From the Study to the Pulpit

by John Meador

John MeadorOne of the greatest criticisms I hear of expository preaching is that "it's boring." Wrong! The preacher may be boring, but the text never is.

Often, those who study the text deeply become non-relevant when communicating the text, but it is their fault, not the fault of the material. No matter how great the truths discovered, the "baton hand-off" between study and presentation is critical-and it is precisely there that many expositors drop the baton and lose their people's attention.

The study process for expositors involves at least five steps. The foundation of text-driven preaching is, obviously, the text. Word study comes first. After understanding the words themselves, the sentences need to be diagrammed in order for us to understand the relationship between the words and find the main ideas. The third step would be to do extended reading about the text, followed by illustrative work that will connect the dots between the truths we've studied and the comprehension of who listens. Step five is, for me, a time of clarifying key statements and phrases to be remembered as the "core truths" in a text.

So now that I have my material, what do I do with it? This is the challenge. For the careful student of God's Word, there is challenge in studying the text-but it is a spiritual interaction between you, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. When the truths become powerfully real, the preacher moves on to the next challenge-that of connecting with an audience who has not been with you in that dynamic dance of illumination and revelation. It is, for many, a challenge they do not rise to meet.

The preacher is not simply a reader of the Bible who inserts comments that are brought out of his study time so that people can see a little more than meets the eye. While the Apostle Paul affirms the reading of the texts of Scripture (and it ought to have an ongoing presence in our services) the message is not merely that, as good as reading the Bible is. There is intensity about preaching-anticipation that the Holy Spirit will energize and communicate through the preacher to the listener-and the preacher needs to believe that. He needs to remember that spiritual truth is not just kind of sitting there for the taking, but is often surprising, perplexing, graphic, and radically relevant to this present life!

In thinking through this, I decided to take another look at just one part of the most famous of Jesus' messages-the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5. Try to imagine the setting on that mountain and who was listening to Him that day. Opening with the element of surprise, Jesus lists a series of situations that are almost depressing and introduces them by saying, "Blessed are you" when facing these dilemmas. From there, He uses salt and light, two common elements to illustrate a spiritual truth. He doesn't say, "you are like salt," but, "you are the salt of the earth"-much more forceful. He took the Old Testament to a deeper level of relevance with His speech patterns, saying, "You have heard it said but I say to you" He perplexed them by telling them they had to have righteousness that exceeded the Scribes and Pharisees. How are we supposed to do that? Jesus was graphic in teaching them the seriousness of sin. "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out"

UhOK, Jesus, we get the point.

But that IS the point. Jesus taught with a piercing, off-balance style that had people guessing what He was going to say next. In His preaching He continually brought them back to what the Jews had been hearing all their lives but did not understand until Jesus jogged their dull minds into looking at truth in a fresh way.

Jesus is the expositor's model in life, in preaching and in everything else. I've often said, "But I don't have the personality to do some of that stuff," and I don't. I do, however, have a great desire for people to see God's Word in the same light as I have seen it in the times of study. And for that to happen, I must move beyond what is the most casual, normal or natural way to present truth and learn to connect with the minds of the people I am preaching to.

In building that bridge, we're bringing across the nuggets of gold truth mined in the Word, and holding them out for all to see. We'll look at a more practical way to see that happen in our next article.

Until then, don't drop that baton!

John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.

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