I’ve been preaching 35 years and still remember my first “official” sermon. I was consumed with preparation during the week leading up to it. I spent hours at a local college library. I chose a text, searched the meanings of words, read multiple commentaries, and scoured mind and memories for timely illustrations.
By Friday, the sermon was ready, and I was full of anticipation. Sunday morning arrived after a fitful night of sleep. I preached! The sermon was delivered to those who would listen and—if I say so myself—it went well.
Then reality set in. What next? What text should be used? What needs to be heard? Did I have anything more to say? I discovered an important lesson that week, but, in all honesty, it took several years to fully learn it. Whether you’re a preacher, a weekly teacher, a small group leader, or someone who practices the discipline of daily Bible reading, the lesson is an important one.
The Lesson I Learned
It has been said of Scripture, “No matter where you cut it, it will bleed Christ.” I suppose that is true. The preaching application of that phrase seems to be this: No matter what Bible text is chosen, the listener will learn of Christ. But here’s the problem: I get in the way! As a minister, I should seek to be the voice of a text, and that text should not be chosen at my whim. We are to be changed by the Scripture, not the other way around.
Here is the simple lesson I learned: Let the Scripture speak for the Scripture. As much as possible, let the Scripture decide what should be preached and taught next. In other words, get out of the way!
When I preach any other way, I find myself listening to the latest critic—or just as bad—the latest compliment. When I go my own way, I listen for daily events and preach sermons that are reactions to those events, instead of allowing God’s message to come through. When I seek to preach one topic followed by another, I find myself “playing God” with what people need to hear and too often riding piggyback upon the whims of popular culture. (And truthfully, American Idol usually sheds very little light upon God’s will for man.)
The Best Approach
The best sermon approach for me is to take a lengthy bit of text, or a particular book of the Bible, and expose its content. I immerse myself in that book and learn its culture, the meaning of the words, and simply tell the story of God as it is presented. The Holy Spirit will lead the listener. If I present the Word in truth, and the listener hears, the Spirit of God will guide us both. My life is not the filter through which the listener hears the Word. I am, as preacher, simply the tool.
We all know this is called expository preaching. The results are simple. Listeners grow toward maturity. They listen and they learn from a preacher of God’s Word.
Expository preaching makes it much easier for the preacher to decide what to preach. You commit to a particular text and the themes found there. God works through the text to direct your sermon development. Study time becomes focused and efficient. You approach the pulpit with confidence and excitement about what you have learned and can share.
For the listener, expository preaching instills anticipation and confidence that something worthwhile will be shared. The preacher and the listener can check their egos and know they are on the common ground of God’s Word.
The lesson learned was an important one. I am now excited to see men and women of all ages being changed and challenged—changed by living God’s Word and challenged when they don’t. It works . . . for seniors, teens, students, and adults involved in any career. It works for the wealthy and poor. It works for everyone!
David L. Clark serves as senior minister with Boones Creek Christian Church in Johnson City, Tennessee.