- Sean Cole
Can pastors just preach the text faithfully and be satisfied that they have discharged the duties of their ministry? Should they be concerned to lead strategically through their preaching? Can a pastor be a solid and faithful preacher, and still not lead his flock? Can a pastor truly lead his flock without the primacy of expository preaching?
One of the goals of integrating expository preaching with pastoral leadership is for the church to experience gospel transformation by responding in obedience—especially in fulfilling the mission. The goal in preaching is not merely for the church to acquire information, but to undergo authentic change. Expository preaching by definition focuses on careful exegesis through proclaiming the authorial intent of the biblical text. However, behind every text, there also lies the Spirit-intended purpose for which that content was given. Expository preaching goes further than just understanding the text in its grammatical-historical context. The preacher must determine the Holy Spirit’s intended purpose, which almost always leads to application and transformation.
Transformational preaching not only informs the hearers of the content of the text, but also aims for applying the text to motivate, convince, or persuade the congregation to respond in obedience.
Pastors preach for transformation when they try to generate valid application from the main purpose or big idea of the text. Some biblical texts drive a person to tears in confession of sin, as other texts expose hidden transgressions like a dagger in the soul, while other texts comfort and console. Expository preaching does more than just explain a text’s meaning; it also seeks to express the text’s purpose and provide practical application, which invariably should lead to gospel transformation. If pastors only preach a text’s meaning and never apply the text, the sermon will sound more like a boring lecture and fail to accomplish what the Spirit intended—authentic change.
Leading through preaching requires preachers not only to proclaim faithfully the content of the text, but also to lead their people to respond in obedience to the authority of the Scripture and experience true gospel transformation. Andrew Davis says, “The word of God, preached with clarity, skill, and deep conviction, has the power to transform hearts and rearrange lives—power that can feel like an ‘electric shock.’ All leaders have the power to inspire people to sacrifice, shock people out of complacency and disengagement to full commitment.” Pastors not only teach but they also exhort, motivate, and inspire people to change. Expository preaching is not a lecture merely filling the mind with information, but instead is a message from the inspired text to challenge the heart and will toward gospel transformation.
Pastors can lead their churches effectively when they wholeheartedly embrace the truth that God empowers expository preaching. When the pastor reads the text, explains the text, and then applies the text, the Holy Spirit honors this proclamation with either the regeneration of lost sinners or the progressive sanctification of the saints. Pastors at times may be tempted to minimize the potency of the preached Word. Instead of expecting God to transform lives through his Word, pastors can lose confidence in the Scripture’s ability to impact hearers with lasting change. Many preachers can become guilty of manipulating their hearers through bypassing their minds and focusing solely on emotionalism or sentimentality. On the other hand, preachers may lean toward academicism if the sermon functions as a lecture. This type of preaching may leave his hearers’ minds filled with Bible trivia and stale facts, but in the end, there remains no gospel change. Genuine expository preaching moves beyond manipulative emotionalism and cold academicism by aiming for a transformation that lasts and brings forth consistent spiritual fruit. In other words, pastors must believe in the inherent potency of expository preaching as a means to lead the church to spiritual growth.
Understanding this goal requires pastors to labor at explaining the text clearly and applying the text to challenge their congregation to obedience. Leading through preaching means more than just faithful exposition, but it also involves poignant application whereby the pastor shepherds the congregation to fulfill their mission as a church. Pastors become not only more effective preachers when they apply the text for transformation, but they also become more effective leaders who call their flock to respond in obedience to God’s direction for their future. Hershael York exhorts, “We don’t want to fill their heads; we want the proclamation of the Word to grip their souls and motivate them to conform to the will of God. Our approach to the Bible and preaching, therefore, has application as its ultimate goal.” In sum, the ultimate aim of an expository sermon is to explain the text accurately so that the people hear God’s voice, but more importantly, so that they can act upon it with repentance, faith, and obedience.
An expository preacher evidences impactful spiritual leadership when he sees the Word producing demonstrable fruit in the lives of his church family. Leading through expository preaching that aims for gospel transformation animates spiritually lethargic and disobedient congregations. In order to preach in a way that combines faithful exposition with practical application requires the preacher not only to inform the church, but to call them passionately to respond. W. A. Criswell said, “Pastor, preach for a verdict and expect it. God will honor your faith with souls.”
Charles Simeon asked three questions of his sermons that provide an effective grid for pastors to utilize in assessing the transformational impact of their preaching: “Did it humble the sinner? Did it exalt the Savior? Did it promote holiness?” The goal comes in preaching in such a way that he faithfully exposes the text by revealing the glories of Christ and the gospel so that his hearers are moved to respond. Historically, this concept has been referred to as making the truth “real.” The “realness” of the truth preached depends upon the nature or genre of the text exposited. Sometimes the response to the passage preached results in brokenness and repentance; other times the Scripture elicits heartfelt worship and awe; other times, the text produces renewed affections for Christ that motivate believers to obedience. Expository preaching centers upon promoting true life change because the church has been exposed to the Word through faithful preaching. The Holy Spirit has so worked in the hearts of the people that they demonstrate authentic gospel transformation. Chandler, Patterson, and Geiger say, “The preacher should not feel as if he is carrying the burden of life change; he merely carries the burden of faithful exposition and the robust proclamation of the text at hand, trusting that God’s Word will never return void (Isa 55:10-11). This is the wonder and weight of preaching.”
Pastors can initiate this transformation in the life of the church by preaching expository sermons that not only inform the mind, but aim for the heart and will as they desire to see the Holy Spirit accomplish authentic change in people’s lives. Tim Chester says, “The measure of good preaching is not what people hear, but what people do as a result. It means that what counts is not so much good Bible teaching, as good Bible living.” This integration of leadership with expository preaching that aims for gospel transformation will penetrate hearts and result in authentic lasting change and obedience to the church’s mission.
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.
Andrew Davis, “Leading the Church in Today’s World: What It Means Practically to Shepherd God’s Flock,” in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, ed. Benjamin L. Merkle and Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014), 322.
Hershael York and Burt Decker, Preaching with Bold Assurance: A Solid and Enduring Approach to Engaging Exposition (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishing Group, 2003), 11.
W. A. Criswell, Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1980), 41.
Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 62.
Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger, Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2012), 123.
Tim Chester and Marcus Honeycutt, Gospel Centered Preaching (Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, 2014), 20.