The Pastor’s Guide to Expository Preaching
Expository preaching. Expositional preaching. Exegetical preaching. Topical preaching. Liturgical preaching. There is no shortage of preaching methods to employ as you draft your annual sermon calendar. As much as you may connect with a certain method, another pastor in another locale will choose a different style… and do so for reasons that are valid and make sense.
Among the many different ways you could approach preaching through God’s Word, expository preaching is one of the more timeless methods as it emphasizes preaching the text as written. When you don’t know where to begin, preaching as written is the easiest and most natural place to start.
Many arguments have arisen regarding the effectiveness of expository preaching, and chief among them seems to be the attack on the interest level allowed by expository preaching. In other words, “expository preaching is boring.”
We will put the question, “What is the right method for preaching God’s Word?” aside for another day. In this article, we will explore how to create a strong expository sermon outline and equip your message with the right elements to help you present the Scriptures in a way that the Holy Spirit can use to further the biblical literacy of the modern-day Christian.
Certain words don’t carry the same weight or meaning as they once did. The term expository has been co-opted and massaged in all sorts of different ways to suit the understanding or preference of some. At its core, expository preaching is about focusing first and foremost on the text as written, and secondly, how the preacher handles the delivery to complement the text.
It is in this way that some say expository preaching is boring.
However, when you choose to preach in an expositional manner you do not put aside your stories, mannerisms, or personal style. You simply submit those elements to the text as well as how you describe the setting and create a backdrop for scripture.
If that sounds a bit confusing, that’s completely understandable; throughout the next several sections, you will learn exactly what we mean and how it’s done.
What Is Expository Preaching?
An expository sermon can take many forms—inductive, deductive, narrative, and yes, even topical. So what makes an expository sermon expository? An expository preacher never brings his sermon idea to the text. He draws his sermon idea from the text. In other words, an expository preacher never imposes a topic on the text. He lets the text speak for itself and shapes his sermon accordingly.
Dean Shriver, ChurchLeaders 12 Preaching Insights I learned From Haddon Robinson
Expository preaching is using good exegesis and study to expose truth in a selected scripture.
Good expository preaching takes another step into skilled communication that helps listeners and readers apply this truth to their lives.
Expository Preaching is Substance, Not Style
Where a pastor gets the main point and message of the sermon determines if the sermon is expository or not.
A message derived from studying the text yields an expository outline and sermon.
A message, point, or idea inserted upon a text and supported by ideas outside the text results in an opinion, maybe a correct opinion, but an opinion not based on the text at hand.
Expository Preaching Exposes A Text to People And People to a Text
The exegetical work of the pastor reveals the central idea of the passage.
Once the exegetical work is done, the pastor proceeds to prepare the message through prayer, personal devotion, and consideration of their church. When these steps are done with an emphasis on providing leadership to the congregation, the application for hearers becomes more practical, less mysterious, and allows for God’s truth to be revealed through the text.
This approach calls for the pastor to know the people and communicate the ways the text applies to women and men, singles and married people, young and old, white and people of color, struggling and successful — how all of us must live in light of the truth in a text.
Expository Sermons Use Different Structures
Deductive sermons and reasoning are often associated with exegetical sermons. Finding a point, introducing the point, supporting the point, illustrating the point, and applying the point is a common formula for making a deductive argument.
However, expository does not mean “deductive.” Rather, expository sermons find a central truth from the exegetical study, but the crafting and presentation of a sermon can take many forms. Inductive and narrative sermons can also be expository.
The source of the central message and theme of the sermon, exegetical study, is what makes a sermon expository–not its presentation.
Expository Preaching and Expositional Preaching in Protestantism
Expository preaching as tradition and truth has always played a role in Protestantism.
Some Protestant traditions refer to expository and expositional preaching as the same item. Reformed, Lutheran, and other traditions with a high value on “sola scriptura” place a high value on expository preaching. The quest to know the original meaning and motive of the author, recipients of, and participants in the Bible is a high priority in the Protestant community. For most, if not all, this is the tradition of their denomination: seeking the original meaning of a text and its interpretation for today.
Two of the three major streams of the Reformation were very focused on the meaning of the Bible and communicating it to people longing to hear and understand God’s Word. John Calvin and the Reformed movement were inspired by the Church Doctors Augustin and John Chrysostom to find authority in the Bible. Martin Luther and the Lutheran movement also moved away from Catholic traditions of interpretation and became centered on authority derived from the Bible alone.
The Anabaptist movement stands slightly apart from the Reformed and Lutheran traditions. While expository preaching and teaching were highly valued by Grebel, Mantz, and others, they also valued the immediate direction and presence of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the Anabaptists were persecuted by the Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed churches who also held political power.
The Differences Between Balanced Expository Preaching and Exegetical Preaching of Exegetical Notes
In seminary, pastoral students spend years focusing their time, energy, and educational process on studying and presenting the text as it is with no emphasis or instruction to incorporate application into their presentations. In other words, these students are focused on their exegesis of the text.
As students progress through their program, eventually they are met with the challenge of how to turn exegetical notes into preaching and it is at this point there is a split in the road. This is where there is confusion between exegetical preaching and expository preaching.
Part of the confusion lies in the use of the words “exegetical” and “expository.” From a definition point of view, they are synonymous. However, most circles of preachers and religious academics tend to use the idea of “exegetical” in a formal, academic tone and “expository” in taking those findings for practical purposes, especially in reference to preaching.
The nuanced movement from exegetical toward expository preaching occurs in the focus on application. One can have a correct commentary and command of a passage and miss the intended meaning. Jesus confronts the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23: 1 – 36 by relying on a technical understanding of the law, and missing the meaning and purpose of the law.
We are not attempting to split hairs of meaning between “exegetical” and “expository.” Rather, we are encouraging preachers to use the insights from exposition to dig deeper for the central truth the Lord wants to reveal to the preacher and the congregation in a specific text at a specific moment in time.
Balanced Expository Preaching vs. Unbalanced Expository Preaching
Balanced exegetical and expository preaching is a skilled study to expose (exegete) the most important and relevant items from a text. The first side of the scale is using important, relevant, and inspired facts from the text by a preacher. The second side of the scale is to then illustrate, explain and apply in such a way as to help others understand a passage.
This is good, balanced, and healthy expository preaching.
Exegetical preaching of expository notes is focused on teaching and lecturing to inform with hope and an assumption (and a prayer) that people will make their own applications from the facts presented to them. Relying solely on information (the facts of the text) to inspire transformation in the lives of church congregants lies at the very root of the imbalance.
A Simple Approach for Balanced Expository Preaching
Only Christ demonstrates the perfect balance of all things… He was able to thread every needle perfectly, balancing grace and truth in all His actions and speech.
We do not balance all things perfectly and having a simple mechanism to help us check our natural tendencies to lean one way or another is helpful! This also applies to most of expository preaching. A simple exercise proposed below will help you move in one direction or the other as you preach through individual passages and sections of the text.
Ask yourself whether you want to develop an outline or manuscript that accounts for helping your congregation apply your message in a specific way or if you want to leave them with the information, leading them to the truth and then allowing them to develop their application on their own.
