Expositional Imposters (Expanded)

"I have heard (and preached!) sermons that intend to be expositional, yet fall somewhat short. Below are a dozen pitfalls: five that don’t make the message of the passage the message of the sermon and thus abuse the text, five that fail to connect the text the congregation, and two that fail to recognise that preaching is ultimately God’s work." - 9 Marks

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Bert Perry's picture

....is to help the pastor/teacher understand that he's falling into one of these traps.  I don't believe anyone really fesses up to this except under some duress.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

In a dual-elder church, it's easier to get and receive feedback about your sermons.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

your job as the person in the pew listening to the message, is to take what you can get out of it. Your job is NOT to critique the sermon. Go ahead, but it will ruin your hour, day, week, month, year, and life. Simply take out of the sermon what you can.

Sometimes, springboard sermons are ok! Yes... I said it. You want to see a springboard sermon? Try half of Spurgeon. He quotes half a verse, closes his Bible, and talks for 75 minutes. And he is the Prince of Preachers. Relax.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You're right. I'm preaching this week on the three core "missions" of our church. I'll be pulling from three separate texts to do this; one for each "mission." This is not an expositional sermon. It may be considered one, insofar as the texts I choose to support each mission are represented fairly and can reasonably be seen to gel with their contexts, but it really isn't an expositional sermon.

I like expository preaching. But, some people are hermeneutical purists who need to lighten up a little. It's also true that sermons such as described in the article can be quite bad! I remember preaching exegesis without application in years gone by. Sadly, JMac has come to this in recent years. Listening to him is like listening to a commentary on Audible.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Spurgeon was not an expositor in the usual sense.  However, he NEVER preached for 75 minutes.  He set a limit for himself at 45 minutes, and regularly stayed within his self-imposed boundary.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Acts 17:11.  Sorry, Mark, but the job of the believer IS to do some level of critique of teaching, affirmed by no less than Luke.  Jesus also promotes this practice by linking His teaching to the Old Testament and appealing to what His hearers already knew.  So does Paul.  Really, if you're not doing some level of critique, you're very likely to be a "hearer only" and not a doer of the Word.

Regarding Spurgeon, if only his example was as far as things get.  Spurgeon takes a short text (I'm listening to "The Blood" right now, thanks SermonAudio and Charles Koelsch) and then puts it into historic/Biblical context--he's (per GN) really exegeting, though not in the form that the "young, restless, and Reformed" would favor.  What I'm getting at is the practice of hardly even acknowledging the text.  Spurgeon, on the other hand, circles back and back and back to his text.

And nothing against topical preaching.  It's just that preaching ought to be connected with the text, and too often, I don't see that.  If you don't see that, and you're doing your Berean job at taking a close look at what's being said, that's awesome and I'm glad.  But I see the "springboard" approach way too much.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Spurgeon was not an expositor in the usual sense.  However, he NEVER preached for 75 minutes.  He set a limit for himself at 45 minutes, and regularly stayed within his self-imposed boundary.

G. N.

Please forgive my egregious error. #don'tmissthemainpoint

Mark_Smith's picture

Something tells me you major on critiquing...

Mark_Smith's picture

is not that there is not bad preaching, erroneous preaching, and fluff preaching. My point is to worry less about what other people are doing, and focus on my preaching and my pastor. I am not going to tear him up and down like a lot of people do. I am going to support him.

What the pastor does at First Church of the Relevant Sermon I could care less. I can do nothing about it, so why waste effort on it?

G. N. Barkman's picture

In my first several years as a pastor, I read two or three of Spurgeon's sermons every week, eventually numbering several hundred.  I learned a lot from him.  I don't preach like Spurgeon.  I don't believe I can, nor can many others.  He was one of a kind.  In truth, every preacher's style is as different as his unique personality.  Those who try to imitate others seldom excel.  We learn from others, but must develop our own style.  I agree with Mark that listening to sermons with a critical spirit is not beneficial.  But because of my life-long experience as a preacher and trainer of preachers, it is impossible for me to listen to sermons without critiquing them.  However, I actually find that beneficial.  Because I am listening carefully, I probably gain more than does the person sitting next to me on the pew.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

Something tells me you major on critiquing...

