Monday, September 6, 2010

Reasons for Expository Preaching and Studying

Jon Nielson, senior high pastor at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, has written an excellent article on why churches and teachers should include expository teaching in their youth ministries ("Expositional preaching—moving sequentially through a book of the Bible, seeking to discover the main point of the text, and making that the main point of the message"). He specifically advocates expository teaching and preaching, but I would expand his words to include the equivalent in personal and small group study. The thing about expository teaching and studying is that it's not always fun and doesn't always seem beneficial. You have to wade through lots of scripture that do not make much sense instead of just getting to the punch-line verses. Sometimes you have to wade through chapters that don't even seem to have a punch line. It's just hard a lot of times.

Naturally, this is where I talk about doing hard things. :-P However, I will refrain from much exposition on that concept since "doing hard things" and "rebelling against low expectations" is a concept Rebelutionaries are very familiar with. But, we do need to remind ourselves to live that kind of a lifestyle in all ways and not take for granted that familiar and fundamental principles merit no mentioning. The study of scripture is no exception when it comes to doing hard things.

We must approach scripture study with the following three verses informing our perspective.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, New King James Version)

The scriptures are God's revelation of Himself to us from beginning to end. If we are to understand the entirety of His revelation, we must read the entirety of His word.

25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Luke 24:25-27, New King James Version)

If we are to understand our human condition, it is an imperative that we study the whole of scripture.

11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:11-12, New King James Version)

Now would be a good time to make a more complete case for the importance of scripture study, but I'm keeping Mr. Nielsen waiting so I'll stop now. I would note though that this article caught my eye not just because of the subject matter itself but also the very Rebelutionary expectations Mr. Nielsen believes the church should have regarding the capacity of youth to learn God's word.

I won't post his entire article (follow the link if you want to read it all) but here are his points with edited commentary. I would encourage you to read his entire article though. It's not super long and the edited version I am posting here is missing a lot of the full article's wisdom and reasoning. :-)

So why expositional preaching for high school students?

1. They can handle it.

Adults in the church have pitifully underestimated the capacity of young people to grasp biblical truth revealed in the very structure of the biblical text. This failure has led us to summarize the message of biblical texts. We water down each passage and mold it into easily digested morsels that the students can take home and apply.

...In so doing we have stripped our young people of the opportunity to think with us as we take them through the logic of a text.

2. It helps them learn to read the Bible.

While topical teaching can be helpful at certain times, a steady and unbalanced diet of it undermines students’ understanding of God’s Word. God’s Word does not come to us in one-sentence blurbs, laid out under various topical headings, like an extended concordance. God’s Word comes to us in stories, parables, poetry, prophecy, and song. Students who have been fed a constant stream of messages on “What the Bible Has to Say About Relationships” will be in for a nasty surprise when they open up the book of Leviticus.

3. It protects us.

A commitment to expositional preaching protects youth ministers from students and from ourselves. Unless we commit to preach through a book of the Bible, we have two choices. We can poll the students and hear what they want to learn. Or we can teach a topic of our own choosing. Both of these options could be much more closely linked to a human agenda than to God’s agenda. Only by elevating the Word of God in our teaching, letting each passage along the way dictate what we teach our students, do we ensure that we consistently and faithfully teach the revealed Word and will of God for students’ benefit.

4. It makes you a model, not a celebrity.

It will not be difficult for a witty, good-looking, fashionably dressed youth pastor to entertain a group of high school students with dating stories and relationship advice as part of a catchy series on “Guys, Girls, and SEX!” The question is what such a pastor has modeled for the students. They may learn truth from a biblically based topical series. But do they learn how to handle the Bible for themselves? Or do they learn to cling to their pastor for the answers?

In closing the article...

In other words, a biblical goal for a sermon to youth might be to teach a passage carefully and faithfully, so that students listening say to themselves: I see what he did! I could get that from this passage! This model shapes the way the students do devotions, listen to sermons, and one day teach Sunday school and lead Bible studies on their own. As youth pastors discipline ourselves to teach the Bible in this way to our students, we take what we have learned and pass it on to faithful Christians who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).

God bless!


  1. I enjoyed this post very much. Thanks. Feel free to visit my blog sometime which is broadly devoted to Bible exposition:

  2. Mr. Savelle: thanks for the comment and I'm glad you were blessed by the post! To any read this comment...I (Mark Hutchins) highly recommend Charles blog!