If you end the sermon with a sentiment similar to, “Here is what the text says and what the passage means. Now go forth and make it real in your life,” you have preached a sermon that is more exegetical than it is expository.
If your sermon ends with a sentiment similar to, “This is what the text says and what the passage means. For us today, it means the same thing and here is how we might experience the truth of this passage in the coming days…” and then you proceed to paint that picture. This is a sermon that is preaching with expositional balance.
Preaching Tools for Expository and Exegetical Preaching
Preparation tools for exegetical preaching and expository preaching are largely the same — albeit, how they are used is different.
“Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.”
― Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages 2nd ed., Baker Books, 1980, p. 21.
The Unprepared Preacher
If a sermon has not gripped the preacher, it will not grip the congregation.
Many preachers will fall into the trap of ‘praying and waiting on a Word from the Lord.’ These preachers will be stepping into the pulpit with little preparation and, in essence, ‘winging it.’
Unfortunately, the opposite side of the coin is an overemphasis on study with little time spent in prayer, meditation, community, and accountability. Without these spiritual practices the preacher does not allow the fullness of the Christian life and the communion of the Trinity to help shape and form the message.
The result is a strong message with a weak conclusion — which is worse than a weak message with a strong conclusion.
The quote above from Haddon Robinson points to the central role pastors play in communicating a sermon. Expository preaching is not just about finding the main point of the text. Nor is expository preaching just skillfully presenting the main point of a text.
Neither of the above takes into account the unique gifting of the preacher, the connection to the congregation, the day and time the text is being presented, or the audience receiving the text.
Transformational expository preaching involves the preacher.
For this reason, the preacher must be challenged and changed by the point of the text before presenting it to others. A good expository message will expose the meaning of the text, convey the heart of the speaker, and challenge the hearer to Christlikeness by exposing the truth.
Exegetical Preaching Tools
Commentaries, Bible dictionaries, word studies, and other tools inform our analysis of the text. Using these tools as well as other supplemental studies, the pastor gathers information to inform the message… no matter how the eventual application is being handled.
We learn the history and cultural setting of where a passage was written and its intended audience. This type of understanding is paramount to properly convey the information in the text, regardless of how you choose to close your sermon.
An exegetical message will use these tools to gather the information, layout the information, and then organize the information for consumption. There are many points of information, skillfully delivered, but no central lesson, theme, or idea to motivate or move one to make a change.
An expository message will go one step further and connect all of the dots of the text, culture, history, and audience to help deliver a more complete picture. “And this is what it means…”
The expository sermon is birthed using these tools and then the findings are leveraged into supporting an overarching point — a singular idea crafted into a clear statement, focused on helping people make a Bible-based change in their life.
Expository Preaching Communication Tools
As the pastor, it is important to remember that your people don’t need a great exegetical sermon.
They need Jesus, and Jesus is calling each person to repent of sin, trust Him, and live in truth.
The primary point of your sermon should be the main point of the text you’re preaching. The secondary focus is communicating the main point in a way that helps the congregation discover the truth, experience the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and take action based on the text.
In other words, respond to the preached Word.
When we say ‘communication tools’ we don’t mean widgets, apps, or props… although all of those can be helpful in the right place and time (see Sermonary).
What we mean is the method of communication — and the method of communication easiest to use in expositional preaching but least needed is lecturing.
Lecturing is less than ideal for your weekend message because you want to engage the audience, skillfully delivering compelling commentary… not lecturing as a professor would.
This dance between informing and orating is a delicate waltz and when performed well, we go from being lecturers to orators to preachers.
Your church is filled with different personality types.
- Some abhor details while others can’t get enough minuta.
- Some love a good story while others just want the facts.
- Some want to be convinced while others are ready to agree.
And to be sure, this is true of pastors, as well.
There is no debate that ‘they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.’ The world will see how we love one another and that will lead them to make a judgment on this Jesus we say we follow.
It is one thing to factually know that Jesus called us to love one another, it is a completely different thing to be challenged to love one another. Furthermore, it is one thing to know that we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is another thing to love our enemies.
Some people love a good lecture, but the problem with lectures is they are absent from creating a level of accountability for what to do with the information. Satan knows the information of the scriptures better than anyone on earth. There is no reward or blessing for only knowing information.
People do not come to your church and sit under your teaching for information — they come to meet with the Lord (whether they realize it or not) and God’s Word is alive — it is our responsibility to preach to the life that already exists in it, not to simply convey information… at least at the typical weekend service.
Judeo-Christian Overview of Expository Preaching
Exegetical preaching has a long tradition with roots predating written scripture. Moses learned of Genesis from oral tradition. Looking at the Bible as a whole, Genesis is not an eyewitness account. Looking at Moses’ expository sermons in Deuteronomy, he relies on the specific application and interpretation of words recorded in Exodus and Leviticus to communicate the truth to those whom he speaks to in Numbers.
Continuing in the Mosaic tradition, Jewish expository preaching and teaching center on making an application point for the hearer.
The Midrash is a collection of such sermons and teachings that show a breadth and variety of interpreting the scriptures. More specifically, the Talmud is an authoritative collection of the Midrash tradition.
Apocalyptic literature, popular during intertestamental times and alluded to by Jude and others, is also an example of using a source text and then expounding on a central point.
Expository Preaching from Jesus, the Apostles, and Early Church Leaders
Jesus also taught in the same expository fashion. Consider the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus refers to a text and then offers a new interpretation and application (a critique on the current teaching of scripture). Jesus’ expository preaching caused problems among the Jewish elite because the application was new, bold, and differing from tradition.
Going further, the apostles continued with expository preaching. A prime example is how they defined Chrsitianity as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. You can see this done in notable sermons by Peter in Acts 2, Stephen in Acts 7-8, and Paul in Acts 13. Each sermon directly quotes the Old Testament scripture and then makes a current application in light of Jesus.
The author of Hebrews examines the nature of Jesus, sin, and believers through the lens of the Abrahamic Covenant. James builds on the tradition of wisdom literature and describes wise living for Christians in their time.
The Early Church Fathers, monks in the Egyptian desert, bishops, and writers carried on with sermons, commentaries, and other forms of expository preaching and teaching. The result is a diverse set of writings from the first three centuries of the church demonstrating various Greek, Jewish, and Roman influences.
If you’re looking for biblical and historical precedence for expository preaching, you can find it in many places, not only as confirmation of its existence, but also it’s authority as a preaching approach.
Expository Preaching In Post-Biblical Times
Expository preaching for Christianity is defined by its allegiance to and use of history and tradition.
The early councils not only defined the cannon, nature of man, the deity of Jesus, and the divine nature of the Holy Spirit, these councils were also directly impacted by expository preaching. For example, the teachings of Origen and his allegorical and neo-Platonic teachings were limited and condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople.
John Chrysostom and other early church leaders dove deeper into expository preaching and teaching, moving away from allegory. The liturgy he inspired or wrote (debated among scholars) is used by the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches, combining exegetical teaching and application in worship.
Chrysostom’s collection of sermons and writings pointed John Calvin to take up expository preaching — thus setting the stage for expository preaching as a central part of the Reformation and Protestantism.
In the Old Testament, New Testament, early days of the church, and all the way to modern day, there is no shortage of example and precedent for what we, today, call expository preaching.
