Word from Jesus
|lectionarystudies.com provides outline expository sermons, in both draft and completed form, for busy priests and pastors. All material is free of copyright and may be used and adapted to suit the local situation. The following short article explores the business end of preaching expository sermons, sermons that are an exposition and applicaton of scripture, rather than sermons that are topical (sometimes now called theological).|
As any professional church worker knows, preaching, and in particular expository preaching, is quite an art form. Given the impact of the electronic media, it is no easy business standing in front of a congregation, Sunday by Sunday, and trying to hold their attention. The "dull and boring" complaint is one we all fear.
Having spent 35 years in the pulpit, I guess I have tried every possible method to give my preaching impact. I have attended numerous preaching schools and come to realize the obvious, that some people are naturally gifted speakers. Just by walking into the pulpit they gain attention. Like most, I missed out on the charisma gene.
As a student minister I attended a seminar presented by Billy Graham. I fully intended learning all his tricks and then go on and happly apply them myself. When he walked into the room that was the end of it. He had me spellbound. I forgot about analyzing his style and just listened. Yes, some people have it.
The sad reality is, very few have the innate charisma to hold people in their gaze. Most of us just have to work at the art of preaching. Yet, there is an advantage in this, for we are forced to rely more on the power of God's Word than on human charisma. So how should the preacher rightly handle the Word of God?
I would say the method that has most impressed me is known as expository preaching. This method is not as popular as it once was, being replaced these days by a style called theological/doctrinal preaching (just another version of topical preaching!!). I like sticking with set Bible readings and working through them week by week with God's people. When it comes to a selection of set passages, there is nothing better than the three year series from the Revised or Common Lectionaries. The text forces the preacher to address God's Word, rather than the preacher forcing the text to fit in with their own preaching program. Given the pressure to build and maintain congregation numbers, it is very easy to drift into easy-listening topics. How often is relationships/sex the preaching topic at a youth service? It is quite possible the Lord has something more important to say to His gathered people.
Of course, no style of preaching is perfect. I remember at college, when expository preaching was in vogue, our lecturer set out to train us in the art of expository preaching. He gave us a passage from Philippians and told us to find the main point in the passage, along with its sub points. The art of expository preaching involves discerning the central truth the Biblical writer is seeking to convey (exegete and interpret) and then to shape that truth (contextualize and apply) in a way easily understood by the congregation. We all came back with our sermon summaries and found a massive divergence in results. There were different main points and numerous arrangements of sub points. Our lecturer informed us that we were all wrong and that his three points were the right ones. I was very suspicious from then on.
The sample expository sermons found on this site follow "The Spider Method"; one body, some legs, not lots of bodies with lots of legs. The "Notes" section of the Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons is, of course, exegetical research. The body of the sermon is made up of an Introduction, verse-by-verse comments, and a theological explanation and application. The discussion questions are for Bible study groups. The text of the sermon is designed for publication and fits an A5 punched 10pt. sheet, printed both sides. Personally, I don't read my sermons, but many clergy do. Some even learn the text off by heart. The sample sermons on this site are too concise to be read. The introduction sets the passage in its context and introduces the central truth revealed by the passage, which will be later explained and applied. The passage is then expounded, verse-by-verse, sometimes with allusions. Then finally the theological explanation and application. As noted above, the discussion questions are not for the pulpit. The central task is to draw out and apply the main point intended by the author in the appointed passage. Sometimes, with the New Testament letters, it is possible to identify sub points and work through these, but most often it is one point. The task is to explain the point and apply it, with a personal illustration if possible.
This approach is obviously not suitable for all congregations. Yet, I have found it fits those with a "reformed" style [e.g. Presbyterian] as well as a "catholic" style [Liturgical, ie. Anglican (Episcopalian), Roman, Lutheran]. It is also particularly suited to small groups, House Church, Community.
The aim of expository preaching is to draw from the Bible reading a word from God and communicate that word to His people. A concise clear word from the Lord, unclouded by rhetoric or falsehood, is difficult to make "dull and boring." The reason is simple, "the preaching of the Word is the Word of God", Bullinger in his Confessio Helvetica Posterior, 1566. "The Word brings the Spirit to the heart, and the Spirit brings the Word within the heart", Hendrikus Berkhof. Given that the Spirit fires the Word and fires the hearer, we are best to proclaim the text rather than bury the text in oratory. As we proclaim that word we need only remember the Lord's words, "My word shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it", Isaiah 55:11.
