used is v[ery] much more complex than a piano, yet most performers are in the position of a man who sits down to a piano and expects to move his audience without any knowledge of the notes at all. The art can be learned (granted some modicum of aptitude) and can then be effective, in a way, when wholly unconnected with sincerity, sanctity, etc. But preaching is complicated by the fact that we expect in it not only a performance, but truth and sincerity, and also at least no word, tone, or note that suggests the possession of vices (such as hypocrisy, vanity) or defects (such as folly, ignorance) in the preacher.
Good sermons require some art, some virtue, some knowledge. Real sermons require some special grace which does not transcend art but arrives at it by instinct or ‘inspiration’; indeed the Holy Spirit seems sometimes to speak through a human mouth providing art, virtue, and insight he does not himself possess: but the occasions are rare. In other times I don’t think an educated person is required to suppress the critical faculty, but it should be kept in order by a constant endeavour to apply the truth (if any), even in cliche form, to oneself exclusively! A difficult exercise… (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 75)
A difficult exercise indeed! No wonder the apostle Paul wrote “who is sufficient for these things ” (2 Cor 2:16). Yet he also wrote “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21).
234. A preacher is like a carpenter; his tools are God’s Word. Because the audience, upon whom he is to work, is diversified, he should not continuously teach in the same tone, rather, in respect of the differences in his congregation, comfort for a while, frighten, scold, offer reconciliation, and so on (p. 209)
234. A preacher is like a carpenter; his tools are God’s Word. Because the audience, upon whom he is to work, is diversified, he should not continuously teach in the same tone, rather, in respect of the differences in his congregation, comfort for a while, frighten, scold, offer reconciliation, and so on. (p. 209)
While there are a number of books on preaching, there is none quite like Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell. In this brief yet extremely helpful book, Millar and Campbell blend theological foundations with practical advice that will improve anyone’s preaching.
After noting the importance of prayer (ch. 1), the authors plead for preaching that changes the heart through expository preaching (ch. 2). Preachers must strive to avoid boring people (ch. 3) and focus on developing/articulating the big idea of the passage (ch. 4). In the longest chapter of the book, Millar and Campbell provide a theological and hermeneutical model for preaching Christ from the Old Testament (ch. 5). Suggestions for delivery (ch. 6) and seeking useful feedback (ch. 7) prepare the way for the final chapter on building a sermon (ch. 8). Two appendices round out the contents: one on sample sermon critique between the authors and another on suggested resources.
I highly recommend this book. Despite being brief, it covers the broad range of issues necessary to think through to excel in preaching. The authors not only provide theological foundations but practical advice that will benefit all preachers regardless of age or experience. While I do not agree with every detail (e.g., I do not think the ideal sermon is necessarily 23-30 minutes long, and I am not a fan of using powerpoint), this book is worth your attention if God has called you to preach.
3188. If someone laments that he was so troubled by a sermon he had to leave, comfort him so: “God receives two kinds of offerings, one is praise, and the other is a shattered heart. (p. 221)
2580. A good preacher should have these qualities and virtues: first, that he can teach well and properly; second, that he has a good head; third, that he is eloquent; fourth, that he have a good voice; fifth, a good memory; sixth, he should know when to stop; seventh, he should be certain and diligent in his subject; eighth, he should put his life and limb, possessions and honor into it; and ninth, he should be willing to accept ridicule from everyone. There is nothing quite so easily noticed and remarked about concerning a preacher than his mistakes. Even though a preacher may have a hundred good qualities, he spoils it all through one mistake – that’s how bad the world is. (p. 218)
In my first post I defined expository preaching as preaching in which the content, intent, and structure of the passage determines the content, intent, and structure of the message. Today I want to focus on the “content” portion of that definition.
In contrast to topical preaching (which chooses a topic or subject and then collects various texts that deal with that topic), expository preaching chooses one passage of Scripture as the foundation of the message. The length of the passage can vary significantly, from a single verse to an entire book of the Bible. But the defining characteristic in view here is that the content of the passage determines what the preacher preaches. If the passage deals with the deity of Christ, the preacher preaches on the deity of Christ. If it deals with caring for widows, he preaches on caring for widows. You get the picture.
But expository preaching is more than merely making sure that some of the topics present in the passage are present in your message. Good expository preaching seeks to determine the central thrust of the passage and make that the central thrust of the message. Different preachers refer to this with different terms such as the big idea, the proposition, or the burden of the sermon. In determining the central thrust of the passage, you are making the claim that everything in the passage in some way relates to it. In the same way, everything in the message should in some way relate to the central thrust of the passage.
Determining the central thrust of the passage enables the preacher to know what to emphasize in his message. In a passage of any significant length, any number of elements might catch the preacher’s eye and lead him down a rabbit trail. But the central thrust helps to rein in the preacher and prevent him from simply selecting the elements of a passage that are most interesting to him. It also provides a helpful filter for determining what stays in the sermon and what is left on the cutting room floor.
In the next installment in this series, I’ll discuss the “intent” portion of my definition.
Today I am beginning a new series of posts on expository preaching. My goal in writing this series is to clarify and articulate my understanding of this important ministry of the church. While I think there are other forms of preaching that are valuable and have a place within the life of the church, it is my conviction that expository preaching should be the foundation of the pulpit ministry of a healthy, gospel-centered, Christ-focused church.
What is Expository Preaching?
Although sometimes referred to as exegetical preaching, I prefer the term expository for the simple reason that it more clearly communicates that the goal of such preaching is to expose–that is, bring into clear view–at least three things: (1) the meaning of the text; (2) the majesty and beauty of the God who spoke the text; (3) the response called for by the text.
So how should we define expository preaching? My preaching professor in seminary Mike Bullmore defined it as preaching in which the content and intent of the passage shapes the content and intent of the message. As I have continued to reflect on and attempt to practice expository preaching, I have built on that foundation and expanded it to define it as follows: expository preaching is preaching in which the content, intent, and structure of the passage determines the content, intent, and structure of the message. The remainder of the series will further unpack this definition; what I want to focus on in the remainder of this post is why I believe expository preaching (as defined this way) is the best way approach to preaching.
Why Expository Preaching Should Be the Preferred Method of Preaching
There are at least three reasons why expository preaching should be the “default” method of preaching in the church.
1. Expository Preaching self-consciously submits to the authority of the text and the author(s) of Scripture. If we truly believe that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17), then we will want to submit ourselves to its authority. When the preacher sits down to prepare an expository message, he is acknowledging that God’s Word and not his own thoughts have ultimate authority. As Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Expository preaching forces the preacher to first determine what the author said before considering what the preacher will say.
2. Expository Preaching is best positioned to hear the authoritative voice of God through preaching. What God’s people need to hear most is the voice of God himself through the preacher. God brings life through his Word: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isa 55:10-11). When the preacher aligns his own words with God’s words he can be confident that God will accomplish his purposes.
3. Expository Preaching is best positioned to build a biblical worldview in the preacher and the congregation. As a general rule the most significant effect that good preaching has is not so much rooted in particular sermons, but the cumulative effect that faithful preaching has over an extended period of time. Expository preaching reveals the way that the biblical authors thought, felt, and believed. It exposes how they viewed the world so that we can then adopt that same frame of reference for evaluating all of reality.
In the next installment, I will begin unpacking the definition of expository preaching.