Why Exposition is Unnecessary

Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things
~ Isaiah 30:10

What if we play Pick-a-Passage-for-the-Pastor?

I know the game isn’t likely to catch on, but you don’t never know sometimes. Suppose you were adequately blindfolded so you could not see. Don’t worry. You won’t have to eat or drink anything gross. Suppose you were handed a Bible. You fanned the pages and stopped at random. You put your finger down, either to the right or the left, and whatever verse(s) you pointed to, your pastor had to preach a sermon from that text. Though your choice was truly random to you, let’s further suppose that your pastor had never preached from that text before, so he cannot whip out an old outline to preach from. What would he need to do to preach that text? How would he go about it?

His method, or process, will depend on what kind of sermon he intends to preach. How many kinds are there? Not as many as you might think. By referring to the kind of sermon, I’m not talking about style of delivery, which varies with every different preacher. I’m talking about the way the sermon is built, or what it is built around. Speaking in the broadest possible terms, there are few options.

Topical

A topical sermon is built around a topic or subject. It could be delivered in a variety of styles, but the content of the sermon is structured around a topic. If your pastor intends to preach a topical sermon from the text you selected, he will look at the text for key words, phrases, or suggested images. He would be looking for words or suggestions of topics like faith, love, grace, hope, sin, God’s word, or the church. Having identified a topic in the text, he will next think of three points he wants to make about that topic. Of course three points is a rule of thumb and not an inviolable law of preaching. He might have two points, or four. He could optionally make the points rhyme, have the same rhythm, or start with the same letter.

For each of his points, he will need some supporting verses. He will use a concordance, possibly Strong’s, to search for words related to his points and select a few verses to reinforce his points. If it’s a familiar topic, he may already have many verses to use so he looks those up to make sure he gets the reference right. Along with supporting verses he will need some illustrations. He can sift through his own experiences and come up with some. He can borrow some illustrations from other preachers. Depending on his personality, he may not give this too much thought ahead of time and rely on off the cuff illustrations.

He will need some introductory and concluding material. He has many options at this point. He can talk about why this topic is important, why it is needed, or even why it is neglected. He may include actionable steps of application so you will be prepared to pray more, sin less, have more faith, or be more forgiving.

Expositional

Exposition is a big word little used except in certain circumstances. It has an archaic meaning: to expose to view. Simply put, exposition is a comprehensive explanation of some source material. Exposition is not a sermon, but a sermon is considered expositional, or expository, when it is built around the explanation of the meaning of a text. Exposition is the structural core of a sermon that holds it all together. Whatever points of observation are made, whatever points of application are made to the saved or lost, they come from the explained meaning of the text.

If your pastor intends to preach an expositional sermon from the blindfold text, he will start with a big picture, then zoom in to minute details, and zoom back out to put the sermon together. Exposition means getting to the original, intended, and contextual meaning of a passage. He will start with the big picture. Where is this text? Is it in the Old Testament or New Testament? Is it in a wisdom book, historical book, a Gospel, or an epistle? Those questions may seem too obvious to ask, but they are vital to properly interpreting a passage.

Once he has the aerial photo, he needs to zoom in drastically. He has to focus on the text and its setting. He has to consider biblical backgrounds, biblical languages, grammar, logical structure and flow. He has to start zooming out slowly to the broader context of the passage, the book it is in, and what it contributes to the book as a whole. He has to keep zooming out to consider the text’s place in the storyline of scripture, intertextual connections with other books, quotes, references, and allusions outside the text.

Next, he has to zoom out so that today is in the picture. Once he has properly interpreted the passage for its intended meaning, he has to connect that to today to make application to his modern hearers. If his text is in the old covenant dietary laws or Sabbath laws, does that mean we have to follow those today? What relevance do they have? If his text is a miracle of Jesus, how does that apply? If the text involves John the Baptist, does that mean we should all move to the desert, wear camel hair girdles, and eat locusts?

His introductory material will likely consist of background and setting of the passage, so it can be understood. His points will be developed from the passage itself. His concluding applications will come from the exposition of the passage and understanding of its place in the progress of revelation. He then brings home the relevance of the passage for us today.

Tribal

The tribal sermon could come under the topical umbrella, but it is quite the specimen and deserves its own pin and info card in the display case. If you talk about tribal rhetoric today, you will most likely be understood to talk about blind, fanatical political allegiances and groupings, i.e., tribes. Tribalism is just that, blind allegiance and loyalty to one’s own group. Tribalists blindly adhere to the worldview of the group, the tribe’s body of dogma, and jargon. Tribalists are immediately skeptical of anyone or any ideas not within the group, and they immediately know who is in and who is out. Tribalists presuppose their own group and collective groupthink to be superior to all others.