John MacArthur Jr's. contribution to "Rediscovering Expository Preaching", stands out in this compilation of essays. We eagerly await his full dissertation on the subject. Sidney Greidanus' work "The modern preacher and the ancient text: interpreting and preaching Biblical literature", is also a worthy read. "It's all in how you tell it", H.W. Robinson, and "Christ-centred Preaching", Bryan Chapel, both books produced by Baker, also contribute to this subject.
Using the studies on this site
Expository Preaching begins in the study where the preacher wrestles with the text. Working with the original texts is the way to go, but I have to confess that a competent understanding of Greek is about my limit. This site uses the NIV since its "dynamic equivalent" translation is particularly useful for an average congregation. At the moment there is a move back to the word-for-word style of the old RSV, with the NRSV gaining in popularity, and this particularly so because the NIV does sometimes descend to mere paraphrase. There is some enthusiasm for the new ESV which claims to be an "essentially literal" translation, but it really doesn't do better than the NRSV. I must admit that I do often refer to the REB myself.
Early in the week the preacher needs to address the text, wrestle with the Greek, get a feel for it and then begin the process of exegesis and exposition. We should be encouraged by some of the "great ones" who often began their preparation many months before the sermon's delivery. How nice it would be to have the space in our lives to prepare months in advance. Although it's rush, rush, these days, we do have some wonderful exegetical tools. For example, the Mac application acCordance, developed by Roy Brown, is a superb textual aid, particularly if the preacher is working in Hebrew or Greek. To automatically translate each word at the touch of a finger is a godsend to the many of us who find the business of translation a hard slog. As a Mac person I don't like to admit that the pc based Bibleworks (2005 v6) is bigger and better! A semisupported Mac X version is available.
We will, of course, come at the text with our own predisposed views. This is not necessarily a problem, as truth is many-faceted, but we do need to continually test our denominational or theological leanings to make sure we are not reading false views back into the text. I outline my own predisposition in the study on the bias of grace and in more detail in the study on law and grace.
The real work gets underway when we open up our commentaries and test what the "great ones" have to say on the passage. The Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons can aid the busy pastor in the task of Biblical exposition in that they summarize the results of this research. The dissecting of the text and the identification of its truth, begins with the "Introduction" and "The passage", and continues in more detail in the "Notes" section.
The next step involves moving God's revealed truth into the life of the congregation. This involves moving the truth from its original context into the cultural context of the twenty first century. It is necessary to make this move in a way that does not alter the revealed truth. Thankfully, there are some commentary series that aid in the business of drawing out the contemporary relevance of the text. This truth is then applied to a particular group of people facing particular circumstances. The outline explanation/application in the Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, serve as examples of how the truth of the passage may be applied. I know that quite a few of my colleagues like to check out my angle before launching out into space themselves, but in the end, the shape of the sermon will always reflect the preacher's personal interaction with the text.
Delivering the final product
The first rule of preaching is the potency of brevity, or as Billy Graham put it, KISS - keep it simple stupid. Complex and lengthy sermons are a burden to the average congregation. The focus needs to be on one central idea and the sermon limited to 20 minutes. Lincon's Gettysburg address in 1863 followed the formal address given by Edward Everett, the president of Harvard, a renouned speaker of his day. Lincon was asked to conclude with "a few appropriate words." No one remembers a word of Everett's two hour address, but Lincon's two minute address still resinats. And don't believe the story that he scribbled it on the back of a scrap of paper on his way to Gettysburg. Like all great works it saw the light through pain and struggle. As Churchill said of his speeches, "I take the very greatest pain with the style and composition. I do not compose quickly. Everything is worked out by hard labor and frequent pollishing. I intend to polish till it glitters."
As for presentation, given that we have little chance of competing with the digital wizardry of Sky Channel (although there are those who still believe their overhead projector is up to the challenge!!), we are best to develop a friendly conversational style of presentation. Using the same trick as the TV presenter, we talk to one person, not the crowd. Make sure the one person is not stuck high up on the back wall, but sits in the middle of the congregation. "Make love, not war!"
Due to the overriding purpose of addressing the central truth of the selected passage, the sermons on this site do not attempt to draw out a common theme from the set readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, nor do they necessarily emphasize the theme of the particular day in the Church Year. A common theme may, at times, be present, but it is not necessarily addressed.
The business of preaching is the communication of God's truth, a truth that Jesus' disciples can take with them from church on Sunday and apply for the rest of the week, and the rest of their lives. The Lectionary Sermons on this site seek to achieve this end.
Index of studies: Resource library
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons