Using expositional preaching to train pastors
I am very thankful for the resurgence of expositional preaching that has taken place over the past several decades, specifically the practice of preaching through books of the Bible.
As Brian Croft has pointed out, expositional sermons have at least three major benefits. First, they “affirm the authority, power, and sufficiency of Scripture.” Second, they “help our people know how to read their Bibles as intended.” Finally, they “help keep a pastor focused on preaching God’s words, instead of human words” (see Brian Croft, The Pastor’s Ministry, pp.44–45).
In addition to Croft’s points, I believe expositional preaching can be an effective way to train potential preachers in the church. In this short essay, I would like to lay out four tips, strategies, and benefits of using the systematic preaching of Scripture to train preachers.
First, expositional preaching makes sermon “mapping” and scheduling easier. One of the great benefits of preaching through books of the Bible is that the preacher has a fairly clear understanding of what is coming up in his preaching schedule. Hence, my regular practice has been to take the calendar and “map out” what preaching units I intend to preach each Sunday for an entire sermon series (e.g., 2 Timothy). Sermon mapping, then, can be extremely helpful in mentoring preachers. Knowing when I will preach every passage in a book of the Bible allows me to help preachers-in-training select a sermon text weeks or months in advance, giving them adequate time to prepare their messages.
Second, expositional preaching takes the guesswork out of choosing a sermon topic. When I first began to preach sermons, I was usually afforded the opportunity to preach on just a single occasion. Since I was only given one day to preach, I knew that I must adequately cover and complete whatever topic on which I chose to speak. I also thought that my sermon would probably seem somewhat random in relationship to the pastor’s regular sermons. Thus, topic selection proved difficult for me. However, incorporating an aspiring preacher into an expositional sermon series eliminates this anxiety. The preacher’s text is selected on the basis of the preaching schedule, and the sermon fits seamlessly into the regular preaching regiment. The men you are training will appreciate knowing exactly what they are going to preach about, and they will feel like they are contributing to the normal ministry of the Word in your church.
Third, expositional preaching acts as sermon preparation for the men you are training. Pastors spend a great deal of time in sermon preparation. We have been trained in the principles of Bible interpretation and have learned the importance of reading every passage of the Bible in context. Often, however, the men we are training are laymen who do not have any formal theological training nor extensive time to study. Expositional preaching, in part, addresses these problems because the sermons you preach double as part of their sermon preparation. For example, if you assign a text eight weeks into your exposition of Mark’s gospel, the sermons you preach leading up to the eighth week will help your apprentice understand the context of his passage, without him opening any book other than his Bible. Also, you yourself will be immersed in the context of what he is preaching, which allows you to give helpful guidance as he prepares his own message.
Finally, using expositional preaching to train preachers places the focus on the Scripture and not on the preacher. Some churches are reluctant to allow anyone other than the pastor to preach. There are several reasons why. Some come at the issue financially: “We pay the pastor to preach sermons.” Others come at it aesthetically: “We only want polished preachers in the pulpit.” One trouble with objections like these is that they place the emphasis on the preacher and not on the message preached. Integrating preacher-training with expositional preaching can create an environment that counters this “preacher-centered” mentality. When a different preacher stands up to preach from what is “just the next passage in the book,” the congregation’s attention is brought back to an ongoing exposition, an exposition they know has taken place in the previous weeks and will continue in the coming weeks. The constant is the Bible, not the preacher. Thus, using expositional preaching as a training tool for up-and-coming preachers can help a congregation move past unhealthy notions about “the preacher” and toward being focused on God’s Word and biblical discipleship.