Jesus as Expository Preacher
It is worth taking a few more moments to look at how Jesus took an expository approach to his critique of the religious leaders.
Looking specifically at the Sermon On the Mount, Jesus quoted portions of Law from the Old Testament throughout His message. This wasn’t anything unusual as all rabbis engaged with passages from the Torah and would share their insights.
However, Jesus became known for speaking with authority through His new interpretations and applications of the Law.
Jesus was respected as an exegetical scholar. From twelve years of age when he sat with the teachers at the temple, until the day He was crucified, Jesus’ commentary on the writings of Moses and the Prophets was respected. Jesus’ authority was not ever challenged as an exegetical scholar or an expositor.
Jesus was challenged and ultimately killed because his expository preaching led to new revelations about God and applications for people.
For example, Jesus quoted Moses in the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20 in Matthew 5:27 “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ The following three verses turn the current understanding of the Exodus passage upside down and backward.
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Mt. 5:28 – 30)
Time after time, Jesus’ expository preaching leads His audiences to reconsider the nature of God and the nature of their relationship to and with God and each other.
How to Balance Exegesis and Application in Expository Preaching
Preaching that relies on strict allegorical interpretation has been condemned from the beginning of the church. On the other side, lecturing commentary on the scripture is boring and ineffective for the majority of church services.
Discovering and defining your expository preaching style needs a healthy balance of exegesis and application. Truth (exegesis) and life (application) are both necessary for people to understand and pursue the type of lasting changes God desires for them.
The discussion we want to entertain is balance — not better or worse, topical vs exegetical… but rather, a discussion of how preachers and teachers can create an atmosphere where the Holy Spirit moves through the taught Word in such a way that evokes a response.
Rather than looking first at how to balance an expository sermon outline, let’s look at what is often out of balance.
Allegory and Sensationalizing A Text Is Not Expository Preaching
Amazing stories with spiritual overtones and undertones have come out of Hollywood. These movies depict powerful characters and compelling narratives about life and death. But a marvelous story does not mean a truthful account of scripture.
Simply brushing by the thousands of years worth of commentary on a select passage for the sake of telling a story might cater to a narrative an individual might want to promote, but these great stories do not reflect the truth we find in scripture.
Preachers must fight against any desire to reveal individual experiences and thoughts to make for a more compelling story any time it takes precedence over exposing the truth of a passage. While sensationalizing a certain text may make for a more impactful delivery, if it is not true to the text, it is not just a bad choice — it is bad for biblical literacy, no matter how good the intentions are.
Just as sensationalizing a text ignores the truth of the text, not choosing a main point at all allows listeners to aimlessly wander into the land of allegory. Any pastor who has spent time in a seminary with other preachers can certainly remember a peer sermon that wandered aimlessly with no intention of preaching something allegorical or extra-biblical… but the wandering itself created confusion for the hearer.
Preachers, speakers, writers, and commentators throughout history have pressured themselves to be ‘cutting edge’ and clever. A great example of this for modern day preachers is the alliterated points. In effort to make everything fit nicely into a creative box we stretch certain points or massage words so that we spell out our acronym or have our three bullet points start with the letter ‘L,’ even at the expense of the greater point.
In addition to stretching a point, there is also a temptation to stretch the relevancy of an illustration, funny joke, or great title in order to work it into the main point of the text. Whatever the reason may be, illustrations, acronyms, jokes, and the like are wonderful communication tools and are needed in a great expository sermon, however, they should not be included at the expense of the truth in the text.
Information and “Under Spiritualizing” a Text Is Not Expository Preaching
Just as there is a temptation to use allegory to sensationalize a particular text, there is also a temptation to go the opposite direction and simply present facts and layer fact upon fact, in essence, making information the main point.
In the pursuit of conveying information, the preacher loses the ability to articulate truth. It is normal for people to become energized by learning new things. Certainly those of us who are ‘education nerds,’ bookworms, or professional students are especially partial to the accumulation of knowledge.
Facts are useful to a point. In your preaching, the facts should provide the underlying support for your main point in an expository outline, not become the point in and of themselves.
A faithful and fruitful expository sermon needs a single point for people to grasp and apply to their life. Too many points of interest and overwhelming amounts of information undermine the text and camouflage any main point. Expositional preaching exposes a useful point of a text, not every single point within a text.
You probably have scholars in your congregation and they may be excited to learn about every point within a text. However, your job is that of a preacher and a pastor. That means entertainment takes a back seat to the text to allow the text to make a deep and heartfelt impact in the hearts and minds of your people.
The scholars won’t be left out in the cold, though.
It is true that you should not limit your sermons to information.
It is true that you should choose a single main point of the text to highlight, not every point within a text.
It is also true that you should make your point using evidence from the text.
As you prepare your sermon outline, select your main points, and craft your overall message, your strongest support for your main point will come from supporting elements found in the text. Yes, some of these elements could be main points in and of themselves, but as a service to the single truth you are trying to preach, emphasize this main point with the supporting context. Let this evidence lead to the main point.
Information is important. Story is important. Facts and context are important. Personal experience is important.
But the element that is of primary importance is the truth of the text.
The exposition of the text is of secondary importance. Information, story, additional facts and context, and personal experience must all be submitted to the truth of the text and exposition of the text.
How to Achieve Balance In Your Expository Preaching
In order to achieve balance, there are three guiding principles you can employ.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Use a variety of commentaries.
- Focus on a single point and apply.
These are not end all, be all, but rather, a starting point or three mental triggers to help inspire balance.
Show, Don’t Tell — The Secret of Turning Information into Application
Instead of telling the congregation about a fascinating word study, simply mention the word and then show them how the truth can change their life.
“Show, don’t tell” is one of the best ways to transform a lifeless exegesis into an exciting expository outline and sermon.
Showing people a truth made real in your life or in the lives of others is the perfect segway to invite the hearer to consider how their own lives would be different if they lived by this truth.
“Show, don’t tell” is the secret sauce of application.
For the truly ambitious teacher, invite the congregation to imagine what it would be like for the entire church to be known as a place where this truth is lived out and how that would transform the city and the world!
Use A Variety of Commentaries
Expository preaching is not done alone or in a vacuum. Preachers draw upon past commentators and current preachers for exegesis and application
Reading and listening to the sermons of other preachers is an ongoing discipline to elevate and improve your sermon writing and preaching delivery.
Dare to dive deeper into the technical commentaries for deep analysis of a text and use it to challenge your current theological position, however mature it may be.
At the same time, use practical commentaries to discover stories, ideas, sermon illustrations, and to also be personally challenged by the application of a text.
Build the foundation of your sermon and use technical and practical commentaries to add further support to that foundation.
Focus On A Single Point and Apply
People make decisions based on how they feel, not what they know. This truth of human behavior drives many expository preachers crazy. However, it does not need to. People are motivated to make changes they feel they can achieve — and that is the role of the application in your message.
Humans learn the truths of life in three different ways: thinking, feeling, and doing. Good application happens when a preacher motivates a person through one of the learning modes.
Make Your Application Understandable
Teach and preach in simple terms so that everyone can understand the message. The more simple a message, the more memorable it is for everyone. Simple, understandable, and thought-provoking applications help to change thinking as it pertains to the truth in the passage exposed through your sermon.
