I’ll never forget visiting a church where the pastor strung one feel-good cliché after another while interjecting “Jesus” every now and then. At the end of his “sermon” he wanted to make sure everyone knew “how awesome” we all were and invited us all to join him in yelling as loud as we could to “release our negativity.”
I left that church service wondering what had just happened and feeling like I had just wasted my entire Sunday morning. This was mainly due to the fact that I didn’t learn anything; the Bible was not preached and taught in a rich way to provide the food my soul needed.
I’m not alone, a recent study has concluded that the number one reason people attend church is to hear “sermons that teach about Scripture.”
For years church leaders tried to convince us that being a hip, trendy, and relevant church was the key to doing church right. It was about professional bands, cool video graphics, and more ministry choices than you can fit on one bulletin page. But after many years and many failures even the well-respected church growth guru’s are admitting that it’s really about the preaching.
But not just any preaching. The trendy “talks” that cite one Bible verse then shares stories, jokes, and illustrations for 40 minutes are also failing. What people are really looking for is teaching from the Bible that expounds the Scriptures and connects them with daily life. In other words, expository preaching. What exactly is expository preaching?
Expository preaching is a type of preaching that seeks to understand the meaning of each verse by making the text and it’s meaning the main point of the sermon. Rather than using Scripture to support predetermined points on a particular topic (also called topical preaching), the text of Scripture is the main point and its meaning is drawn out. This means that rather than jumping from one book of the Bible to another each week, a single book of the Bible is carefully taught, one verse at a time until every verse in that book is taught.
This form of preaching, expository preaching is by far the most capable form of preaching for teaching theology and developing disciples. As a book of the Bible is carefully taught week by week, the congregation gets a clear, deep understanding of that book and the original intent and meaning of its contents. And through careful preparation the preacher will be able to easily connect the book being taught with other books of Scripture.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of expository preaching is that it provides consistency. When the preacher is gone (out of town, ill, etc.) the congregation knows that whoever is filling in for the preacher will simply pick up where he left off. So if the preacher finished teaching through Philippians chapter 2 last week, everyone knows we will be starting Philippians chapter 3 this week. And the man filling in for the preacher this week knows exactly what text to prepare for his sermon. This level of consistent teaching is invaluable to the congregation’s spiritual formation.
I was encouraged to see that Protestants overwhelmingly are looking for “sermons that teach about Scripture,” and “sermons that help connect religion to own life” over other things. Even good things like children’s ministries, social activities, and music didn’t come close to the desire for good sermons. This should be an encouragement to every pastor to pour himself into his work of studying and preparing his sermon each week.
I love what a recent article had to say about our culture and the need for deep preaching:
“In a distracted, outraged, shallow culture, people begin to hunger for something rare: the focused, balanced, deep. Because we chronically distract ourselves, we crave depth. Deep preaching is our best chance to change lives.”
There is tremendous truth in that statement. We live in a culture so shallow it’s almost hard to comprehend. With sound bites, social media, and other distractions all around we move from one thing to the next in a matter of seconds. Taking time to slow down and linger in things that are deep and rich is almost a foreign concept that requires special skill. That’s where the pastor and his preaching come in. And the need for this deep, purposeful preaching has never been greater. Every day people find new ways to be upset and outraged. You can’t change the channel, scroll social media, or read a headline without learning of some new thing people are angry about. Reactionary preaching aimed at current issues will not help. The sovereignty of God is best communicated when the preacher takes time to dive deep into the text he’s been planning to preach for the past 3 months despite whatever crazy thing is happening in our world.
Not only is deep theological teaching needed in order to develop strong disciples but also it is what will draw seekers.
For years the seeker-sensitive movement told us that having worship concerts, lights, videos, and really cool pastors that talk to you like they are your college roommate are what fills the seats and lead people to Jesus. That has been an epic fail. Oh, it did fill the seats, for a little while. The result of shallow preaching, however, is shallow churches with no commitment. And many seeker-sensitive churches have discovered that their back door is as big as their front door and it is continually open. Many large churches are moving toward deeper theologically robust teaching because it is what people that are “seeking” are looking for.
This should be an encouragement and a lesson to pastors and church leaders alike: focus on developing a robust teaching ministry at your church. Don’t water down your sermons, dive deep into the theology of Scripture in order to develop strong disciples and a mature congregation. The old saying “what you win them with is what you win them to” has never been truer. So win them with Jesus and the deep, rich theology of the Bible surrounding our Savior.
People are hungry for the meat contained in the Scriptures, let’s not fill up on junk food and spoil their appetite.