- Sean Cole
How Leadership and Expository Preaching Go Hand in Hand
God’s Word has always played a crucial role in transforming his people to active obedience in fulfilling their mission. Christopher Wright asserts, “The whole Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation.” In contemporary evangelicalism, many leaders have turned to man-centered pragmatism and secular business principles to grow their churches, instead of relying on the sufficiency of the Scriptures to dictate and establish the mission of the church. The church exists to display God’s glory, declare God’s gospel, and disciple for God’s Great Commission. Is there a definitive stream in redemptive history that reveals the integration of pastoral leadership with expository preaching?
In the Old Testament, God called Moses to lead his people through a preaching ministry to fulfill their mission. He shepherded the Israelites to become a holy nation and kingdom of priests (Exod 19:6) that would serve as a light to the Gentiles. The books of Exodus and Deuteronomy illustrate how Moses integrated leadership with an expository preaching ministry. Deuteronomy 1:5 describes how Moses “undertook to explain” the law by preaching three expository sermon discourses while on the border of the Promised Land, which served to lead the people of God to achieve their mission. His ministry exhibits a three-fold method and model of expository preaching: (1) preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word, (2) explaining and applying the written Scriptures, and (3) displaying a passionate urgency in exhorting God’s people to active obedience.
The text says that Moses undertook to “explain” (בֵּאֵ֛ר) this law. This word, rare in the Hebrew text, literally means “to dig or hew as if writing on a stone or tablets, but is used here metaphorically to speak of expounding or making clear.” Gesenius defines it this way: “to explain, to declare—to dig out the sense, and to set it forth when dug out.” In other words, Moses metaphorically “dug out” or “exegeted” the law of God, which had already been written down back in Exodus, and then proclaimed it by way of explanation and application. This process of “digging” or “exegeting” the written word and then preaching it by way of explanation and application stands at the heart of expository preaching.
God called and empowered Moses as a shepherd-prophet to lead the people to success in fulfilling their mission in the Promised Land. Psalm 77:20 describes the nature of Moses’ leadership: “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” Moses served as the human instrument through which Yahweh led his Old Covenant people and the Psalmist likens him to a shepherd. In essence, Moses served not only a prophetic role in proclaiming and expositing God’s Word, but assumed the role of “pastor” to the Israelites.
In the New Testament, Jesus led his followers to fulfill their mission through a preaching ministry as well. The Synoptic Gospels reveal Jesus as an authoritative preacher who proclaimed the kingdom of God. The writers used the key word “kerysso” which means to proclaim or announce with authority. As a herald, Jesus elevated the sacred text and preached it with both clarity and authority. He summoned people to repent and believe the gospel. In addition, the synagogue sermon in Luke 4 demonstrates how Jesus preached an expository sermon urging his listeners to embrace him as Messiah as well as his mission to redeem lost humanity. In Luke 24, Jesus expounds the Old Testament Scriptures by showing how they all point ultimately to him as the center. This model provides more of a description of Jesus’ preaching instead of a prescriptive mandate to emulate him. Nevertheless, pastors can adopt this expository hermeneutic as an effective way to integrate preaching with leadership. Both Moses and Jesus serve as examples of how leadership interfaces with preaching in order to shepherd God’s people to fulfill their mission.
Do we see this stream of integrating expository preaching with pastoral leadership in the rest of the New Testament? The early apostolic sermons in the book of Acts demonstrate that Jesus’ disciples embraced his hermeneutic through their christocentric expositions of the Old Testament in leading the church to fulfill the Great Commission. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin, Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, and Paul’s sermon in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia in Acts 13 all demonstrate the integration of leading with expository preaching.
In addition, the exhortations on pastoral leadership in the Epistles clearly reveal how pastors lead congregations by ministering the Word expositionally. First Timothy 5:17 stands as the foundational passage that explicitly links pastoral leadership with an expository ministry: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Effective leadership involves the toilsome work of preaching and teaching in order to motivate the church to fulfill its mission.
How does the integration of pastoral leadership and expository preaching work for today? God still commissions pastors today to lead and shepherd his people through an expository preaching ministry in order to fulfill their mission as a church. Christ has gifted the church with the office of pastor-teacher (Eph 4:11-12) to equip the saints for works of ministry and to build up the body of Christ. The New Testament Epistles demonstrate that a pastor-teacher has two primary responsibilities: (1) providing godly and effective leadership by shepherding the flock, and (2) ministering the Word through expositional preaching and teaching. While a pastor has many other important duties in the life of the church, his principal calling comes in leading the flock by feeding the flock. Churches rise and fall on leadership, and subsequently, they rise and fall on preaching.
When pastors lead through an expository preaching ministry, churches will depend upon the sufficiency of Scripture to accomplish their mission, instead of relying on man-centered methods and techniques. In doing so, pastors will be able to lead their churches to confront a deficient theology or lack of understanding about the mission of the church. They can challenge individual believers to take personal responsibility for their role in that mission. As a result, church members will be emboldened to make decisions in how to fulfill their mission as they live under the authority of the Bible, instead of adhering to their own personal agendas or passing fads.
A biblical theology of expositional proclamation as evidenced in Moses, Jesus, the sermons in Acts, and the Epistles evinces a powerful corrective to the practice of pastoral leadership devoid of expository preaching. In sum, preaching needs leadership, and leadership desperately needs preaching.
The Body of Christ needs a Holy Spirit-anointed reformation where pastors take seriously their divine calling not simply to preach, but to preach expositionally; and not only to preach expositionally, but to lead their congregations effectively and strategically in order to fulfill their mission through that expository preaching. Congregations that experience dynamic shepherd leadership fueled by expository preaching become equipped and empowered to fulfill the Great Commission with joyful obedience. When pastors take up the mantle of integrating leadership with expository preaching as evidenced in Moses, Jesus, the apostles, and the Pastoral Epistles, they incorporate a biblical model that God has blessed in the past. Pastors should pray for God to continue blessing this type of leadership in their churches with a shift away from biblical illiteracy, complacency, disobedience, and deadness, to congregations animated and sustained by the truth of the Word and the vitality of his Spirit.
Sean Cole has served as the Lead Pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Sterling, CO, for the past eleven years. He has a Doctor of Ministry in Expository Preaching from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Masters of Divinity from the Rocky Mountain Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as an adjunct professor of Old and New Testament, Systematic Theology, Church History, and Biblical Interpretation at Colorado Christian University. He served two terms as the President of the Colorado Baptist General Convention. He hosts a podcast called “Understanding Christianity.” He has been married to his wife Dawn for the past 22 years and has two boys, Aidan and Zachary.
Christopher Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2006), 51.
F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 91.
W. Gesenius and S. P. Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003), s.v.“explain.”