Make Your Application Motivational
The truth of the Bible should motivate the people of a church to make changes in their lives. These motivations, or feelings of needing to make a change, will come from different places of origin. Some are motivated because God made a command and the hearer desires holiness. Some will be motivated because they feel conviction about being out of bounds and wanting to restore their life to one of peace internally and with those around them.
Motivations range from simple all the way to complex. Singular or combinations. Clear or convoluted.
The preacher’s goal should be to connect the truth of the passage with the feelings of the hearer, specifically targeting particular motivations so as to prompt a desire to change.
Make Your Application Actionable
The skill of sending an arrow into a bull’s eye is not something that is achieved after picking up a bow and arrow for the first time. It is a skill that is acquired after having taken action in the same direction over a long period of time.
Expository preaching shows itself to be a success when people are led to take action applying to their life, not just once, but over and over again. Just like the archer practices the same movements over many years to master their skill, preaching for life mastery is when you challenge the believer to continue to take obedient action in the same practice over many years. Preaching for life mastering and transformation comes out of what God has said in the scripture.
How to Use Your Natural Style in Expository Preaching
One of the greatest challenges of preaching is discovering and being true to your own voice.
During the formative years of ministry, pastors face the challenge of being a servant leader and discovering where they fit in, who we should count as friends, how we will appeal to the people in our congregations, who we should confide our weaknesses to, among many other issues.
We discover the answers to these challenges in a myriad of places. We model our response based upon the behavior we see from other leaders. We model our response based upon insights we receive from mentors and peers. We model our responses based upon colleagues’ advice after weathering similar challenges.
Through it all, we have the temptation to listen to too many voices and become confused or listen to only one leader and become a clone.
In the midst of this challenge, our own voice hangs in the balance and we find ourselves working to discover exactly what type of a pastor, preacher, and person we want to become.
As unlikely as it may seem, expository preaching offers pastors the opportunity to overcome some barriers inherent in servant leadership and experience breakthroughs in discovering a unique and natural style of preaching, even leadership.
Overcome Imposter Syndrome to Discover Your Natural Style
Imposter syndrome is when we look at those around us modeling a particular skill and instead of developing our own approach or delivery for that skill, we mirror what we see.
The reason imposter syndrome is so common is because we are intimidated by a lack of confidence in our own writing or speaking. Instead of being vulnerable and doing things as we naturally would, we believe that to co-opt the style of another will lead to acceptance and affirmation.
Expository preaching is a great method for overcoming imposter syndrome because it relies upon exegesis and simply identifying what is already there. This provides a firm foundation that shows no partiality to any one style or voice. As you begin to identify the truth of the passage and then begin to connect the dots for application, trust yourself to communicate the main point and application, not because you’re confident in your own truth, but because you understand the truth that is contained in the text.
When you are focused on communicating the truth of God’s Word for the edification of the body, you’re starting off in a very strong position.
Create Your Own Expository Preaching Style
Co-opting certain traits and behaviors from successful people is good to a point. In many ways you are bypassing much of the learning the other person had to endure in order to arrive at what we see in current time.
John MacArther’s and David Helm’s expositional preaching are excellent examples from contemporary leaders we can learn from. Preachers and speakers will benefit from listening to and reading sermons prepared by these preachers and many others.
Respecting the skill of another and co-opting certain methods is one thing — emulating and copycatting another person is something different and dangerous.
God made one John MacArthur, one Beth Moore, one Judah Smith, and one you.
There is no shame or crime in using other people’s material as a basis for your preaching, nor is there any issue with learning their ways or style — as long as you make it your own. The truth comes from God’s Word. Your study of God’s Word may come from a combination of commentaries or examples. In the end, the delivery needs to be all you.
As you prepare your expository sermon, lean on what you’ve learned from others. As you practice to deliver your message, lean on the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. Record yourself and listen… is it your voice you hear presenting the Word or is it the voice of one of your favorite preachers?
The secret of connection and communication is to be yourself.
Your Natural Conversational Tone
Do you have a case of “preacher’s voice?”
Preaching styles can turn into preaching habits that are not reflective of our individual nature.
Laid back, funny people should have a laid-back, funny expository preaching style.
Direct, soft-spoken people should have a direct, soft-spoken expository preaching style.
Your vocal style, personality, and performance should be based upon your God-given gifts and how He has wired you. The more we practice our craft and the more we study the passage, the easier it is to trust our voice and use our natural conversational tone.
You are speaking to an audience who knows the real you. You pastor them in hard times, share meals together, pray with them, and enjoy life in community. Being the same person in the pulpit as you are in these situations and having the same conversational tone will build your trust and confidence in yourself.
You should trust your voice because your people already trust your voice.
Keep your focus on the text and share what you have learned and discovered in your own voice — they will hear you loud and clear.
Over time, you will become more and more comfortable with your voice and more confident in your natural inclinations. As that happens, new styles, insights, or examples won’t necessarily present themselves as models to copy, but rather, models to learn from and include.
As it relates specifically to expository preaching styles, there are really seven different styles that you will eventually find yourself naturally falling into.
Seven Natural Expository Preaching Styles
Every natural preaching style can be used in expository preaching. Any strengths, weaknesses, benefits, or sacrifices of one style over another will just require a different subset of work and effort to make a great expository sermon.
To help you identify areas that may need special attention to help you preach great expository messages, we’ve identified a high level list of preaching styles. You may find yourself fitting into more than one style and that’s okay. What’s important in this exercise is to identify your natural tendencies so you can be aware of where you may need extra time and effort.
In addition, this list is not exhaustive. There may be other categories or styles that could stand on their own — really the purpose of including this list is to help you consider your natural style as it applies to expository preaching.
Teachers naturally explain things. They are able to give facts and keep you interested. This is because teachers have a natural inclination for learning and researching — this style of teaching is often associated (or stereotyped) with expository preaching.
While most teachers enjoy the facts, figures, and ideas within a text, they can struggle to make valid applications.
Teachers create great transitions between movements of their message and often find excellent main points and subpoints within any text.
When teachers spend time developing relevant applications, their expository sermons move from interesting to life-changing.
Some people are naturally gifted at telling stories. Storytellers always find a way to work in an appropriate (and memorable) joke, fact, or allegory they heard somewhere. They can turn anything into an illustration or object lesson, seemingly almost effortlessly.
Most importantly, the stories they tell engage people where they are and people remember the laughs, hurts, challenges, and lessons within these stories.
Storytelling is a powerful tool for explaining a text and making applications. As storytellers dig deeper into their exegesis and study, their sermons move from making memories to making disciples.
Counselors have the superpower of empathy, allowing them to identify motives and thought processes within the hearer.
When a counselor digs into a text they will naturally move to character development, identifying the hopes, dreams, challenges, and fears of the people in the text. This sets up the speaker to make uncanny applications of truth because they understand and notice people.
When counselors put in time being with people and then put in the time to study and reflect on how a central truth from a text can help their congregation, their expository sermons blossom into full life and make strong connections between hearts and minds… leading to action.
