Church planters face a myriad of decisions when they prepare to launch. One of these pertains to the kind of sermons they will preach. Should they preach topical or expository sermons? There are several solid reasons for making expository preaching the default mode for a church plant.
Expository preaching works through Scripture in the way that Scripture was given to us
Typically, expository preaching works through books or sections of Scripture. It exposes the meaning of the text and applies it to the lives of the listeners. This approach recognizes that the Bible is not a book of wise sayings (the last half of Proverbs is the exception) or tidbits or practical advice (though the Scriptures do contain practical advice). Rather, it is a collection of books which cannot be understood unless we read through them and think through them carefully in the manner they were given to us.
Expository preaching teaches people how to read their Bibles
Whether we realize it or not, we teach people how to read their Bibles by the way we preach. When we preach expository sermons, we teach our listeners to track the writer’s argument in a passage of Scripture. The ability to follow the flow of thought of a biblical passage provides a safeguard against superficial interpretation. It’s easy to pull isolated statements out of their context and miss the author’s intended message.
Expository preaching lets the text set the agenda
Of course, preachers choose whether to preach 1 Corinthians or Judges or the Gospel of Mark. But once we select a book or block of Scripture to preach, the text sets the agenda. To be honest, there are some difficult topics I might otherwise avoid if the book I’m preaching didn’t address them. There are also other topics I might not think to address.
Expository preaching (when done properly) can keep our preaching fresh
Our preaching can become stale when we fail to vary our approach. But the variety of literary forms in the Bible can help keep our preaching fresh. The Bible communicates through stories, proverbs, letters, apocalyptic visions, funeral dirges, hymns of praise, hymns of lament, parables, courtroom scenes, and riddles. When we let the literary form of the text we’re preaching shape the way we preach, our sermons will not sound the same week after week after week.
There is a place for topical preaching. At its best, it is systematic theology. Pulling from several texts which address a particular topic may be the best strategy in some cases. But if we want to zero in on the author’s intended message, teach people to read their Bibles, cover topics we might avoid or overlook, and keep our preaching fresh, exposition will serve our church plant well as the default method for our preaching.
Steve Mathewson is the Senior Pastor at Cross Life Evangelical Free Church in Libertyville, Illinois. Steve started in his position on May 7, 2006. Steve came to Libertyville from Belgrade, Montana, where he was the senior pastor of Dry Creek Bible Church. He received a Master of Arts Degree in Old Testament in 1986 from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland, Ore. Most recently, he received his Doctor of Ministry in 2000 from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., where he studied preaching under Dr. Haddon Robinson. He and his wife, Priscilla, have four adult children and grandchildren.