In August of 1995, at the age of 23, I preached my first sermon. I have a cassette tape of that sermon still, and I haven’t listened to it, ever. I talked with our pastor the week before about how I felt “the call” to preach. He said, “okay, next Sunday night.” I wish I had been mentored some before this. With the exception of years 2008-2012, when I was not pastoring, I wanted to be an “evangelist.” While I can say that I “wish” I had gone to seminary in the 90’s or studied more, it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that I became aware of the great truth of expositional preaching. And when I did, wow.
It seems the church today is suffering from a lack of biblical preaching. Not that men aren’t truly called preachers, care for the sheep and have a desire to evangelize. However, when it comes to feeding the flock, it’s often not nutritional. I know, because I used to do this. Often my sermons were built around “eisegesis” not “exegesis.” The reason I did so…no one ever told me any different. This is what got the most “amens.”
Good preaching in this area is often known as how loud, the number of amens, and how full the altar is at the end of the service. For years, if no one came to the altar, I felt as if I didn’t do my job. I stumbled through this preaching at my first church, a short three years, and then partly through my second. It was during this time that I discovered the truth of expositional preaching and began to do so. Some said I didn’t have to study now that I knew what I was preaching. Others said it was boring. Somehow I endured. And now nearly twenty years later, here is what I have discovered.
Expositional preaching isn’t new. Ezra, whom I have grown to love, was one who wanted to get better at teaching and preaching. There is an old saying “practice what you preach.” Well what about “practice how you preach.” Ezra “set his heart to study the law of God” (Ezra 7:10). I am a bi-vocational pastor, and I have learned to use my time wisely. “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time” (Ephesians 5:15-16). I regularly preach once on Sunday morning. And if I don’t set my heart to study the word, my preaching will suffer. It’s a laborious task. One that I love greatly. A pastor who does not set his heart to know the word of God is a fool.
The faithful expositor should set his heart to study so he can feed the sheep solid foods. Study of the word uncovers the depths of God’s word. Expositional preaching doesn’t skip the hard stuff. It drives a man to study deeper, uncover meanings of words, context, and application. Set your heart to study the word, preacher.
The second thing Ezra had was a desire to practice it. The text uses this conjunction “and” to connect the “set your heart to study” and “practice it.” Let’s further connect the “and” following “practice it” which leads into teaching the law of God. This is huge. This is paramount. Webster defines practice as “perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.” Ezra set his heart and implemented the practice of teaching the law to improve and maintain his proficiency.
Let’s be honest. Most preachers don’t think they need to improve. For context, I have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other in preaching. I remember an era of “loud” preaching. The louder the better, the more spirit filled. Wrong. I didn’t understand anything that was said. I have been called “boring.” I don’t run around, scream, or take my tie off. Let me further explain why I think Ezra 7:10 is the foundation for preachers to mimic.
First, you should practice at preaching. You should want to get better at it. Not so you can be a “conference” speaker, but so you expound the word of God better. Your sermon now should be better than your first sermon. What can you do better? How can you better explain the text? As a preacher you want to be fully prepared to explain the word of God. Make the best use of the time you have in sermon delivery. Get better at teaching and preaching. Refine your preparation study process to reflect good exposition of the text. Make notes, outlines and even full manuscripts. Read over it again and again, mark it up on your iPad or paper notes.
It’s foolish to think a basketball team can just go play a game without practicing the press, offense or in-bound passes. What about the two minute drill in football? You practice it over and over again. When the time comes, you execute it as you have practiced. Then preacher, why would you not practice your sermon study and delivery. In the last part of Ezra 7:10, “to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
Preacher, when you stand before the congregation, deliver to them the sound word of God, which you have practiced to deliver better than before. I’m not talking about style here either. I am talking about substance. You can have style and not be substantive. Practice knowing the context, the application and the delivery of the word of God. Practice applying the text to where we live. Preaching isn’t about “working” up the crowd or the “spirit.” Preaching is about faithfully delivering the context of the everlasting, infallible and holy word of God. Don’t be fooled by shallow men who say you shouldn’t have notes or outlines and say “just let the spirit lead.” Set your heart to study, know and uncover the word of God. Then practice how you teach and preach. Get better at it.