Beards, sneakers, and high fashion are not the only way you can identify a culturalist preacher. Yes, while some culturalist preachers can look this part, the majority of culturist pastors will reveal their cultural style by incorporating pop culture and current trends into their sermons.
Culturist preachers take up Paul’s ability to identify with various cultural elements, bringing them into a teaching moment.
Exegesis along with current philosophical and cultural insights are rich among these preaching types and they can connect their congregations to the life and times of the Bible in real and meaningful ways.
When a culturist preacher moves past the trappings of popular culture, diving deeper into the soul, they open the door to eternal truths of the Bible being applied to the current issues and heartaches of the current time.
Sports coaches and personal trainers are natural motivators. When the motivator finds a truth in their mind, they move it into systems, words, and structures. This skill helps people implement change.
Motivational speakers use their personality and experiences combined with stories and facts to emotionally engage the audience. Motivators are powerful change agents and they measure their impact by identifying evidence such as psychological, emotional, and behavioral activities and patterns.
Motivators who can go beyond their ideas and internalize the eternal truth revealed in a text can create an expository preaching atmosphere that changes lives, families, and communities.
Encouragers have an abundance of hope for people and faith that God will act in all situations. Just like Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement,” stood up for Paul and took him to the apostles, encouragers are often advocates for people and issues.
Encouragers who have a broad scope of connection with and understanding of their congregation can make very deep applications in one message for a larger number of people listening. When encouragers dig into and expose the text through study, timeless truths are revealed in a personal and motivating way, moving entire faith communities into action.
Some people naturally bring their relationship with Jesus into conversations, and we call these people evangelists. Evangelists naturally build bridges between where people are right now and how they can grow their life as a disciple of Christ in the future.
The natural ability to have a one-on-one at the gym, in a coffee shop, football field, or anywhere else and challenge someone in a loving way to commit more of their life to exploring and knowing God is a gift. And a natural fit for expository preaching.
When the evangelist gets into the text and finds the central message, you can guarantee there will be a strong emphasis or key application that vividly paints a picture of what it means to walk closer to the Lord.
An evangelistic preacher will dig deep into the passage and work to expand their points of application to allow for key insights to influence more decisions for Christ and Christlike living to be made.
About Your Natural Preaching Style
You do not need to become all things to all people. Identifying your natural speaking style is like identifying a superpower you already had! You don’t need to be an evangelist who transforms into a teacher on Sunday morning.
Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses.
The harder and more intentional you are to lean into your natural speaking style, the more your speaking will connect with your congregation on a regular basis, and your expository sermons will take on deeper meaning over time.
How to Prepare an Expository Preaching Outline
Understanding why expository preaching matters, where it comes from, the precedence for it, and that any preacher can succeed utilizing this preaching model helps those who do preach in an expository manner to do so with confidence and effectiveness.
But the question still remains, how do you prepare an expository preaching outline?
There is no ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’ to actually go through the process. As long as you stay true to the core of what an expository sermon is, you can prepare it in ways that seem best to you.
However, it is helpful to have a starting point and maybe a few pointers along the way and so that’s what we’ll provide in this section.
You have pages of notes, many facts, a huge number of insights, and lots of good ideas from your exegetical research. Now you need to organize that information in a way that will lead to transformation.
All pastors have their systems for preparing a sermon. The suggestions below can be used in whatever way you see fit to build a better expository sermon.
Choose One Main Point
The central topic, thesis statement, big idea… No matter what your homiletics teacher or preaching book calls it, everyone agrees every sermon needs only one main point. Too many points make sermons hard to remember and even more difficult to apply.
Finding the Main Point
The great thing about sermon preparation is that no two sermons will ever be the same. Not only will different pastors find different ideas and applications, but the same preacher will find a new main point in the same text with the passing of time and life events.
Humans are dynamic creatures and our expository sermons are also dynamic presentations and applications of truth to a changing congregation in an ever-changing world.
As such, a sermon you preach today will reach a certain portion of the congregation in significant ways but leave others feeling as if it were just another sermon. That same sermon two years from now will connect more deeply with some of those who didn’t necessarily feel challenged the first time… all because we change over time.
If the main point for a new sermon matches the main point in a commentary or another sermon you listened to, be certain to turn that main point into a delivery that is relevant to your church, your people, your time.
At the same time, if your exegetical work leads you to an insight that grabs your attention, different from what you’ve read from commentaries or other sermons, then make that point yours. Develop your message around this new insight.
Say the Main Point Over and Over and Over Again
Tell what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them.
All of your exegetical work and effort to identify and support the main point needs to pay off with you and your congregation by helping everyone remember the main point of your expository sermon.
Make your main point “sticky” by crafting a simple statement that points people to take action. It sounds easy, but you know that making a sermon sticky takes a lot of time and effort. Labor over a single clear statement to then craft the remainder of your outline and preparation around.
With a sticky memorable statement, use this statement throughout your sermon. Insert the statement during transitions, include it in the conclusion to a sub point of your main idea, and state it as a reason for a particular application. Use it everywhere you can.
Because it’s the one thing that your expository sermon is designed to do — get people to know, believe, and change because of that one main point from scripture. It will be easier for your people to internalize and act on one single, clearly communicated point rather than try and choose from several options mentioned throughout your message.
Build Everything On the Main Point
A well-written and soundly-constructed main point holds an expository sermon together… sharpening the focus of the message.
This gives your sub-points and total information from the text a single concentrated lens of focus for you, the preacher, as well as your congregation. This keeps everything together for you and the hearer, using the emphasis of sub-points and information to underscore and reinforce the authority and stickiness of the main point.
Of course, this means cutting ideas from your sermon that don’t fit within that clear statement. And that’s a hard thing to do.
You’ve studied for hours and gathered so many solid ideas… you can easily find a place for the majority of them in your sermon. But that’s not what you want. You want to challenge people to use God’s Word in their life to make changes and pursue Christ in a new way.
You need to ruthlessly edit, cut, and delete any information or ideas that do not fit into your clear statement because they will not support your main point as well as other options. It’s not about finding the right illustrations, points, or ideas, it’s about finding the best illustrations, points, and ideas.
Consider when the Pharisees challenged Jesus, asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. This simple story has one main point… to answer their question. The various characters, actions, and attitudes of people in the story gave it depth, color, and impact, but the elements all pointed towards a single idea and purpose.
In the same way, your exegetical sermon needs only one main point. The sermon will be richer and better for all the color of facts, stories, and applications, among any other elements you decide to include.
How to Evaluate Facts, Ideas, and Insights for Inclusion
Once you have identified the main point, written a clear single statement to summarize the big idea, and have collected information for your text, you’re ready to add the supporting content for your sermon.
How do you decide which facts will do the best job supporting your main point?
One method is to evaluate which facts, ideas, and insights will make the big idea more accessible to hearers while still diving deep. Some of these will be determined by your natural speaking style. For instance, the counselors are going to draw inspiration from characters in the text whereas a teacher might find inspiration in the translation from the original Greek word.
What makes the cut will be different for each sermon and will vary for every type of expository preacher. However, no matter the information, the information included needs to help the congregation and the speaker gain more from the text.
If the information helps you create a deeper understanding for hearers while still appealing to many different types of people in different stages of life, that is a pretty good indicator to leave that information in your final sermon outline.
