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How Expository Preaching Has Weakened The Church
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Christian ministers are often frustrated by their congregations' ignorance of what the Bible says, and the resulting unwillingness to share, explain, and defend the Good News of Jesus Christ. Ministers often ask themselves: “Why does my congregation seem so badly equipped to live the Christian life?” At this point, out come the usual explanations: Busy lives, the pursuit of pleasure, limited attention spans, the decline of literacy, and so on. None of these will do.
Are we all really busier than earlier generations of Christians, who were often slaves or manual workers in the fields during most of the daylight hours available to them? It seems unlikely. Yes, Paul told Timothy that in the last days, men would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim 3.4, NIV), but the last days started before Paul wrote those words (Heb 1.1-2, NIV). Besides, if “To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness” (Eccles 2.26, NIV), shouldn't the pursuit of pleasure make us hungrier for God and His Word?
Again, if attention spans are declining, it's strange that neither Broadway nor Hollywood appears to have shortened its offerings in response. In fact, a number of the most successful releases at the Box Office even in this century have been unusually long. Nor are football and baseball games being shortened.
Declining literacy is perhaps the worst excuse of all. The Sanhedrin noted that Peter and John were uneducated (literally “illiterate”) men (Acts 4.13). The first Christians usually didn't own written Scriptures, and were living the still incomplete New Testament. For most of the next sixteen centuries, the vast majority of their spiritual descendants in Europe and around the Mediterranean could neither afford nor read a Bible.
We might do better to accept and address two consequences of our historic over-reliance on expository preaching. First of all, expository preaching tends to “zoom in” on a passage. This makes it very unsuitable for giving Christians an overview of God's self-revelation through the Bible. Nobody creates a road map between two cities by stringing together a set of micrographs of the route. Yet that is exactly how expository-minded pastors often try to share the Bible with their flocks, Sunday after Sunday, year after year.
Such ministers raise Christians who may be well-mannered, but whose minds are a jumble of disconnected Biblical details. Is it any wonder that such Christians often shield their faith from any in-depth discussion with others? Yes, they do believe; but no, they can't explain what or why in a realistic, every day setting.
Secondly, expository preaching does not equip adult worshippers to interpret and apply the Bible for themselves; it shows them what someone else has done, but not how they can do it too. What will motivate such worshippers to read and discuss the Bible in their own households? And how will their children even understand what their Christian heritage is, let alone see it as something to make their own or at least to cherish? How can this be God's best?
I agree that expository preaching has a place in the life of the Church; it can be especially useful for helping preachers stick to the text before them, and for instructing young Christians in aspects of the faith. But it's past time to find better ways to equip the wider Church, and especially more mature Christians, to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God's holy people” (Jude 3, NIV). As Christ's Body, the Church needs to be better trained and exercised.
© 2014 by Christopher Bevis. Although he's been a Christian for many years and an avid reader for even longer, Christopher is a new writer based in the UK who has long-standing friends and contacts in the USA. He can be contacted for matters relating to Christian writing via the Faithwriters.com website.
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