What is a tribal sermon? Tribal sermons are generally topical, but stick to an approved and acceptable set of topics. Tribal sermons are immediately critical of everything outside the tribe and reinforces the superiority of the tribe by either directly affirming the group or indirectly affirming the group by censuring all the non-group. One evidential feature of tribal sermons is the preacher making statements and using key phrases, which are accepted and applauded without any explanation or actual expositional proof from the Bible.

If your pastor intends to preach a tribal sermon, he considers whether the text is one of the tribal prooftexts. He may recognize this text is where we go to prove X doctrine, or that text is where we go to prove Y principle. If the text is not one of the standard prooftexts, he will consider if it is equivalent or close to one of the prooftexts. If the text is not a standard prooftext, or it doesn’t intersect conveniently with a prooftext, he has more work to do. He must consider the tribe’s set of approved and acceptable topics and find some way to either preach that topic deliberately from the text, or bridge from the text to the topic.

He will need the appropriate introductory and concluding remarks. He will probably not try to get too creative and just stick with the tribal boilerplates. Regardless of the text or topic, tribal sermons tend to abide certain conventions at the bookends of the sermon. They start with some variation on how important the subject is that is about to be preached, how nobody today is preaching on this subject, how everybody else is wrong about it, or how nobody else knows or understands it. Advanced onset tribalism will even press these critical claims toward those “within the group” who are not sufficiently emphasizing the tribal talking points. Tribal sermons tend to be thin on application and more about what you know and who knows and don’t know. There’s always a looming threat of being “out” of the tribe and so loyalty is reinforced.

Summary

What sermon would your pastor preach from the selected text? What sermon does he preach from the texts he selects? One of the questions or debates about preaching is whether exposition is necessary or not. It may surprise you to hear this, but exposition is not necessary all the time. If your pastor intends to preach a topical sermon as described above, exposition is unnecessary. He can find inspiration for sermons all around him. He may even have a sermon he wants to preach and needs only find a text to preach it from. In that case, exposition is unnecessary.

If your pastor intends to preach a tribal sermon, exposition is unnecessary. The tribe already provides a set of topics and prooftexts that are acceptable. The Bible must always be filtered through these, so the real work involved is figuring out how to fit a text in when it doesn’t seem to fit naturally. He can make pre-approved statements and exposition is unnecessary.

Of course, exposition is always necessary if he intends to the preach the word as God gave it. Sorry, but I don’t know any way around that. So, who’s ready to play?

Call me Ali

They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
~ Mark 10:37

’cause I’m the greatest

Doctrine. To some, the word causes fear, trembling, and gnashing of teeth. May the hooves of a thousand camels stamp it and may the last camel die upon it under the burning noon sun of the desert. May doctrine be as the filthiness of the Gentiles and not be once named among us. Don’t talk to me about doctrine. In other words, some people would rather avoid it.

To some others, doctrine is where it’s at. They’re all about it. Give me some of that doctrine. Though Isaac sustained Jacob with grain and wine, I will run in the strength of that doctrine for forty days. Though I start on the journey of a thousand miles and the sun is hidden from me behind wet, stone gray clouds, I will fear no evil as long as doctrine is beside me, beneath me, and before me. In other words, it’s all in all to such folks.

I suppose, by now, you suspect me of dealing in extremes and setting up my heroism in forging some middle way. Why would I do that? Why would I want to find a way to be in between follies? I could be slathered with mayo and mustard and paired with cheddar between two slices of problems and I still would only be lunch meat. No, I want to find a better road entirely, the biblical road. What does the Bible have to say about doctrine?

What is doctrine?

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us all Scripture is inspired by God and all of Scripture is useful for doctrine, or teaching. That is what doctrine is. It’s teaching. The Greek noun here is didaskalian, and it means that which is taught. When Luke refers to the Apostles’ teaching in Acts 2:42, he refers to their doctrine, the body of teaching they taught.

The doctrine of the Bible is simply what the Bible teaches. The biblical writers wrote consciously of a body, or system, of instruction in the Bible. Paul charged Timothy to stick to the pattern of Paul’s teaching (2 Timothy 1:13). The Apostles’ doctrine is sufficiently formalized so as to be a standard of measure for all teaching (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

Biblical doctrine is never imposed on the Bible in part or in whole. Biblical doctrine is the Bible. The Bible is a book of sixty-six books and each of those books is made up of narratives, poetry, and paragraphs of prose. We have to give detailed attention to the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of the biblical books. We have to study the flow, the logic, the grammar, the rhetoric, and the parallels and contrasts with similar passages in the other books of the Bible. Through this process, we come to the contextual meaning of the passage, and that is doctrine.

