Pastor, Exegete Your Congregation as Well as Your Text

Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

In this video, Bryan Chapell calls on pastors not just to know the Scriptures well but to know their flock well.


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

I look back with horror at how I first approached preaching. I was preaching a little country church while I was still in seminary and driving over on Sundays an hour or so. And this was a church of farming and mining people. And I would actually take my systematic theology notes into the pulpit and teach them systematic theology, or at least that’s what I thought was doing.
I think my one piece of advice would be to say: deeper study is important, but it is not what is most important for the sermon.
Deeper study is important, but it is not what is most important for the sermon.
As important as deeper study is, you must have a deeper understanding of the people to whom you’re speaking. And that understanding moves us away from what I think of as factoid messages, where preachers just give you a lot of biblical facts and biblical information. Instead, pastors should understand that it’s as important for me to give you the meaning of the text as it is for me to show you the significance of the text.
What difference does this make in your life, what difference does this make for the way you live and treat your kids? I think back on the people who were patient with me while I was bascially giving them the the Greek and the Latin, and they’re at the same time saying “Pastor, my daughter didn’t get home last night. Do you understand what I’m going through, do you understand what my life is like?” That’s a reminder that our preaching is not just about deeper study of the text, but it is about understanding God’s people.
We say “exegeting the congregation as well as the text,” but so much of that endeavor is just pastoral sensitivity. Are we willing to think not just of information in the text but the situations that our people are facing? That means I think almost all of us have this ideal image of what it would be to be in a church that gave us 40 hours a week just to write a sermon. We think I could produce masterpieces, but you probably could not because if you just isolated yourself away in the study, you might have wonderful truths to say about the meaning of God’s Word, but it would not touch the earth that people live and walk on.
Are we willing to think not just of information in the text but the situations that our people are facing?
So I would say my best piece of advice would be understanding that as important as the study of the Word is understanding the situations of the people for whom God has made you responsible. Bring the truth of the Word to the struggles of God’s people and that will add great significance to what you’re saying and great power to the truth of God’s Word.