3, No. 1
Expository Preaching: Part 1—Nature
George O. Wood, D.Th.P.
Secretary, Assemblies of God
grew up as an MK, PK and EK (missionary’s, pastor’s
and evangelist’s kid) in the Assemblies of God. My
parents moved often. I don’t want to count the number
of different schools I attended. The longest my family stayed
in any one place was about two and a half years. Most of
the other stops were shorter.
called to the ministry myself, I did not want an itinerant
lifestyle. My goal was to find roots, locate one place and
remain in it.
attending seminary, I picked up an issue of Christianity
Todayc. The lead article focused on W. E. Criswell and
his twenty-fifth anniversary as pastor of First Baptist Church
in Dallas. Asked the reason for his longevity in one pastorate,
Criswell replied, “Expository preaching.” Upon
arriving at First Baptist, he began preaching from Genesis
1:1 and, throughout those 25 years, had journeyed straight
through the Bible to the end of the Book of Revelation.
was amazed and intrigued. Criswell said the Bible was inexhaustible
and, if you preached it, you wouldn’t run out of things
to say. I thought to myself, If that’s how I can
stay in one church for a long time, I’m going to be
an expository preacher also.
was a poor motive for getting into expository preaching.
I soon found there were many good reasons. I did not try
to copy Criswell in journeying through the Bible from cover
to cover. I took a Bible book at a time, in a non-sequential
order, as I felt the Spirit leading me. Nevertheless, I did
stay 17 years in my one and only pastorate.
had an interesting beginning. Maybe 60 people were at my
tryout sermon. I had my best sermon all polished and ready
to go, but as I sat on the platform through the early part
of the service, I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to lay
it aside (a rare event for me) and simply step to the pulpit
and quote Scripture. I had committed to memory about 45 minutes
of the Gospel narratives on the life, death, and resurrection
of Christ. I argued with this impulse. I hadn’t reviewed
my memorized passages in a couple of weeks. What if my mind
blanked out? They would think me a fool. On the other hand,
if I did successfully remember and deliver my memorized life
of Jesus, they would think I was showing off.
had to make a decision as I stepped behind the pulpit. I
opened my mouth and out came, “In the beginning was
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I
continued quoting the entire prologue of John’s Gospel.
People opened their Bibles, expecting me to begin preaching
from that text, but I was quickly out of John into Luke 2,
the birth narrative. From there, I went on to Jesus’ baptism
and temptation, the wedding at Cana and so on. After about
10 minutes, a holy hush began to descend on us. People put
away their Bibles and began to listen. (The power of the
spoken Word itself–without explication or explanation–rivets
hearts.) I finished the sermon with Isaiah 53, the interpretative
overlay for the mission of Christ, and sat down. In 45 minutes,
I had never said one word of my own. I had not greeted the
people. I had not introduced my family. I had spoken only
tryout sermon was a prophetic tip-off to what the Lord wanted
of me as a pastor to those people. He wanted me to take his
Word and break it as the bread for life.
first expository series–from John’s Gospel–lasted
about six months. I was straight out of a college classroom
context, and those dear people had to suffer greatly from
my bookish approach to Scripture. I had 100 percent good
exegesis, hermeneutical aptitude and almost no practical
relevance! Thank the Lord for good, gentle lay people who
encourage young ministers just out of school–bold confident
preachers who have all the answers without knowing any of
series in John did not draw crowds. Nevertheless, Criswell’s
article remained to me as north on the compass, a fixed guideline
for assuring pastoral longevity. As I drew near to the end
of John, I prayed about the next series and felt the Holy
Spirit impressing me to preach through Leviticus. I must
say, at the time, I wasn’t for sure this prompting
was from the Spirit or from craziness. I protested: “Lord,
this is a boring book. When people make New Year’s
resolutions to read the Bible through, their wagons of intention
break down in the wilderness of Leviticus.” In addition,
I am not an allegorical preacher and was not about to get
into fanciful interpretations of the color of threads in
the tabernacle. How could Leviticus be relevant?
the impression remained, “Preach through Leviticus.” My
trump card was Leviticus 15. I said, “Lord, I can’t
even read that chapter in public (it deals with bodily emissions),
let alone preach from it.” I felt the Lord say to me, “Start
with chapter 1, and when you get to chapter 15, I’ll
show you what to do with it.”
I began. In introducing the series to the congregation I
said, “We are going to find out practically if 2 Timothy
3:16 is actually true: ‘ All Scripture is
God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,
correcting and training in righteousness.’” Please
don’t fault me here. My theological conviction is firm
that 2 Timothy 3:16 is true regardless of my experience.
