Sequential Expository Preaching and the Needs of the Local Church

1 Dec

I am a big fan of sequential expository preaching.  In other words, I like preaching through whole books of the Bible, passage by passage.  I have been a pastor for nine years and for about 7 and 1/2 of those years I have been using this method of preaching right through books alternating every few months between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Using this method, I have preached on Sunday morning through the books of Genesis, John, Philippians, most of Exodus and most of Acts.

But does sequential expository preaching work in speaking to the needs of the church at a particular time?  There are times when the topics covered in a particular book of the Bible are not as applicable to the congregation at that moment as some other topic or section of Scripture might be.  In addition, sequential expository preaching may keep a pastor from addressing topics (abortion, marriage, money, godly speech, etc.) the congregation may have a genuine interest in and a desire to understand, but which the pastor can’t really cover because he is bound by the content of the book in which he is preaching.

What does a pastor who is committed to sequential expository preaching do in such cases?  I have a few suggestions . . .

1.  There is a time for topical preaching. Not shoot from the hip, stream of consciousness topical preaching, of course, but good, well-studied topical preaching can be appropriate at times, especially when particular issues are pressing in on the church.  These are areas not so much of personal sin but of congregational blindness.  For example, if the congregation has no grasp on the meaning of church membership, or of how church discipline should work or if their is widespread uncertainty about the authority of Scripture, these are issues which can be, and sometimes should be, addressed through topical sermons.

2.  There are many means for communication besides the pulpit and these means should be used. Pastors can teach on topics of importance on Wednesday nights or Sunday nights or in newsletter articles or through a blog.  Some biblically significant issues for the church can be addressed through these venues, if they are not being addressed through sequential expository preaching.

3.  Personal communication is a vital tool for bringing biblical truth to bear on particular needs. Sometimes there is a personal issue the pastor knows about in the church and maybe a handful of people in the church know.  I do not think it a responsible use of the pulpit to launch into a sermon on that particular problem.  Much more effective in this case would be personal counsel from the word of God.

4.  If a pastor is faithful to sequential expository preaching, important topics will come up in due time. I am often amazed at how the Lord works through the passages we are studying to bring us right to the topics we need to address at the right time.

5.  If a pastor is faithful to sequential expository preaching, he will benefit his people much more than by simply addressing their topics of interest. A church member who has listened to good sequential expository preaching will develop a sense for how the Bible fits together as one story and how one part of the Bible relates to another.  They will have an understanding of how the content of a particular book fits together. This is good and helps people trust in the power of the Scriptures.

6.  Sequential expository preaching sometimes exposes to us needs we didn’t know we had. Because of the darkness of our hearts we tend to misunderstand our true needs.  We may crave sermons on godly speech or marriage but we really need to hear from a particular passage a message about sovereignty or stewardship or grace.  Faithful preaching will not always give a congregation what they want, but will, by the power of the preached Word, give them what they need.

7.  Sequential expository preaching will guard us from cultural bias. We always have to watch our cultural bias and its influence on our interpretation and application of Scripture.  But I think this is a much greater temptation in topical preaching than it is in sequential expository preaching.

8.  Sequential expository preaching helps keep the gospel front and center. So much topical preaching turns quickly into moralism.  “Do this or don’t do this and then you’ll be a true Christian.”  Sequential expository preaching forces us to face whole books with a whole message and this message invariably leads us to the gospel, either by exposing our need for salvation or revealing God’s plan of salvation.

Yes, there is the challenge in sequential expository preaching of not preaching to congregational needs.  But the benefits so far outweigh the drawbacks that this is a small price to pay and the problem can usually be remedied in a variety of other ways.  So don’t be discouraged if you can’t hit every issue you might want to touch on a given Sunday.  Press on and faithfully keep preaching the Word of God.  Sequential expository preaching will prove fruitful in the end.

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