What is the purpose of doctrine?

The aim of the Bible’s teaching is not mere knowledge. Mere knowledge results in pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). Mere knowledge, no matter how vast its scope, is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:2). Paul often described doctrine in the pastoral letters with a Greek word that means sound, or healthy. The word literally means having good physical health. Biblical doctrine is healthy like a human body free of disease or sickness, but it also healthy like a nutritious meal that nourishes and enriches the body to perform its tasks (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:17).

Biblical doctrine is foundational to growing in faith, obedience, and practical righteousness (1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 1:1; 2:11-14; 2 Peter 1:3-7). Doctrine sanctifies us and fills us with joy (John 17:13-17). Doctrine grows our discernment and protects us from error (Hebrews 5:11-14; Ephesians 4:4). Doctrine is also instrumental in making disciples, as God’s word creates God’s people (Matthew 28:18-20).

Conclusion

As pastors minister in their congregations, we aim for people to be brought to faith, grow in grace, grow in love, grow in unity, grow in witness, grow in joy, grow in worship, and grow in expectation of Christ’s return. That does not, or will not, happen apart from good doctrine. We simply cannot feed the sheep without exposition of all the words God gave us that forms accurate doctrine, which is then applied to the very people in front of us. Doctrine is a vital part of connecting people today to the Bible written so long ago.

In other words doctrine is essential to ministry. You cannot jettison doctrine and maintain ministry. Ministry without doctrine becomes manipulation. Whatever the means employed, people are conformed to whatever vision the pastor has for them, but they are not really transformed by the teaching of God’s word. On the other hand, often doctrine is not viewed as essential to ministry but the entire goal of ministry. Doctrine becomes a measuring stick by which we can tell who will be the greatest in Heaven. It is a quick check by which we can measure our distinctiveness from our neighbor. People are prepped by such a ministry as if Heaven requires a No. 2 pencil and fully filled ovals.

Doctrine is essential. Doctrine that does not lead us to making more and more of Jesus Christ and less and less of ourselves, is not sound and is not biblical. On second thought, my name is not Ali after all.

Swipe Right for a Pastor

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
~ 1 Timothy 3:1

What a pastor must be.

I don’t understand this newfangled world we live in. I feel a dinosaur at times. I’m crusty and curmudgeonly. I get that, but I’m not wholly averse to technology and its advances. I’m decidedly no sympatico with Luddites. Take online dating, for instance. I’m barely aware of online dating, though that’s what the kids these days are doing. The mechanics of it seems easy enough. An interested person fills out some forms and makes their profile. This information is surreptitiously fed into an over-mechanized piece of equipment, which is in the dank innards of an empty factory in a post-industrialized city somewhere in the midwest. The machine commences to whirring and churning while puffing and coughing and emitting all sorts of steampunk noises. The carefully crafted algorithms do their work and out comes the suggested matches for the criteria you have specified.

Of course, the convenience lies in the “online” part of the whole scheme. You have no need to besmudge your shoes with unidentifiable mixtures of oil and grease from the abandoned factory. No, no, the information is wirelessly, and might I add, magically, transmitted to your handheld device and appears on your screen. You are presented with a few digital photos and brief statements about the person in said photos. You then swipe right to approve this person as a potential date, or you swipe left to expunge them from your account because you do not approve of their few photos and statements about themselves. It’s not at all clear to me what happens to the unfortunate lot swiped left. Are they then surreptitiously fed to the whirring and puffing mechanical beast? I suppose America will never know.

Some who are better apprised than I will entertain the possibility my outline of the process may not be entirely accurate. I readily admit the possibility. I’m not ashamed of it. In the interest of artistic integrity though, I had to fill in the blank spaces left in the procedure of it all after the fifteen seconds of Google searching I engaged in. I do take my place in the industry seriously.

The gist of using the dating app is as follows: a person makes a quick decision based on thin criteria and thin knowledge that the alleged does or does not meet said criteria. Though honesty is barely a part of the process, if we are being honest, people primarily swipe right or left based on the looks of the person in the photos. That’s about as superficial as the apology of a politician.

What are you looking for in a pastor?

One would hope a church looking for a pastor would not be anything like dating app users in their search for a match. A guy can hope like Teddy Roosevelt said, “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” I hope that my hope is not misplaced, but I have heard some things that greases the grip.