However, our unwillingness to preach from whole segments
of the Bible speaks louder about our confidence in Scripture
than our mental affirmation of doctrine.
five offerings of Leviticus 1 through 7 opened powerfully
before me week after week as they addressed human need and
God’s answers. Incredibly, the church began to grow.
I guess word must have gotten around that a young preacher
in this hard-to-find A-frame church, was preaching from,
of all things, the Book of Leviticus, and it was making sense.
Months later, when I finished Leviticus, I was preaching
to 300 people rather than the 100 who were in the pews when
the series began.
happened to Leviticus 15?
weekly pattern of sermon preparation was: Monday,
day of study and exegesis for the sermons to be preached
that week; Tuesday morning, more study; Wednesday morning,
putting the outline together with supporting illustrations
and finishing Wednesday night’s message; Thursday,
all day completing preparation for Sunday’s sermons.
In short, about 24 hours of every workweek was given over
to sermon preparation. The balance of the time went to pastoral
leadership, administration, visitation or whatever. This
pattern almost never varied over the length of 17 years in
pasturing, except for weeks I had guest speakers.
you do not spend a significant amount of your time in preparation,
you will not feed your flock. And, if the flock is not fed,
they will start eating you and their fellow church members.
Richard Israel of Yale University told of the elders of a
little Eastern European community coming to their rabbi to
tell him how concerned they were about his health. Studying
the sacred texts 20 hours a day was just too much for him,
rabbi responded, “I really have no alternative. If
I study 20 hours a day, you will study 14 hours a day. If
you study 14 hours a day, the students in the academy will
study 12 hours a day. If they do that, then the householders
of the village will come to the synagogue three times a day
to say their prayers. If our simple householders pray three
times a day, then the merchants who pass through our village
will be embarrassed not to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath;
and if the merchants go to the synagogue every Sabbath, then
I know that Rothschild will be in the synagogue for the Day
of Atonement!” This rabbi had wisely understood the
power of personal example influencing the behavior of those
to whom he ministered!
fundamental duty as a pastor is to preach the Word. My secondary
duties may include administration, promotion, overseeing
development of physical facilities and visitation. However,
unless I give the preaching of the Word my first priority,
the heart of the church has collapsed.
heart is a pump. God has ordained that through the preaching
of the Word, a constant supply of spiritual life and power
be pumped into the church, His people. Churches die when
the pastor has nothing from God to say to the people. The
congregation may be in a beautiful building; the educational,
social, and organizational emphasis may be superb; but unless
the pulpit rings with a vibrant word from God, that church
has a terminal illness. The illness may be short or long,
but eventually death is sure to result. The study of God’s
Word must be at the top of my personal priorities if I expect
members of my congregation to have it as one of theirs.
to Leviticus 15. I came to my office at 8 o’clock that
Monday morning, sat down at my desk and opened my Bible to
Leviticus 15. Before ever cracking the commentaries, I always
take time to look at the Scripture without any aids. It is
just the Bible and I. That morning I said, “Lord, it’s
the week of Leviticus 15. You told me you would show me what
to do when I got here. Well, I’m here.” Instantly,
as I read the text, the Holy Spirit dropped this sermon title
into my heart, “A Very Personal God.” Titles
for sermons are invariably difficult for me and usually they
never come until the end of the sermon preparation process.
However, here was the title before I had done the exegesis,
sermon structure or illustrations!
Sunday, I read Leviticus 15 to a very quiet audience. I can
assure you that if you read that chapter publicly your audience
will also be quiet. I began, “Many of you think God
is remote. He’s called the Man Upstairs. You may think
He is far removed from your personal world and cares. You
may feel He doesn’t even know you exist. Well, this
chapter tells you that God knows you rather well. He designed
your plumbing system. If He knows even those details about
you, you can be assured He knows the rest of your life also.”
do I relate these personal experiences? Because the best
definition of preaching I ever heard was “Preaching
is you.” It is the divine communication of truth through
your human personality. None of us will preach exactly the
same way from any given text, but those who “preach
the Word” will find the Lord at work in their own life
and the lives of the people they pastor.
is expository preaching? It involves taking a block of Scripture
(a verse, a paragraph, a chapter, a book) and answering two
questions: (1) What did it say? and (2) What does it say?