Plan Transitions From One Movement to the Next
Transitions are the signals we use to keep our sermons moving forward. Writing and memorizing transitions can help the speaker craft a more complete and cohesive message. Writing simple statements to lean on for transition can prevent the speaker from becoming lost in a certain thought. These can even serve as an emergency escape when certain points do not seem to connect.
Transitions also help the listener know that we are all moving on to a new idea. Using familiar phrases conditions everyone to re-engage, keeping the listener on track with the speaker.
One effective transition method is to say the main point, show how what you just taught relates to the main point, and then move on to the next section of your sermon.
Transitions are especially important when we move from teaching into an application. Expository preaching for transformation is centered around these points of application. You can highlight just how important an application is or will be, by using intentional, clear, and direct transitions.
Schedule Your Sermons Over the Appropriate Amount of Time
Creating a preaching calendar helps a pastor plan for the entire year, and this sort of planning in advance can help you intentionally spread out the amount of scripture you need to cover over several weeks.
This type of planning allows you to break up the text and then leverage more facts, ideas, and insights assigning each one to a specific week. You can go deeper in individual sermons without cutting great ideas that might fit elsewhere, or including those ideas and watering down the main point.
For example, choosing to cover the Book of Matthew over 13 weeks makes for a different pace than covering that same book over 28 or even 52 weeks. Larger amounts of text will create more interesting points, but not as many main points.
If you do not have additional weeks to cover certain material, just remember this won’t be the last time you preach on this particular book and you can include more the next time it comes around.
Planning your preaching calendar well in advance will help you do some preliminary research on selection of text or a specific book of the Bible so you can determine the appropriate amount of time you should designate for preaching through the entire selection in an expositional manner.
Plan for Application, Planting Seeds In Your Introduction
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
–Paul, 2 Timothy 1:7
The practical application of revealing truth in your expository sermon is helping others craft a plan for discipleship and self-discipline. Exposing God’s Word reveals its power, and the fears or struggles plaguing those in your congregation are defeated just by knowing the truth of God’s love. However, you want hearers to go one step further and apply the lessons to their life. Solid application is essential for successful exegetical preaching and expository preaching.
With this in mind, you must take into consideration how you will lay out a plan for application in your message and then plant seeds for that application in the introduction of your message.
In Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley and Lane Jones make the case for application-focused messages. Stanley and Jones encourage preachers to identify pain points in the introduction of the sermon, exegete a truth, and then apply truth to those pain points. Whether you use this system or not, planning the application portion of the sermon is essential.
A commitment to solid exegesis and truth does not weaken a commitment to application. Rather, preachers committed to expository preaching and exposing the truth of God in the Bible should be more committed to application. When a pastor finds a solid, life-changing truth, they need to work very hard to help people find ways to make that truth part of their lives.
Consider making points of application throughout the sermon. A few minutes of asking questions around struggles associated with the main point, plus revealing a personal struggle with the same topic, and a promise of a truth God has to solve this problem engages the congregation. A clear main point allows for multiple points of application and a solid promise people can envision.
How Much Exegesis Do I Need for a Good Expository Sermon?
As a quick reminder, exegesis, according to Oxford Languages, means “critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture.”
Every seminary and Bible college student has written an exegetical paper — especially theology, New Testament, and Old Testament majors. Full exegetical work as common in these papers is not necessary for a good expository sermon — however, the better our study, the easier it will be to find the central points of a passage.
As we decide how much exegesis is needed for a good expository sermon, we must first consider that most expository sermons are a part of an overall expository sermon series.
A full sermon series, such as one on the Book of Acts, a comprehensive deep dive into a specific topic, or an exploration of a smaller portion of a book, such as the Sermon on the Mount, should include a particular level of exegesis right off the bat. While you may not need to go as deep and wide as you would in a research paper, an overall understanding of the passage informed from a wider study on the context informs the pastor and benefits both the pastor and the congregation. This type of general study is useful for the entire series.
A second consideration should be given to your commitment to preaching your commentary and not another person’s commentary (or sermon). Study materials (as covered above) and even using other sermons for the foundation of your sermon are more accessible to pastors than ever before. But this is a potential blessing/curse dichotomy.
The blessing is that there is less preparation, better information, and numerous illustrations. The curse is not studying enough on your own to let the central point of the text challenge and shape your soul.
Your congregation will know how the truth of the Bible has reached into your life through your teaching. They will be able to sense what impact the text has had on you and will be more inclined to follow your application points if they sense it has fundamentally changed you.
Expository preaching is a personal commentary on a Bible passage.
A third consideration is the minimum level of exegesis and application expected for your Christian tradition, denomination, or campus. Some traditions value deep analysis, long study-oriented sermons, and a small amount of application.
Other traditions will be quite the opposite, placing a high value on practical application and emotional engagement, with less emphasis being placed on biblical study.
Expository preaching is useful in any preaching setting and, over time, the preacher and congregation will establish a healthy balance between competing traditions and deliveries.
Fourth, and finally, consider that the right amount of exposition is the amount that helps the preacher and people become healthier disciples of Christ. Certain passages of the Bible are more complicated and require more exegetical work for the pastor and the church. Healthy preaching is a balance of deeper study (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12) and making truth a part of our lives as “doers of the word” (James 1:22-25).
Too much information prevents people from committing to personal change and application in their own lives.
Too little information fails to build up the credibility of the main point, even the pastor, and application becomes less important.
The right balance of exegetical information allows the pastor and the church to trust the big idea and make a confident application to their thinking, feelings, and behaviors in light of the true Word of God preached.
Appropriate Use of Stories for Exceptional Expository Preaching
We are designed to remember stories. Adults recall moments in their upbringing through stories. Families relate together through stories. We often introduce people to others in our lives by telling a story. We will share a short story revealing a positive trait or experience with that someone.
Not only does a story communicate a nuanced truth in an inviting or interesting way, but it creates an instant memory in the case of forming new connections and impressions.
Expository preaching needs elements of storytelling.
Think of introducing the central truth of a studied word like you would introduce a friend to a group of people. Use snippets of information and short anecdotes to make a powerful introduction, and then make connections to the main point of the interaction.
The job of exposing and applying biblical truth is made easier through story.
How to Find and Tell a Story with a Text
Your sermon will present a primary problem and a promise of God to overcome the problem. This is your big idea or main point. You can use different stories as a way to continue to state the main point over and over again, moving from your exegesis of the passage into the application of your message.
Identify the Main Problem
Every story has a problem. When you discover a problem, any type of problem, you find the beginning of a story.
Funny stories have some tension because of a problem and an unexpected conclusion.
Sad and tragic stories have a problem that leaves an imperfect conclusion.
Happy stories have heroes who will overcome obstacles to solve a problem.
God, man, and evil constantly meet problems in the Bible. Every text has an external or internal problem for us to understand and overcome. Every passage in the Bible has an eternal problem that every human participates in, one way or another.
List Smaller Problems
The main point of the sermon will deal with the main problem. Supporting points are simply addressing the smaller problems (conflicts) that arise in the text. If you’re looking for stories to illustrate or articulate a particular problem, narratives and historical passages from other parts of scripture are great places to start your search for supporting stories.