Mark, maybe address the reality that the example of the Bereans, as well as various other comments made by Christ, Paul, and others, which clearly commend the practice of analyzing/critiquing the sermon.  For that matter, take a look at Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus, which clearly state that an elder/overseer/shepherd must be "apt to teach".  You would determine that someone is "apt to teach" without critique....how?  Iron would sharpen iron sans critique/feedback.....how?

Really, sometimes I get the feeling that too many of my brothers in Christ would like to fill the pulpit without ever hearing any negative feedback.  And then we wonder why the pulpit gets so badly abused.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

I recently attended a Charles Simeon Trust Workshop that was extremely beneficial in addressing expositional preaching. They certainly "knocked the rust" off my personal tools. BTW, the CST has recently connected with 9Marks.

They described 4 types of expositional preachers.

Unconsciously Incompetent

Confidently Incompetent

Consciously Confident

Unconsciously Confident

 

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Mark, maybe address the reality that the example of the Bereans, as well as various other comments made by Christ, Paul, and others, which clearly commend the practice of analyzing/critiquing the sermon.

Bert, let's be clear. The Bereans were engaged in careful study of the content of Paul's sermon not his style or delivery of the sermon. Too many people today are quick to nitpick style or delivery, but spend little time carefully studying the context of the passage and the content of the sermon.

pvawter's picture

I hate springboard sermons. Hate them. If you're preaching something that's Scriptural, why not just preach a text that actually says what you want to say? As a pastor I realize that preaching is more than just the message I'm delivering, it's training my congregation in the right use and handling of God's word, so it's cumulative effect is more than just the outlines and illustrations I use. This doesn't require only expositional sermons, but whatever we preach must be driven by the actual text of Scripture. No excuses.  

Bert Perry's picture

Tom, to be sure, Acts 17:11 does not per se address one's delivery, but I'd argue that 1 Tim. 3:2 clearly does.  For that matter, does not the very position of "teacher" or "preacher" imply an ability to communicate?  Let's be serious here.  Experts in communication point out that only a small part of spoken communication is the actual words; the rest is tone of voice, style, delivery, and the like.  

Now that's not what I was getting at at first--I was (with Paul) mostly frustrated at things like "springboard" sermons, where the actual text and context has little or nothing to do with the points made--but if we think that the style and delivery don't matter, we're fooling ourselves. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
Tom, to be sure, Acts 17:11 does not per se address one's delivery, but I'd argue that 1 Tim. 3:2 clearly does.

1 Tim 3:2 isn't really about delivery or style either. Rather, it's about one's skill in handling the Word of God (i.e. 2 Tim 2:15; Titus 1:9).

Bert Perry's picture

Tom, I'm sorry, but if you think delivery and style are not an important part of the message, you need to talk to any good teacher or anyone who relies on communication for a living.  For that matter, even engineers like myself are increasingly learning that the "soft skills" are just as important as technical prowess and ideas for maintaining a career path.

Worth noting as well; the verses you cite do absolutely nothing to buttress your argument. Nothing.  You would be looking for something indicating that "apt to teach" does not in fact not include these other factors.

Put more bluntly, yes, "apt to teach" does mean that the teacher needs to have an idea how his audience is going to respond.  There are times it is appropriate to use various tools; volume, cadence, silence, and the like.  A good example; many people tend to fill silence with words like "um", "like", and "you know".  Skilled communicators, on the other hand, understand that the silence is a tool that is used to allow the audience to process (or "critique", if you will) what is being said.  

All too often, it seems as if too many in "our tribe" think that you can just walk into the pulpit like a bull into a china shop and have no idea how those words are going to impact people.  That's not what Jesus did, and there is a ton of beautiful "art" in how He did things.  We won't get all of it, but if we start asking "why did He do it that way?", we're going to start cluing in.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Tom, I'm sorry, but if you think delivery and style are not an important part of the message, you need to talk to any good teacher or anyone who relies on communication for a living.  For that matter, even engineers like myself are increasingly learning that the "soft skills" are just as important as technical prowess and ideas for maintaining a career path.

