Pastor Jon Discusses His Preaching Style and Approach
Jon Mutchler (May, 2009)
I just returned from a 4 day conference in Vancouver (Regent College) on preaching. Among other things, it gave me time to reflect on my chosen style of sermon preparation.
I have always preferred preaching through Bible books or large sections of the scriptures over a period of several months or more. I tried to alternate Old Testament and New Testament, but include references to both in each sermon.
This style I prefer is called expository preaching. “Exposit” means, in short, to “explain,” which is what we try to do- Explain and apply the Bible. This is different than the increasingly popular “topical” sermons in that with expository preaching the preacher begins with the text (a Bible passage or chapter or book), and then seeks to hear God’s voice and message for the congregation from, through, and within that chosen text.
The expository preacher believes that the same Spirit who inspired the original text (written between 1920 – 3300 years ago) will use that same passage to speak a word to God’s people today through the preacher. This occurs when the preacher carefully prepares and studies (through his own efforts and with the use of aids and resources written by those who have gone before him) and seeks to understand what God’s original message was and how it was understood by the first audience “way back when.” After that, he seeks to understand and communicate what that message would mean to the contemporary church and world and shows it’s application and challenges to God’s people today. This is a process of interaction between the preacher, the text, the Spirit, scholars, and the congregation.
In contrast, a topical sermon usually begins with a theme or idea (faith, giving, trials, temptation, parenting, God’s love, etc.) and will then seek out Bible verses to undergird, support, or clarify this pre-chosen message. In short, it begins with a message (not the Bible), then seeks out the scriptural support and application for it. Expository sermons begin with the Bible.
Topical messages are timely and necessary on occasion. They are helpful and important when a special topic needs to be addressed.
Another type of sermon is the devotional sermon. This is a message based usually on one or two “packed” verses like John 3:16 or Romans 12:1-2. This type of preaching will attempt to extract as much as possible from a small isolated passage, and limit its main points to parts and phrases within that small section. Although this is a type of biblical preaching, and helpful on occasion, it is similar to a topical sermon in that the preacher is choosing the verse for a specific or particular theme that he has decided upon before hand.
Here are some of the reasons why I usually prefer expository preaching:
1. Expository preaching, which begins with the text (the Bible), demonstrates my faith in God’s word and our confidence that the Spirit will still speak through the ancient text to us today. Expository preaching is my strongest way of showing my trust in scripture and subjection to it.
2. Expository preaching forces me to cover Biblical themes in proportion to how much the Bible itself covers them. If an emphasis or theme occurs often in the Bible, it should also show up in expository preaching with similar frequency over the months and years.
3. Expository preaching helps the preacher to set aside his biases, agendas, and prejudices and preach on subjects that the Word, guided by Spirit, is calling him to preach. It will make every pastor preach on matters and themes he may possibly and likely ignore or avoid.
4. Expository preaching helps the congregation learn the most important book on the planet, the Bible. American Christians are becoming ignorant of Bible truth. Expository preaching is part of the remedy of that tragic problem.
5. Expository preaching helps preachers do what Acts 20:27 calls us to do, which is to preach “the whole counsel of God” and not just the favorite, popular, or easy parts. It forces me to face the hard stuff-all of it.
6. Expository preaching helps us to provide a balanced “spiritual diet” each Sunday, and not just “tank up” on popular themes. It will help us avoid just preaching on subjects our church simply finds easier to hear (See 2 Timothy 4:3-4).
7. Expository preaching helps us to not just receive “milk” but also “meat” into our spiritual diets. (1 Corinthians 3:1-2, Hebrews 5:11-14)
8. Expository preaching helps me to avoid sounding like I’m preaching “at you” — that is, trying to pick passages and themes that address your problem and single you out. It allows the Spirit to handle that. If a listener is confronted or convicted by a passage, he won’t be able to accuse the preacher of choosing a verse to preach “at him” individually.
9. Expository preaching allows me to show you how I do Bible study. As time goes by, you can learn some of the tools and processes I go through to “dig deeper” into God’s word. It is my goal that word studies (Greek, Hebrew) and basic use of Biblical resource tools (dictionaries, commentaries, word study tools, etc.) will encourage you to do the same.
10. Expository preaching entails, on the one side, much time in preparation and study. However, it does save time in that I am not struggling for hours trying to decide on which one of some 31,000 Bible verses I’m preaching from! During an expository series, that decision has already been made.
Note: the above information comes from a variety of sources and mostly through my own reflections. However, I wish to mention Dr. Robert Stone (formerly of HIllcrest Chapel) whose expository sermons (and class, “Scribe School”) helped me during my college days. I commend two of my favorite preaching books: John Stott (Between Two Worlds) and Haddon Robinson’s classic text, Biblical Preaching. And Rev. Tom Cowan, lecturer at the Pastors Conference, Regent College, May 2009, for prompting me to evaluate these convictions once again.
Pastor Jon (JonMutchler@gmail.com)