For example, a pastor has completed exegetical work in 1 Samuel 17 and the story of David and Goliath. Choosing the main problem of overcoming a major challenge in life, this pastor can now look at a series of smaller, related problems in the text.
David faces internal problems of faith in God, rejection of family, criticism from authority, and more.
Goliath has a problem of misplaced self-confidence.
Israel has a problem with bravery, and the Philistines have a problem with trusting strength over faith.
And these are just the smaller problems found in the context of this story. You can find similar stories throughout scripture that underscore the main point of facing challenges in life.
Every text has a series of problems. Each problem has a story element, maybe just a micro-story, but a story with the potential to connect with someone in the congregation.
Describe the Setting
The Bible takes place in a certain place and time. That’s the greatest setup for any story!
A portion of exegetical study includes knowing the setting and background of the text. Expository sermons which spend time on painting a picture of the setting we find in scripture, builds a strong bridge between the text and the congregation.
Every preacher will describe the setting in a way unique to them, but taking the time to explain the setting serves as a story within the text and sets the stage for the grander story being told in the message.
Introduce the Characters
Every text in scripture will include the writer and the intended audience of the book, letter, psalm, or historical account.
Time and focus on the central point will shape the characters’ role and importance to the expository sermon.
Introducing a character in your sermon is nearly identical to introducing a friend to your family. You can approach it in the same way by choosing stories that will help the hearer get to know the character quickly and with just enough context to ‘place’ them.
Build the Tension of the Main Problem to a Climax
Every story identifies a problem, agitates that problem to build tension, brings the story to a climax, and then releases the tension. The more tension and the bigger the problem, the more motivated the congregation will be to apply the solution to the problem and experience a change in their life.
The tension in a story naturally leads a person to ask, “So what do I do now?” which leans directly into your application. This is the classic story arc and is central to any storytelling experience.
Resolution in Personal and Corporate Application
The main point of the expository sermon must have a resolution. In addition, you might have several sub applications or implications, but the other message must resolve at the end (in most cases).
A large truth, such as those revealed by God in the Bible, requires us to adjust our lives to be more in line with the Creator. When you have prepared a sermon that exposes God’s truth and identifies the conflict with humanity’s understanding of truth, there must be a resolution. “You have heard it said… but I say to you…”
Resolutions for the same problem that surfaced in a passage will be different for each person and for every congregation.
Truth from a text about racism will be applied differently by a church made of predominantly caucasian individuals than a church made up predominantly by people of color exploring the same text. The truth is the same, but the angles at which the passage is approached can vary, and thus, the resolutions for each congregation can differ.
What should be universal is the congregation should have a corporate response as a local body of Christ, every person embracing their individual response and making changes in their lives to live more inline with the scripture and what God defines as truth.
Resolution and application in an expository type sermon do not change scripture. Nor do they call for reinterpreting the historical past of the world or the church. Real, lasting resolution comes when we adjust ourselves to God’s principles revealed in the text over our own emotions, feelings, inclinations, and experiences.
Including A Variety of Stories In Your Message
In summary, there are four types of stories you can include in your message. Leaning on one too heavily can often lead people to disengage from your message rather than reengage throughout. It’s best to identify the four types of stories and choose which variety to include in any given message.
Stories Found In the Text
Every biblical text tells a story from background, to characters, to a problem, to a climax, and even resolution. Some may be more compelling than others.
Parables, history, and narrative genres of scripture are more naturally told in story format. However, every genre and every text presents an opportunity to interact with storytelling elements using exegetical information and insight.
When preachers are able to share the flow of a story within a text without referring to notes, two advantages are gained.
First, the preacher knows the text very well and will have great confidence delivering the stories contained, as well as the information and insights, with proper authority.
Second, the audience can relate to the story being told THROUGH A PERSON rather than being dictated from a piece of paper, making it more accessible to more people in the congregation.
Biblical Background Stories
Expository sermons and sermon series will use two main types of background information:
- General historical, sociological, anthropological, and other factual elements of the text.
- General knowledge of NT and OT settings.
Each text has unique background elements around authorship, date of writing, etc. and these specific elements further draw the audience into the setting and book.
The Bible also offers commentary and story in setting up its own context and background information.
In the New Testament, the Book of Acts serves as a larger setting and historical narrative for the Pauline corpus and the stories therein.
In the Old Testament, historical books comment upon each other and provide useful information for many of the Prophets and their stories.
The key to incorporating biblical background stories is using the information in a story-like manner. Whether it is a short story for setting or using the information in a larger narrative, expository sermons have a wealth of information to bring forth deep stories that are rich and powerful.
Current events and modern philosophy also make good points of story use. News, blogs, movies, songs, plays, books, apps, and more are all around us. Americans are surrounded by information and an expository sermon can capture and frame current events and ideas in comparison to what we read in the Bible.
Cultural stories provide you the freedom of using both fiction and nonfiction to support your message. Using these current events and storylines can serve as a reminder that God is still alive, watching, noticing, and moving in our world. It can also serve as an illustration of just how little has changed with humanity despite any progression we might be able to point out.
Lastly, preachers and teachers can (and should) use personal stories in their expository sermons. Sharing personal experiences with a congregation doesn’t mean being 100% transparent, but being 100% authentic helps your people see how leaders work through the truth found in the Bible.
Consider sharing personal insights and challenges during points of your sermon, in particular, the application. Share appropriate past and current struggles and what the Lord has done in your life during these challenges and through His Word.
Stories you have witnessed or stories that have made an impact on you are also good to share. Make sure you have permission to share another person’s personal story (and that includes a pastor’s children). A popular way to share personal stories and testimonies is through a short interview between the pastor and someone in the congregation, a missionary, or another person willing to share their story.
Use stories to show the power of change centered on biblical truth. Powerful stories in expositional preaching make powerful memories of what God is doing among His people.
Expository Preaching vs. Topical Preaching
It may already be apparent throughout the entirety of this article what the differences are between expository preaching and topical preaching. And unlike what the heading above suggests, it is not a competition between each preaching model, but rather a choice.
Still, it is worth taking a few minutes to point out key differences in these two models and how they can even compliment each other.
Expository and topical preaching describe an approach taken by a pastor towards crafting the sermon and not the expectations of the congregation. Aside from traditions that emphasize the role of scholarship, the discussion about expository preaching and topical preaching should be a “both/and” rather than an “either/or.”
The Expository and Topical Approach
Expository preaching is about expounding on or interpreting the Bible and the current state of the congregation. Seasons of change, important topics, relevant issues, and more should not be shied away from in the name of being an “expository preacher.”
For example, when church leaders decide that marriages in the church or in the immediate surrounding culture need special attention, the pastor can select passages from Ephesians, Genesis, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and other passages to study.
A topical approach alone would select the idea of marriage as a centerpiece of study and then topics to build on what the pastor already knows about marriage and the sense of what needs to be taught, including scripture throughout to back up individual points and arguments.
An expository approach would be to look at these same passages, and rather than limit the sermon to current understanding by the preacher, that preacher would take time to go through the process of exegesis, and then craft a message around the text as taught, adding application at the end.