In answering those two questions, the proposition, main points
and sub-points of the message are controlled by the text
itself. In topical preaching, the preacher can choose his
or her own outline. In textual preaching, the main points
are controlled by the text, and the preacher can fill in
whatever he or she feels led. In expository preaching, the
text totally controls the content of the message. One is
not free to hunt or pick what he or she wants to emphasize
consider the two questions above. To preach expositorily,
I must answer both. Question one, “What did it
say?” involves exegesis and hermeneutics. I want to
understand as best I can what each word or phrase meant to
the biblical writer and to the people of God to whom this
word first came. Thus, I hit the Bible dictionaries, lexicons,
concordance and commentaries to better understand this text.
often we want to skip the hard task of really understanding
the Scripture in order to get immediately to the application.
This is one reason why we often skip difficult parts in Scripture
(such as Leviticus).
sermon is complete, however, if we have answered the first
question only. We must also consider, “What does it
say?” In order words, I must move past exegesis to
application. How does this ancient living Word relate to
the contemporary needs of persons to whom I will preach?
must always involve one foot planted firmly in exegesis and
the other in application. Sermons will be dry as chips if
only exegetic. Exegesis tells what the Scripture said;
application, what it says.
a congregation has been put to sleep by a sermon that never
made it into the here and now of experience. It becomes a
very dry dull history lesson. However, sermons that neglect
exegesis for the sake of application will eventually produce
a biblically illiterate congregation, prey to false winds
of doctrine and the gales of satanic adversity. Generally,
if a sermon fails to interest, inspire or challenge, the
preacher did not answer one or both of these questions.
Brooks, the great American preacher of another generation,
so aptly said, “No exhortation to a good life that
does not put behind it some truth as deep as eternity can
seize and hold the conscience.”
told Timothy to keep “the pattern of sound teaching” (2
Timothy 1:13). Essentially, Paul was saying he followed a
system of teaching. His preaching-teaching methods had not
consisted of isolated pieces of information and scattered
spiritual exhortations. One has only to read Paul to detect
how orderly he is.
Bible study, a person is not well advised to try a hop-and-skip
method. If a person reads a chapter in Romans one day, switches
to a part of Revelation the next, and goes back to Exodus
the following day and continues this random procedure for
long periods, he or she is not going to profit from his study.
the above comments are true about personal study, they also
apply to preaching. Does my preaching carry on the systematic
exposition of truth? Am I giving forth a pattern of
sound words? Should there not be a relationship between last
week’s sermons and this week’s? Last month’s
and this month’s? Or even last year’s and this
feel that following a sermon plan wherein the preacher takes
weeks or months to sequentially “walk” the flock
through a book in the Bible actually inhibits the Holy Spirit. “Aren’t
you ruling out the leading of the Spirit?” they ask.
Not at all, unless your view of the Spirit means that everything
He does must be instantaneously spontaneous.
believe the Spirit can give me direction for a whole series
just as easily as He can for one message. Nevertheless, I
must never be inflexible. If, in the midst of a series, the
Holy Spirit puts upon my heart some special word, I have
no hesitation to interrupt the series.
have found great advantages in expository preaching for both
the church and myself.
Over time, the congregation is exposed to the totality of
God’s Word. If I preach just “how to do it” messages
(making a marriage work, rearing children, being financially
secure, becoming a success, defeating stress), I will completely
omit essential truths upon God’s heart. On the other
hand, if I faithfully preach the Word, I will address all
of people’s felt needs of people because God’s
Word is fantastically relevant.
through major blocks of Scripture forces me to address subjects
I would not choose, but God has ordained to be considered.
Such exposure of the people to God’s Word will ground
their faith, not in the opinions of men, hobbyhorse doctrines
or latest fads, but in God’s written revelation. If
you get your people into the Word, you will get the Word
into your people.
Spiritual maturity is built. In the past 20 years, the Pentecostal/Charismatic
world has been through extremes in discipleship emphasis,
fascination with coughing up demons, health/wealth gospel,
dominion theology—you name it. All during this time,
I kept preaching the Bible systematically to our people.
We lost almost no one to these elements of “charismania.” Why?
Our people had been grounded in the Word. They had become
accustomed to having Scripture dealt with in context, line-by-line,
word-by-word. They could smell a Scripture-twister a mile
off. They knew when someone was lifting a text out of context
and distorting it.
our emphasis on revival, we must never forget that the first
hallmark of an apostolic church is commitment to the apostles’ doctrine
(Acts 2:42). How can people become grounded in the teaching
of the apostles if all they get is someone’s latest
revelation? Expository preaching helps our people not become
prey to every wind of doctrine.
