Foundational instruction in expository preaching tends to focus on theology and methodology. This makes sense. Expository preaching is a theologically driven approach to preaching. We don’t commend this approach because we think it’s a great church growth idea, but primarily because of our theological convictions. Our convictions about God, humanity, the gospel, the nature of the Bible, the work of the Spirit, the centrality of Christ, the church, the role of pastors, the coming judgment, and more should lead us to embrace a high view of biblical preaching.
After theology, we then talk methodology. How do you prepare Bible-saturated sermons? How do you preach systematically through books of the Bible? Here we often discuss matters like studying the text in detail, considering the redemptive-historical context (how the text points to Jesus), identifying a dominant theme, constructing an outline, explaining and applying the text, and adding an introduction and conclusion.
But theology and methodology shouldn’t be all we emphasize. We can become skilled at crafting sermons, but not be affected by the Savior. If we don’t guard our hearts, sermon preparation can become mechanical. We must avoid becoming what I call “the Sermonator”—the pastor who mechanically cranks out sermons devoid of heartfelt passion.
Good exposition isn’t merely theological and methodological; it’s also affectional. It includes both light and heat, intellect and affections, seeing and savoring. It involves preaching the text from your own heart to your people’s hearts.
For those committed to exposition who have a sermon preparation routine, a vital question is this: How can we stir our affections for Sunday? Here are six ways.
1. Walk with God.
All of life is sermon preparation. We can’t divorce our preaching from our thinking, living, and praying. Before you’re a preacher, you’re a disciple.
My lifestyle will always affect my public ministry. If I’m not dazzled by God’s grace in Christ personally and daily, it will affect my experience in the corporate gatherings. So when my affections aren’t ignited prior to Sunday, I need to ask some questions about my prayer life, my personal life, and my relationship with others. Dynamic preaching flows from a vibrant life of prayer and godliness.
2. Read for your soul, not just for your next sermon.
Reading rejuvenates me. If I learn something new related to an upcoming sermon, I can’t wait to share it. What fires me up in the study will fire me up in the pulpit. But not all reading should be for your upcoming sermon. Outside reading (especially biographies) can be deeply edifying. Currently, I’m reading about Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening. These books have been good for my soul. I’m not reading them for sermon illustrations, but for personal renewal.
3. Envision your listeners as you prepare.
Write for the listener, not the reader. Imagine your audience. Imagine various types of listeners. Thinking about specific people often awakens love and zeal. Don’t just type into a screen. Consider actual broken people, lost people, afflicted people, young people, rebellious people. As you do, remind yourself of the work of the Redeemer, who transforms such people by his grace.
4. Talk about the sermon in community.
I discuss my upcoming sermon with my elders, my friends, my family, occasionally with people in counseling situations, and sometimes even with people I meet in public. My elders help me with clarity. They also help me think through particular applications for the church—and finding penetrating applications is critical for igniting my affections. My friends provide me a safe place to ask about ideas, illustrations, and get an overall sense of how the sermon may land. If they respond positively, I’m encouraged. If they’re unaffected or confused, I may consider another round of edits. I like to talk through my sermon at the dinner table with my kids not only for discipleship, but also to hear their reactions. They help me gauge the simplicity and clarity of the message. My bride, Kimberly, has been the most helpful person to talk with regarding my sermon. She has endured many bad sermons, but the sermons before Sunday have been the worst! For 13 years she has helped me prepare weekly sermons in many ways—sharpening points, offering ideas, and encouraging my soul.
5. Listen to others preach.
I like to listen to other people preach on my sermon text, not so much for the development of my sermon as for personal edification. Reading a commentary and hearing a passage proclaimed are two different things. So I listen to others preach my text during my commute, when I work out, and any other time I can find.
How you take care of your body will affect how you think. Recreation and exercise lifts me from discouragement, reduces stress, and clears my head. I tend to be most creative after exercise. It really does make a difference in how I prepare for Sunday. I know you may protest saying, “Spurgeon wasn’t fit!” Okay. But we’re not Spurgeon. I tend to think the average pastor would be a better thinker and more energetic worker if he were to adopt a sensible, sustainable diet and exercise plan—not to mention he would likely have a longer ministry! So enjoy creation, find a suitable means of recreation, and take care of your body. We will minister best when we have a good rhythm of work, rest, and play. And what a God we have to grant us these gifts! Let us enjoy all of them under the Lordship of Christ to the glory of God.
May the Lord grant you grace in expounding the Word of Christ while exulting in the Christ of the Word.
Editors’ note: Tony Merida will be speaking on the foundations of preaching at the 2017 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders later this month, January 30 to February 1. Register soon.