Certain topics easily lend themselves to commentary from other parts of the Bible, making way for textual sermons within an expository sermon series.
Staying with the theme of marriage in Ephesians, one sermon might examine a particular angle of marriage and how it is discussed by Jesus, another sermon by Moses, another sermon by Peter, and additional sermons by other characters in the Bible.
This textual sermon approach fills a gap between the pure topical approach and pure exegetical approach, and broadens the scope of the Bible study to other passages outside of a normal expository sermon.
Certain topics and passages lend themselves to commentary from other parts of the Bible. A textual sermon might be a part of an expository series. Staying with the marriage in Ephesians, one sermon might examine a particular idea and how it is discussed by Jesus, Moses, Peter, and others.
Introducing Expository Sermons In Topical Settings
Certain church cultures are more attuned towards topical preaching. If you want to bring in more of an expositional approach, create a sermon series to cover a specific topic and then choose to preach every sermon from a continuous passage.
Some in your congregation may be able to identify a shift in the way your preaching is delivered, but many will forego judgment, trusting you as the leader and teacher for the church.
Furthermore, this type of change in preaching amounts to a personal challenge for many. It is often a bigger transition for the pastor than it is for the people. Be mindful of the change but don’t feel beholden to rocking the boat, so to speak. You will never go wrong with preaching through the text as written. Get creative with bridging the gap between a past topical approach and a new expositional approach.
Preaching Through A Book of the Bible
Selecting a single book of the Bible to preach through over a period of time has benefits for the congregation and the pastor. In addition to learning more about the specific book and it’s context, we can grow in additional ways.
For instance, the church will not avoid hard or controversial topics. For example, one-third of Jesus’ parables deal with money. Americans don’t like to talk about money as it relates to the church, but Jesus spoke often about money in every Gospel account. In the end, you have permission and even exhortation to preach difficult topics.
Another example of broadened growth through expository preaching using a single book of the Bible gives a better commentary on how different topics and ideas blend or fit together. Hearing marriage and money talked about in the same context can broaden the understanding of God and motivate towards a more comprehensive approach to discipleship.
Using a single book for preaching can also reduce preparation time for the pastor. An expository sermon series through a book, or any specific selection of text, requires a certain amount of exegetical work. Those notes, ideas, and story pieces can then be used over a larger number of sermons. This reduces the stress of study.
Pastors have more freedom to dive deep into crafting “sticky” main points and excellent applications because the core findings remain the same throughout the entire series.
Other Ways to Combine Expository Preaching and Topical Preaching
One Topic in One Chapter — A short expository series on a topic can be sourced from a single chapter of the Bible.
Annual Topics in One Text — Advent, missions, giving, marriage, and many other topics are visited annually by leaders. Use the opportunity to build an exegetical sermon series on the topic from a Bible passage.
How to Start New Types of Expository Preaching
Challenging yourself to find new ways and approaches to your preaching style will help you continue to grow. If you are seasoned in the art of expository preaching, new ideas and insights can be gained from a shift in your process, which will cause an overall shift in your perspective.
The traditional understanding of expository preaching is preaching through an entire book of the Bible. Teaching insights one chapter or one part of a chapter at a time. But that doesn’t mean this is the only way to preach an expository message.
In addition to incorporating methods and practices mentioned throughout the article above, consider the following ways to expand your approach to expository preaching as well as the church experience with the model.
Bible Book Survey
An expository book survey will focus on a single aspect of the selected book. The sermon series can focus on certain chapters, themes, storylines, or theological ideas.
The survey will use an exegetical background study and other general parts of the exegetical process. The limited scope keeps the sermon series moving quickly and makes it easy for the pastor and congregation to get into the book, complete the book, and then move on to the next sermon series.
Expository Sermon Sectional Series
Choosing a portion of a book in the Bible for a sermon series is another approach to building an expository sermon series. Using natural breaks in books, pastors and congregations can familiarize themselves with that selected portion of the book.
Instead of preaching the entire book of Matthew, the series can be on The Sermon on the Mount or The Beatitudes. Looking at Deuteronomy, you could examine the theme of tithing and easily draw attention to a few chapters of the book.
Some churches and traditions make extensive use of the church calendar and the lectionary. In other words, it is the norm.
For other churches, this could be a new way to work through the Bible. The lectionary cycle takes readings from the OT, NT, and wisdom literature every three years. For lower Protestant traditions not familiar with the rhythms of the early church, this is an opportunity for pastors to teach new ideas and themes.
Since each week has a new passage, the pastor can prepare an expository sermon for that specific passage. Many resources are available for pastors to study, ideate, and become inspired, teaching through the Lectionary calendar.
Ministry Pass, for example, has annual sermon series calendars dedicated to helping pastors preach through the current Lectionary cycle. See their calendar for Year C of the Lectionary.
Create a Cycle
Commiting to cycle through the Bible over a certain period of time is a great start to a strong preaching calendar, but also a great way to demonstrate discipleship through preaching.
J. Vernon McGee, pastor and founder of Thru The Bible, created three different cycles of teaching. At the Church of The Open Door, he preached through the Bible in one year. Thru The Bible started with a 2.5-year study from Genesis to Revelation which McGee later expanded into a five-year study of the Bible.
This is just one example of how a cycle could look in your church with the overarching value to teach through God’s Word in your church.
The liturgical calendar and modified schedules like J. Veron McGee’s made a plan to expose their members multiple times to the truth of the entire Bible on a regular basis.
Expository Preaching Resources
If you’re looking for any additional resources for preaching in an expository manner, you can check out the list below.
- Thru The Bible–J. Vernon McGee’s 5-year expository sermons series
- Communicating For A Change–Andy Stanley and Lane Jones’ book shares communication tools pastors can use for crafting expository sermons.
- Grace To You–John MacArthur’s website with links to sermons, study Bibles, and more resources for the expository teacher and preacher.
- How To Write an Exegetical Paper–LOGOS has prepared a summary of the tools and processes needed for exegetical work. While the depth of an expository sermon is not the same as preparing an academic paper, pastors can review the site as an overview for their sermon preparation.
- Guidelines for Writing an Exegetical Paper–Guidelines from Trinity College, a part of the University of Toronto system.
- ML513: Expository Preaching – A Christian University GlobalNet Course, DVD-Rom with MP3 files–Full expository preaching course by Haddon Robinson.
- The Revised Common Lectionary–Vanderbilt University’s website with many resources for preaching with the church calendar.
Becoming An Expository Preacher
The truth is, you’re probably more of an expository preacher than you know. Your dedication to God’s Word, the history of the church, broad understanding of Old Testament and New Testament themes, and (let’s be honest) your knowledge of how to use search engines gives you insights into preaching a text as it was written.
While the definition of different preaching styles may have baggage attached, the truth is that you will never go wrong studying God’s Word, familiarizing yourself with the people and places mentioned in scripture, and diving deeper into extracting information from every passage.
The biggest change you may need to make is becoming more intentional with every step in the process, and that will come with time.
For now, use the information we have put together for you in this article to challenge yourself in one area and when you’ve grown and feel comfortable with one element, return to challenge yourself in a new area.
Your congregation may never know the strides you are making in your own personal growth as preacher, pastor, and follower of Christ, but they sure will benefit from it.