If it were not so sad and serious, it would be funny what people are sometimes looking for in a pastor. Some do not want a pastor too old, or too young if it comes to it. Some insist upon gray hair, and others would rather not. Some are deemed too short, too fat, too bald, or just plain too ugly. After all, they reason, I’m going to spend a lot of time looking at him up front. Some require certain degrees of formal education and some have very settled ideas about his dress and mannerisms. His manner of speaking must be pleasing, and, to some, he absolutely must not have the offense of hair upon his face. His sermons must not be too long, and I don’t know if anything would be considered too short these days. This is not to even mention all his wife must measure up to, if he could possibly be an acceptable pastor to a church.

Some will suspect hyperbole in the previous paragraph, but there is not as much as you might think. I have sometimes heard people talk about what they are looking for in a pastor, and if I were tasked by editorial to write the copy for their advertisement, I would conclude it with, “Peter, Paul, John, et al, need not apply.” If your pastoral search criteria means that neither Jesus nor any of his apostles could be the pastor of your church, then just go ahead and swipe right on every pearly tooth grinner whose name sounds like Hinny Ben, or Lowell Joesteen.

What he must be

A pastor may be many things. He may be tall, short, thick, or thin. He may be formally educated, or not. He may be polished, or young, or old, or any number of things. He might stutter or mispronounce certain words. He might fill an armchair as though everyone were wearing armchairs tight about the hips this season. His grammar might be impeccable, or he may not know a diphthong from a dangling participle. He might be all kinds of things, but there are a few things he must be. Whether he has gray hair, dark wavy hair, or no hair is not important at all. Choosing a pastor should be nothing like a beauty pageant, or using a dating app, if I want to maintain the purity of the metaphor. Whether he meets the requirements of God’s breathed out word is utmost important and vital to the spiritual health of the Lord’s church. So, what must he be?

First and Second Timothy and the letter to Titus are commonly referred to as the pastoral epistles. The qualifications and disqualifications of a man for pastor are clearly spelled out in them. Reading through the letters, we pick up at least five must-haves for a pastor.

  1. He must be enabled and put into the ministry by God (1 Timothy 1:12).
    He must be called and gifted by God for the ministry. The local church plays a role in confirming a man has been gifted by God for the work of the ministry, meaning he possesses the necessary abilities to fulfill the office as outlined by Scripture. The church must also confirm he meets the qualifications for the office, which is not a list they produce in a brainstorming session. Those qualifications are spelled out in Scripture. The man must give evidence of this call of God on his life and the church must confirm it.
  2. He must be a godly man (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 6:11-14; 2 Timothy 2:21-22; Titus 1:6-8; 2:7-8).
    The qualification lists are dominated by aspects of character. This does not mean his orthodoxy is unimportant, but his statement of faith does not trump the character of his life. He must be of good reputation and a man who pursues holiness in life. He must be self-controlled and abstaining from sinful temptations. He must be just in his dealings and not a hot head.
  3. He must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 14-16; 4:1-2; Titus 2:1).
    He has to have the ability and willingness to teach God’s word. He must be able to make the word of God understandable to his people and applicable to their lives. These are gifts that must be given by God, and if a man has them, he can and should be improving them. If a man does not have them, no amount of sincerity or seminary will put it into him. He must be able to instruct those who are in error and to refute the error.
  4. He must know the Bible (2 Timothy 1:13; 2:23-26; 3:14-17; Titus 1:9-11; 2:15; 3:9).
    He doesn’t have to possess all knowledge and perfectly understand all mysteries and prophecies, but he has to know the Bible and should be growing in his knowledge of the Bible. He should not be a man who boasts of his ignorance, but rather he should acknowledge it and labor to erase it as much as possible. Having the ability to speak does not mean anything if he doesn’t know his subject. How is a man going to mature and equip saints in the word if he doesn’t know that word himself? How is a man going to identify and refute error if he does not have a thorough knowledge of the truth?
  5. He must be wholly given to the work of pastoring (1 Timothy 4:15; 5:17).
    He must not be a disinterested or lazy man. He must be a diligent laborer who works at his preaching and teaching. He must not be a man given to trimming and finding shortcuts to his work. He must be a man who puts his hand to the plow and does not look back.

Again, a pastor may be many other things that make him more or less useful in the work of pastoring, but these are things he must be. These are the qualities a church must be looking for when searching for a pastor. I’m not recommending a church have low standards in what they are looking for. I am saying a church should have God’s standards in what they are looking for in a pastor. Ultimately, a church should be looking for a pastor after God’s heart and not after the image they’ve come up with from throwing their gold in the fire.

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