Letting the Bible Speak
Following my sermon at a local worship service in Southeast Asia, I was approached by a man who wanted to share something with me. His words that day captured the reason why we established The E2 Initiative. Here is what he said, “What you did in your sermon this morning is what we need in our churches. Will you return and help our pastors learn how to be better preachers of the Bible?”
Of course, there was nothing special about my sermon. I simply opened my Bible, read from a passage, and preached its message. My goal was to let the Bible speak. But surprisingly, both in his country and across the globe, expository preaching is rare. And when people hear the Bible expounded, they hunger for it. This is why The E2 Initiative exists—to ensure that pastors and church leaders are theologically grounded and spiritually healthy. And both require an unwavering commitment to scriptural authority.
The quest for pulpit relevance in many churches has led some preachers to experiment with a variety of homiletical approaches. A cursory examination of the contemporary homiletical landscape reveals that both pulpit and pew continue to express concern that all too often sermons have no direct connection with everyday life. This unfortunate development has led many preachers to jettison the most effective and relevant approach for letting the Bible speak — expository preaching.
Much of the contemporary reaction to — and criticism of — expository preaching rests upon the faulty premise that this approach fails to address the real needs of people. Consequently, preachers and Bible teachers often begin their sermon preparation with a topic, idea, or subject that they deem relevant to the congregation and then search for a biblical text or texts that might address that particular issue. The danger is that biblical texts often become "pegboards" upon which preachers and teachers hang their ideas, rather than the centerpiece or focal point around which the sermon is built.
The word most often used to describe the preacher in the New Testament is translated herald. The very nature of the word speaks of one who is under a divine mandate to proclaim a given message (see Rom. 10:14,15). Jesus used the word prior to His ascension as He commissioned His disciples with the primary responsibility of proclaiming the gospel (Mark 16:15). Paul charged Timothy to make the preaching of the Word the focus of his ministry (2 Tim. 4:2). A herald is under divine orders to preach a given message. The herald's responsibility is not to invent the message, but to effectively proclaim the message of the King. As John Macarthur puts it, preachers are not the chefs who make the meal, they are the waiters who carefully and properly deliver the meal to the table without messing it up.
What preachers believe about the Bible will be a determining factor in how they preach it. If one concludes that the Bible is trustworthy, authoritative, and dynamic, then obedience to the biblical imperatives demands that the preacher preach as one speaking the very words of God (I Pet. 4:11). To preach with authority is to proclaim the message of the inspired Scriptures. Divine authority comes from the message of the Scriptures and not from the thoughts and opinions of the preacher. Paul admonished Timothy to saturate his ministry with Scripture and reminded him that an effective ministry would be marked by his devotion to the ministry of the Word (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
The power of an effective pulpit ministry is not determined by the rhetorical ability with which one preaches. Nor is it measured by the size of the congregation to which one speaks. The power of an effective ministry is determined by the faithfulness with which one seeks clearly, consistently, and courageously to proclaim the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). A commitment to expository preaching will not only lead to an effective pulpit ministry, but it will also ensure that the Bible will have the last word.