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Why Some People Equate “Expository” With “Irrelevant”, And What To Do About It…

by Joe Pursch on August 21st, 2017

I’ve been thinking lately about changing out the phrase “expository preaching” for a different one when I describe my ministry to people.

No, not really … but I do get tempted at times. Here’s why.

The problem isn’t that I’m not a practitioner of the expository method in my teaching because I very much am. The challenge is that there are a lot of well-meaning communicators out there who are aiming to be expositors but delivering messages that stay trapped in the mechanics of the Bible text. They deliver great scholarship but then can never find their way out to a point of meaningful application in the lives of their New Millennium Listeners. As a result, a lot of folks that have listened to that kind of preaching (or in the words of some, endured that kind of preaching!) end up walking away with the permanent impression that if it’s expository, it’s boring. What a tragedy!

I think expository preaching only seems irrelevant when we deliver the scholarship, but then never do the equally hard work of building a bridge of application from the Biblical passage into modern life. It’s sort of like choosing all the best cuts of wood from a lumberyard and laying them in a pile, but then failing to line them up, brace them firmly, and nail them as planks into a bridge across the river. The river, in this illustration, is the river of time between the Biblical Writing and the present experience of our listeners. It takes a lot of creative effort to build this bridge, but it’s part of the preacher’s task.

In my early days as a pastor, I spent most of my preparation time on the scholarship dimension of my preaching. Today, however, I spend nearly equal amounts of time in the exegetical portion of my work (discerning the meaning of the text) and the homiletical portion of my work (delivering that meaning in an outline that makes sense, with illustrations that stir the heart and focus the mind). It’s demanding and creative work, but feeding the flock well demands nothing less. It’s also a weekly reminder to me that preaching is as much an art as it is a science. And that’s what we need to remember.

I caught an interesting article today by an older pastor on the challenge of delivering expository preaching with an eye toward compelling application. You can check out Dr. Iain Murray’s article by clicking here.

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