Recently, the priority and practice of expository preaching have been recovered. I praise God for this development.
At the same time, I’m concerned that our expositional reformation hasn’t gone far enough.
We tend to focus a lot on what we are saying and relatively little about how we are saying it. Preachers can focus so much on their content that they fail to consider their communication. As others have said, we worry so much about getting the text right but think comparatively little about getting it across.
As a result, we can unwittingly end up neglecting a crucial element of our preaching: communication.
We worry so much about getting the text right but think comparatively little about getting it across.
I don’t think this is a helpful pattern. Instead, since communication is an essential part of preaching and most of us are not naturally gifted communicators, we need to work hard—not only at what we say—but how we say it. Again, this is a way to love and serve our congregation.
We don’t have to decide between the two. We can strive to serve our audience well by being faithful in what we say and how we say it. We can work on our content and our communication.
As I think about my own preaching, there are a few categories I try to evaluate regularly. Perhaps these will be helpful to you when reflecting on ways to improve getting the text across.
These are descriptions I try to avoid.
The Museum Guide Preacher
This preacher sounds like he is giving a tour through a museum. He’s so wrapped up in providing all the details of the historical, cultural, and textual nuances that he comes off like a disconnected professional. He’s aiming at the head and neglecting the heart. He’s informing but not transforming. As a result, people can walk away from the sermon, asking, “What does this have to do with me?”
When it comes to preaching, important facts without implications are not usually helpful. We could go a long way in serving our people by asking and answering the question, “In light of this passage, what should my audience believe, think, feel, or do?”
The Theological Egg-Head
We’ve all heard sermons—and, if we’re honest, likely preached some—where the content of the message was a little too heady. I’m not that we shouldn’t use theological language or communicate theological concepts—we must! Instead, I propose that we, as preachers, work to simplify complex ideas. If we are just quoting commentaries or systematic theologians, we are probably not gaining the clarity that our people need. I’ve heard many faithful preachers state the doctrine, define it, explain it, illustrate it, restate it, and then summarize it. This extra step is like cutting up the food into manageable bites for our people. If clarity is what we are after (and it is), remember that it most often comes through the windows of simplicity, not complexity.
The No Eye-Contact Guy
A lot of guys bring a manuscript to the pulpit with them. My issue is not with using a manuscript but reading one. Most have a hard time pulling this off. When we read our sermons to our congregation, we lose the benefit of connection through eye contact. The unintended result is that our people drift off. They have difficulty following us. And, let’s be honest, most of us need all the help we can get; we’re not exceptional communicators.
I plan to write more on why I think guys should try to preach from less-detailed, unmanuscripted notes, but for now, I want to encourage guys to think about making more eye contact with the congregation. Do you need to read your introduction? Must you read your appeal of the gospel? If you have to rely on your Thursday afternoon notes to preach Christ to your people, then you might want to rethink your calling. Try to lift your head and look into the eyes of your audience at particular times. Make an argument. Rephrase it. Preach Christ and look them in the eyes. If you’re a preacher, you can make progress in this area.
The Stale Bread Guy
Nobody goes to the grocery store to buy bread and picks the hardest loaf on the shelf. We want the good stuff. We like fresh bread. Sometimes when preaching, we are giving our people stale sermons. It’s old bread. They aren’t fresh because we aren’t fresh. The truth that may have once captivated us has worn off. Dare I say we’ve gotten over it? Church members are more perceptive than we realize. They can tell if the text is in our hearts and our mouths.
If we want to avoid giving stale bread, we need to prioritize own feeding on the truth. We need to eat the text ourselves, not just serve it to our people. As you prepare your sermon, dear brother, grab onto the passage like Jacob and plead with God not to let go until he blesses you. Your sermons will be more plausible to your people if you (really) believe them yourself.
Brothers, we can do better. Let’s never settle for less. We serve the Lord Christ and his people. Let’s work to get the text right and across. Work on what you are saying and how you are saying it. As we do, I trust the Lord will encourage us with blessings in our ministries.