Worth noting as well; the verses you cite do absolutely nothing to buttress your argument. Nothing.  You would be looking for something indicating that "apt to teach" does not in fact not include these other factors.

Bert, my point was "apt to teach" doesn't speak to style or delivery but to ability to rightly handle God's Word. You can do that without having to be a public speaker. That being said, Paul didn't think too highly of human wisdom and eloquent speech when it came to preaching the gospel. 1 Corinthians 1-3 is pretty clear about that. So, put most bluntly, you're wrong about "apt to teach" having to do with style and delivery. That was not Paul's concern.

Mark_Smith's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Mark, maybe address the reality that the example of the Bereans, as well as various other comments made by Christ, Paul, and others, which clearly commend the practice of analyzing/critiquing the sermon. 

Bert,

I spent too many years getting my spiritual exercise by jumping to conclusions and running down the pastor... Now, I just enjoy what I get. If he asks me my opinion, I give it. If not, so be it. If I were on a committee reviewing a potential hire, or in a church hearing the pastor who is being considered, I'll do it. Other than that, I enjoy what I can.

If I don't like what I hear, I am free wo go to another church. That is the what the Bereans were doing... not running down Paul.

But going onto a blog and complaining about other people's sermons is pointless.

Now, I can look at my own sermons and improve. I think that is more important.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've always understood this to be an umbrella term that means the guy can (1) understand Scripture, and (2) can actually communicate effectively. Does this communication include style and delivery? Yes, of course it does. This is why any reasonable person could (1) look at two guys with identical sermon notes, (2) see one guy read from the notes in a monotone and rarely look up from his paper, then (3) look at another guy actually preach the text, and (4) recognize the second guy has the gift to teach and the other does not.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

I've always understood this to be an umbrella term that means the guy can (1) understand Scripture, and (2) can actually communicate effectively. Does this communication include style and delivery? Yes, of course it does. This is why any reasonable person could (1) look at two guys with identical sermon notes, (2) see one guy read from the notes in a monotone and rarely look up from his paper, then (3) look at another guy actually preach the text, and (4) recognize the second guy has the gift to teach and the other does not.

I understand that is what you think "apt to teach" means, but delivery and style during public oration is not what Paul had in mind with this qualification. Again, it's referring to how one can rightly handle God's Word to instruct and refute others. Delivery and style in preaching aren't in view. That being said, yes, the person needs to be able to communicate in order to teach, but that can take place as written or oral communication, before a group or one-to-one.

John E.'s picture

At the 9 Marks church I served as a pastor, we had sermon reviews during our elders meeting, which was every other week on Monday evenings. The Sundays I preached I found the sermon review helpful and craved the insights and critiques from my fellow pastors. The Sundays I wasn't preaching, knowing that I had to critique/review the sermon changed how I listened. While understanding the need and value, I wasn't a fan. I'd rather listen and be fed God's Word. Yes, we need to "judge" sermon's based on God's Word, but that doesn't require listening with even any hint of the motive to critique.

Having been trained in both public speaking and theatre/stagecraft, I have learned that the VAST majority of church goers who critique and criticize the preaching style, delivery, etc. have no idea what they're talking about and should be ignored. Whenever a young guy would preach, I would make sure that I positioned myself next to them after the service so that I could hear the critiques and criticisms (it's almost always the same people who believe it's their job to give homiletics lessons upon the conclusion of the service). After any wanna-be professor would walk away, I would invariably and quietly say, "Don't pay any attention to that, you did fine. The elders will give you some notes later."

On the flip side, I dislike hearing compliments about my preaching style and delivery. I want to hear how the Spirit used/is using the preaching of God's Word in their heart. 

G. N. Barkman's picture

it is clear that Paul did not consider oratorical skills a qualification to preach.  He considered himself a weak public speaker, but insisted that his level of knowledge was superior and that was the reason why he was qualified to preach.

