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The Potential Pitfalls of Expository Preaching

#expositorypreaching #preachtheword #thewholecounselofGod

Bible colleges often require multiple courses in public speaking and preaching for their preacher boys. Ambassador Baptist College actually had three courses just in preaching. Homiletics which is the study of preaching in general, Expository preaching and Evangelistic preaching. Within these courses we are taught the general methods for delivering a message from the pulpit, but king among the methods was what is called Expository preaching. For those who may not know Expository preaching is "an expository sermon is following a book of the Bible, passage-by-passage to allow the text to determine the point" (Goodmanson). Basically, expository preaching allows the text to determine the point and the structure of the message. The two main alternatives to expository preaching are Textual and Topical. If you have talked to me about the topic, you probably know that I consider myself a textual preacher overall, but my style leans more expository at times and topical at others. I am not particularly stuck on one style over the other, but I know which style I am most comfortable.

Within differing circles though there is a strong preference for one style or another. Some are strictly Topical and believe that expository preaching is wrong; while others are strictly expository and view everything else as heretical. The one thing we need to keep in mind is that the bible does not tell us to preach in one method versus the other and we actually do not see one set example for how it was done in bible times. The one example I was always given for expository preaching is found in Isaiah 28:10:

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept;

Line upon line, line upon line;

Here a little, and there a little

The problem with this passage is that these verses are actually a condemnation. If the expository preacher using this text had actually done expositional study of the text, they would have seen that the entire chapter is about drunken prophets and how their message was like a teacher instructed children in route memory and the people rejected the message because of these prophets. The end result was that they went back, were broken, and snarred. The example is actually a condemnation not a justification.

Throughout this article, I will be giving some potential dangers of expository preaching, but I would like to start out with why expository preaching or at least expositional study is important in the church.

I. The Benefits of Expository Preaching

The greatest recommendation for expository preaching is that it is actually preaching what the texts says. Expository preaching limits the message to the message of the original author and removes opportunities for personal opinion on the part of the preacher. It is important for texts to be understood in their context whether literarily, historically, grammatically, or culturally to understand the actual meaning of a verses. Often Topical preaching misses out on this aspect of understanding the text. Verses are not written in isolation. There are points that the author is trying to make that lead up to that verse and the best development of the topic is going to be found within the text.

Another benefit of expository preaching is that it provides authority to the message. This is no longer my opinion about what the bible says and how it should apply to your life. If the text actually says all of these things, then it has the authority of God behind it.

Expository preaching allows the preacher to target certain subjects without seeming to target a specific person in the audience because the passage falls where it does in the text. People are going to get offended when you deal with their sins from the pulpit, but expository preaching takes you out of the equation.

II. The Dangers of Expository Preaching

As great as expository preaching is, there are some pitfalls that we need to keep in mind and try to avoid. This list is primarily based on personal experience and what I have seen sitting under expository preachers.

  1. Expository preaching can make it easy to slip into an incomplete view of a certain biblical topic because you are only dealing with one main text. One example of this would be the usage of the gift of tongues in the book of Acts chapter 2. If one doesn't have a sound theological grounding and is unaware of other passages dealing with the gift of tongues, it would be easy to assume that everyone who has the Holy Spirit must speak in tongues from this text. Most of my audience is not going to struggle in this area, but I want to show the point that it is important to study certain issues as a whole biblically; so we can know what the bible has to say about a topic. This ends up in misrepresented truth or even error in our doctrine.

  2. Very few people will ever live long enough to do a full expository series on the bible. In Acts 20:27 Paul gave an address to the Ephesian elders:

For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

Paul confidently declared that he had preached unto them the entire consul of God. He had only been there for two years and yet he was able to say this with confidence believing that it made him "pure of the blood of all men" (Vs 26). Even John MacArthur after 43 years of expositional preaching has only made it through the New Testament. There will be things that we never get to and it could leave us with an incomplete view of the bible if we get bogged down and only ever preach expository preaching.

3. Getting locked into a series could keep us from being open to the Spirits leading. Now, I want to caution here: God's Spirit can lead you to preach a series ahead of time. God's leading doesn't have to be in the moment; it could have occurred earlier on and now you are just being consistent with what the Spirit led you to do. The danger comes when we are not sensitive to the Spirit's leading to take a break from that series and preach on something else.

4. Getting focused on the structure and not the message. Sometimes preachers are like me and geek out about the details. Not every detail is semantic and even if it were, we can sometimes lose the forest through the trees. Beware of getting bogged down on how the message is portrayed instead of what the message actually is.

5. Expository preaching can often become mere teaching. To understand this point it is important to define our terms. Teaching is the transfer of information to a people. It makes no call to action and it leaves application up to the audience. Preaching biblically involves exhortation, exposition, admonition, comfort and encouragement. If you were to boil the difference down, it really comes down to application. In Ephesians 4:11-12, we are given a list of offices that were given to the church to help in their spiritual grown.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

The offices listed are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers. The last category pastors and teachers is structurally the same person. A pastor is supposed to be a teacher; however, he is also supposed to be a preacher. Both are needed for the perfecting of the saints. 1 Tim 3:2 says that a pastor is supposed to be "apt to teach" which means "able". The danger is that our expositional preaching can leave out the application if we are not careful: the exhortation, the admonition, the encouragement and the comfort.


What ever your preference is for preaching style, I highly recommend to you expository preaching. Personally, I use more of a Textual style of preaching which blends the two. There are a lot of differing definitions for Textual preaching out there so I will explain mine. Textual preaching is preaching on a topic but developing the topic from a passage that specifically deals with the topic. An example of this would be dealing with Love from 1 Corinthians 13 and then cross-referencing to other passages that develop the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13. The points would all come from the text, the central message all comes from the text, but the focus is on that topic and might bring in other passages to help develop the topic. It could be argued that this is just a variation of expository preaching and it probably is. Many of the dangers presented in this article can apply to multiple styles of preaching, but it should serve as a caution to those who seek to stay faithful to the intended meaning and development of the text.

Goodmanson, D. (2006, September 12). Topical, Textual or Expository Sermons – What is the best method?

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