by John Meador
When you "go expositional" in your preaching, one of the major factors is the preparation.
If the preparation is not deeply textual (to a specific text) then what comes out in the message will not reflect the text. To me, one of the greatest compliments of a preacher is that he "honors the text." It would be absurd to believe that God wants something different from that-it is His book, not ours.
So, how does one "go expositional" in preparation? Let me recap my process in preaching through a book expositionally, using my most recent experience. 1) I was drawn to the book of James as a relevant study for our people, and the Spirit's leadership was undeniable in my life. 2) I read and prayerfully re-read the book of James over several weeks of time. 3) Key themes and an outline began to emerge after making observations by studying the passages inductively. 4) My study of key divisions in the book gave me the texts that would be the basis for individual messages. 5) I allowed others to lend their creative input in working on names of these sections or series. 6) The weekly study leading up to the Sunday that I am to preach the specific message in the series rounds out the process, and is the most critical and intensive part of preparation. This is the place where an expositional message is created.
My own study over the years has settled into a five-step process of weekly study. This process keeps me tied to the text and context, it gives me a sense of thoroughness in study, and it exposes me to others who have worked through the same text and who have made powerful observations that I can use. The process helps me gather my thoughts and prayers toward specific aspects of the message I'm working on and allows me to look back and confidently say to God, "I've done the right preparation, and I can now confidently ask you to bless this message in the lives of others!"
Step one of my process is grammar and word study. My practice is to type the text out on a word processor, and look at each and every word in the text with a Greek (or Hebrew) dictionary and lexicon. I type the specifics (in smaller fonts) underneath each word and end up with a single sheet that looks something like an interlinear Bible, but contains great detail about the text itself. I normally spend 3 hours on this step. For me, this is one of the great periods of my week. I'm discovering all kinds of great insights just from the words themselves. It is like a sheet has been pulled back, and the text is exposed to my eyes for the first time. Even at this point, enthusiasm for the message is building.
Step two involves taking the word studies and grammatical details and doing a simple sentence diagram of the verses, which then allows me to see the main idea(s) and form an outline of the text. Since this all comes directly out of the page I've created in the first step, I am (at this point) influenced solely by the text and the Spirit. It is a critical moment where I am praying for God to let the key truths emerge from the text for my eyes to see. When that happens, I fashion them into my own words. The points of an outline absolutely must be accurate to the text, but they also must clearly connect with the language of the congregation. I frequently ask myself, "When I say this, what will they actually perceive that I'm saying? Should I say it this way?" While this part of my process may take a couple of hours, I constantly revisit the points for accuracy and relevance. When I type the points out, I also type the text where the point is found next to it. If I cannot do this, I am not bringing textual points.
Step three is when I do my extended reading. I read the commentaries that I have come to trust-and I always read expositional commentaries. Some words of advice here: A) Don't read your commentaries before you do your personal study-you'll find they short-circuit real study of the Scripture. B) If you do your word studies and grammatical work, you'll not be able to stomach some of the commentaries you read, simply because some of them have various degrees of disregard for the text itself. It is a sad but true fact-so find commentaries that are true to the text. C) Limit yourself to 4 or 5 commentaries at the most. Don't overdo this step.
Step four is the illustrative work. This is fun, but sometimes difficult work. As I review the key points of the text, are there word pictures imbedded in the text or the words themselves? If so, use them without hesitation! Otherwise, stick with personal illustrations or facts of life that God can use to properly and accurately illustrate truth. Be open and vulnerable, but make sure that you connect with your audience. They will remember these stories and illustrations for years.
In step five I clarify key phrases and applications. I'm making plans to communicate in ways that will help the congregation understand the text in a powerful way-and thereby influence their lives. I'm putting together my brief that will be inserted into my bible and becomes the outline I preach from. I'm praying, expecting, anticipating and even envisioning what God is going to do with His Word this week.
Five steps-About 15 hours of study and prep-for 40 minutes of preaching. God's Word deserves at least this much, and so does your congregation.
John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.