It has been claimed that Jonathan Edwards read from a manuscript and was lacking in oratory.  Yet his sermons had unusual spiritual power.

Wouldn't we all prefer to listen to a skilled orator?  I know I would.  Doesn't Scripture indicate that we should prefer message content over communication skills?  I'm afraid we have been spoiled in modern American Christianity, and have adopted the attitude that its the preachers responsibility to grab my attention and hold it with his oratory.  Wrong.  It's our responsibility as listeners to focus upon the message even when doing so is less than highly  enjoyable.

Would I rather hear a polished orator?  Yes.  Would I rather be a polished orator?  Yes.  Is that a necessary qualification for ministry?  No.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

To take this down to brass tacks, will anybody here actually recommend a local church ordain a young man who can do wonderful exegesis but is a terrible communicator?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

You've got me there, Tyler.  I can't say that I would.  But does that mean that neither you nor I would recommend ordaining the Apostle Paul?

G. N. Barkman

Ron Bean's picture

While Paul personally claimed that his preaching was far from eloquent, a study of the Biblical accounts of his public speaking reveal him as a skilled orator who was familiar with classical oratorical rules and skillful in his use of rhetoric. I was in a state university taking a graduate level course called "The Analysis and Criticism of Oral Rhetoric" and the unsaved PHD who taught the class agreed.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've always understood Paul to mean he was uneloquent according to the standards for oratory of the day, in that culture. Much like Augustine, as he recounts his study of rhetoric. Not that he REALLY WAS a poor speaker. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

For they say [about Paul] "His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible." (2 Cor 10:10).

That may have reference to the oratorical approaches of the day. It may not. It is hard to read much into Paul's speaking ability based on the written accounts of messages (the few that there are). 

It is, on the other hand, easy to see Paul's concern for an overreliance on methodology in speaking in 1 Cor 2 where he cautions about "persuasive words of man's wisdom." Duane Litfin's article on this is worth reading, as are some other sources. It is good to be a good teacher in terms of presentation. But we must be careful not to lean on presentation too heavily.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ron and Tyler, I've long suspected that Paul was vastly underrating himself when he claims that his speaking skills were weak.  Still he says so often enough that it's hard to dismiss his words completely.  His critics certainly considered him lacking in verbal communication skills.  ""For his letters," they say, are weighty and powerful, "but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible."  (II Corinthians 10:10)  Paul himself said, "Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge."  (II Corinthians 11:6)  

But I agree, the descriptions of his preaching, given by Luke in the book of Acts, seem to portray a very effective public speaker.  So, what shall we say then to these things?  That Paul was probably a decent public speaker, but not as eloquent as Apollos or Peter, to whom he and others may have been comparing him.

Like Jonathan Edwards, its impossible to know how to understand the accounts of others.  We would really have to be physically present to hear them for ourselves.  Enough already!

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding 1 Cor. 1-3--really specifically 1 Cor. 2:1--let's start with the main point; that Paul is noting that his wisdom and eloquence is not that of the great pagan philosophers of the time.   That doesn't mean that ordinary rhetorical skills are somehow optional, and if you look through the lives of Paul, Christ, and others, you're going to see a ton of cases where they deliberately used these rhetorical skills to appeal to their hearers.  When before Romans, Paul appeals to Roman law.  When before mixed Pharisees and Sadducees, he picks at their theological differences.  When before Judiazers, he appeals to the audience's knowledge of written and oral Torah.  When before Greeks, he quotes their authors.

In the same way, Jesus speaks very differently to ordinary Jews than He does to Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin.  He speaks yet differently to Gentiles like the Samaritan woman or Roman soldiers.  

We should take heed.  Not that we ought to speak like philosophers--"if I wished to punish a province, I would have it governed by philosophers" (Frederick of Prussia)--but rather we ought to insist that our teachers actually be "apt to teach", and if you think that doesn't include communication skills, well, I guess you deserve what you get.

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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