Expository preaching was part of the Bible Church tradition that I was raised in and it was pretty much the style that I was taught in my homiletic’s classes at Fuller Seminary. Actually, preaching was very interesting in those classes. I learned a lot of discipline in those classes about how to approach and exegete a text, prepare a written sermon, deliver it from behind a pulpit. Oh yeah, we weren’t allowed to leave the pulpit area. Which is sort of funny to me now since I don’t preach with a pulpit at all, though I will on occassion use a music stand. I also don’t stand on the stage, but rather down on the floor with the people.
I enjoy expository preaching and it is a part of the preaching in our ministry. But it is only a part of it. I agree with DeVries and Fitch’s thoughts on expository preaching, especially in regards to the individualism it can produce in the sense that it leaves the congregation out of the process of interaction with the Word. That statement alone will definitely strike the nerves of some of my friends…but I think expository, line by line preaching is only one way to interpret and preach the text.
For example, when I went through Colossians this last year, there were some weeks where I went verse by verse, and there were some weeks I chose a topic and preached a more topical sermon. And there were other weeks were I raised a question from the text and the audience dialogued with me through the text.
It is simply one of the preaching methods and tools that I use when I feel it to be necessary or appropriate in communicating the Word. My biggest concern of expository, line by line preaching, as of recently has been the passive nature of it. Meaning, it is often a passive “exercise” for the congregation who often simply sits idly by, waiting for the magic word to pop up so they can fill it in on the back of the bulletin that they take notes on….and really, how many people who take those notes and take them home, actually read or study them during the week? I have also found expository, line by line preaching to be more of an exercise in information gathering, where the congregation doesn’t feel “fed” unless the preacher has left them with a lot of great notes and ideas they can write down. It sometimes becomes task oriented, and listening to a sermon for some people is about accomplishment rather than transformation.
I don’t dislike expository, line by line preaching, but I agree with DeVries, Fitch and others, that it is not the only way. It is simply one of many ways to communicate the Word in preaching and teaching. Sometimes I use it and other times I do not. Just as sometimes I use a more dialogue, interactive approach, and other times I do not because it is not always helpful.
I want my students to be more than passive observers and listeners sitting in the pews, who sit there taking copious notes as they write furiously all the great translation notes of the Greek and Hebrew text. I want them to be active in the preaching and teaching process…to engage the text with me…to dialogue…and sometimes debate…to ask questions…express fears and doubts….to see the “ah ha” looks on their faces when something clicks in their head. Last week we looked at John 6:35 and Jesus’ “I am the bread of life” statement. We sat in a circle (it’s small in the summer, about 25). And we read the text aloud as I interspersed comments about the text and the context. And as we got to the passage about the bread, I put a bread loaf in the middle of the floor and we began an amazing discussion about bread, and why Jesus would use that to describe Himself. I’ve never seen students talk so much and be actively engaged.
As the pastor/director I am expected to know what I am talking about and to preach and teach. But I also learn from my students. And though I guide and direct them I find that when we interact as a community we often learn way more together, than if I were to simply preach to them and they sit there passively.
Obviously, this discussion could lead to more discussions about preaching vs. teaching, about the use of dialogue in preaching, about the pastor’s role, etc. But that’s not where I am going though, those questions may arise. What I think DeVries and Fitch and others point out, whether they say it explicitly or not, is that there is an important role for the community in preaching, and often when we as pastors choose only one style of preaching and don’t employ others, we can leave the community out of it, and sometimes we can possibly use them too much and the teaching can get away from us. There are many tools at our disposal, and I think it’s helpful to employ them all.