All the issues God wants dealt with are dealt with in God’s
time. I have never ceased to be amazed at how God would apply
a sermon with a series at the just the right time of need
for either the congregation or an individual in it. A runaway
found herself in our church one Sunday evening. I “so
happened” to be in a series on the Ten Commandments.
Which commandment did I preached from the night that girl
wandered into our midst and was saved? “Honor your
father and mother.”
think of the second series I did on Leviticus, ten years
after the first. My text that Sunday was from chapters 13
and 14—a lengthy passage on leprosy. I explained to
the congregation that the biblical word leprosy embraced
many skin conditions, including psoriasis. I didn’t
know that a local community college professor and his wife
were visiting the church that morning or that he had a long-standing
and painful condition of psoriasis that was untreatable and
inoperable. This couple comes in, and hears a minister preaching
on the theme, “What Your Skin Is Telling You About
God.” How odd, but peculiarly relevant!
I were simply selecting what I wanted to preach on week by
week, I would have never chosen Leviticus 13 and 14. However,
the Lord knew this couple would be there that Sunday. They
were so intrigued, they came back the next Sunday. At the
close of the service, they responded to the altar call, and
God healed him instantly.
expositorily gave me great liberty to deal with sensitive
matters. The congregation knew I wasn’t personally
picking on them when I came to a text that was uncomfortable
to them. This wasn’t a preacher’s opinion; it
was God’s. The preacher hadn’t singled them out;
the passage simply fell open to them that day because that’s
where the pastor was in his journey through that book in
Expository preaching builds a sense of reliability. Persons
in our congregation knew they could bring unsaved family
and friends to the service and they would not be surprised
by an unprepared rambling sermon. Often in Pentecostal circles,
we almost venerate unpredictability. I think we need to place
more emphasis on predictability. Our people knew where to
open their Bibles when it came time for the sermon.
fact, as our church grew, people often identified their entry
into the church by the text I was in that Sunday. “Oh,
pastor I came to church first when you were in Romans 8.”
there are advantages in expository preaching for the church,
the plusses are even greater for the preacher himself. There
is no fumbling for direction each week. I don’t know
how many hours I would have wasted over 17 years if every
week I started from scratch trying to figure out what I was
going to preach on that week. I always knew. The next chapter.
Or the next paragraph.
meant I was able to avoid the Saturday night panic. In 17
years of pastoring, I believe there were only two times when
Sunday’s sermons were not ready for delivery by the
end of the workday on Friday.
Monday, I came to my office early in the morning, opened
my Bible and started with God’s Word for my life and
our church that week. Never once did God fail to speak to
me from his Word. God is not silent when we approach his
Word. God always spoke to me even though I was not always
a good conduit for His message. Yes, even expository preachers
lay an “egg” from time to time!
Expository preaching provided me many opportunities to develop
sermonic resources. As I entered a new series, I visited
Christian bookstores and libraries to cull out what tools
I needed to purchase for the new series. I bought those commentaries
or helps that assisted me in answering well either of my
two foundational questions: (1) What did it say? and (2)
What does it say? Over the course of years, I was able to
develop a good library as well as a rich resource of illustrations
and applicational materials.
Nothing fosters personal spiritual growth in a pastor more
than expository preaching. Why? One is forced to study systematically
and inculcate God’s Word personally. I always had more
material than I could ever use in the preaching event. I
was the beneficiary of the overflow. Expository preaching
enables one to minister from the overflow rather than a half-full
or empty cup.
Expository preaching does promote longevity in the pastorate.
I lasted 17 years and never felt that I had run out of preaching
do so many pastors leave the ministry? Surely, one
reason is burnout. There is a depletion of the minister’s
physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy. I found
the systematic study and personal spiritual preparation required
for expository preaching an irreplaceable source of renewal.
The congregation never grew tired of God’s Word, and
I didn’t either.
a pastor, you cannot be all things to all people. Early on,
I determined my major concentration would be upon the ministry
of the Word and I would allocate the time necessary to do
that well. After all, we are called to be “a workman
who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles
the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). This meant I had
to give lesser priority to counseling, administration, visitation
and other aspects of the ministry. This did not mean, however,
that these other ministries were neglected. As pastor, I
can delegate many things. The one thing I cannot delegate
is the preaching ministry.
apostles came to this conclusion for spiritual leadership
long before I: “We . . . will give our attention to
prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Keep
your priorities straight, and God will build His church through
do not have to be an expository preacher to proclaim God’s
Word faithfully. The Holy Spirit blesses all kinds of preaching
styles and methods. However, expository preaching will enrich
your life and the people to whom God has called you.
Friday, June 16, 2006 10:22 AM