By Jesse Campbell
Some Bible study lessons and sermons begin with an idea and then proceed to show what the Bible has to say about that topic. This approach is often called topical teaching and can be useful when trying to help people see biblical truths about a relevant issue.
Other sermons and lessons, however, begin with the Bible and let the Scripture dictate the subject matter. This is called expository preaching and teaching.
In expository teaching, topics and practical applications flow directly from what the Bible teaches and from the inspired earthly author’s original intent. Pastors or teachers exposit the biblical text when they explain the meaning of the passage and help the audience understand how to apply those truths today.
Done well, an expository approach to preaching and teaching can increase listeners’ understanding of a text and devotion to Christ. But, like any other method of teaching, it can be done poorly. Here are four ways to fail at expository teaching.
1. Make the Scripture fit your agenda.
If you must contort the message of Scripture or take intellectual leaps to make it flow with your preconceived thesis, then you’re constructing something other than an expository message.
The strength of an expository message is in the Scripture itself. You are merely delivering what the Bible says, not trying to make the Bible say what you had in mind before preparing your message.
You are the messenger, not the Author. There is comfort in this, because difficult and convicting aspects of your message come straight from the Holy Spirit and not from you. This takes pressure off you. But there can be wariness as well, because you must teach difficult passages.
Don’t feel you must heavily massage every difficult passage in your teaching to avoid making unchurched visitors uncomfortable. In my experience, skeptical guests often appreciate having tough questions on tough passages answered or at least addressed in the sermon.
2. Show no regard for the original intent of the Scripture.
If you provide an insight with which the Spirit-inspired original earthly author would disagree, then you have failed not only at expository teaching in that moment but also at Bible teaching in general.
There are multiple forms of context that can help a modern-day audience better understand a biblical text, and an expository message uses them in various proportions depending on the passage. A message that pays no mind to literary, historical, cultural, or theological context is not an expository message.
3. Instead of giving a Spirit-filled call to obey the Scripture, just give a rich lecture.
If you do the work of exegesis (digging into the original context) but don’t do the work of hermeneutics (showing people how the original context relates to them today), then you have merely given an historical lecture or textual analysis.
By all means, research the lives of the original recipients. Understand the political climate of the biblical day and know its cultural idiosyncrasies. Research the context deeply, but understand that much of your work won’t be a part of your message.
Share what’s necessary in the message and leave the rest on your messy desk, knowing it has ensured theological accuracy in your teaching.
Remember, we aren’t called merely to educate. We must be filled with the Spirit. We do not explore a dead document. The Word is living and active.
4. Fail to call people to action in light of what Scripture teaches.
Too often, pastors and Bible study teachers share fascinating insights into the biblical world but run out of time and never say what Scripture has to do with today.
Think on the question “Now what?” throughout your session or message. Prioritize time for showing how the Scripture applies today.
Because you’ve done the work of exegesis and because you’ve shared pertinent aspects of that research in your teaching, you can call people to live out Scripture in a way that is consistent with Scripture’s original intent. Then watch the Holy Spirit take the Word and radically change lives.