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  • Sean Cole

Visionary Preaching

Many churches today suffer from a lack of vision regarding the mission of the church. Anemic churches exist primarily because of both anemic preaching and leadership. When pastors fail to lead the flock, the sheep wander, flounder, and eventually starve. In essence, a church will become empowered to fulfill its mission when it is motivated, encouraged, and led by a pastor who does so through an expository preaching ministry that exposes the people to the full counsel of God’s Word. One of the aims of leading through expository preaching comes in utilizing the pulpit as the primary vehicle to communicate a theological and missiological direction for the church.

Whoever fills the pulpit on a regular basis serves as the de facto leader of the church, the chief mouthpiece for vision, the resident theologian, and the strategic missiologist who must actually lead the people through his preaching. Michael Quicke notes, “No one is more visible, more spiritually empowered, with higher profile and quality corporate time to develop relationship along the missionary dialogue axis than the preacher/leader. A church’s mission and vision should be most clearly articulated in worship through preaching.”[1]

Many leadership resources and experts argue for aptitude in communicating, but few actually promote expository preaching as the primary means to communicate a compelling vision for the direction of the church. In addition, the language and references concerning “vision casting” from popular resources on leadership have more to do with mysticism, managerial techniques, and personal opinion rather than deriving the vision from the authority of the Scriptures. A church’s mission and vision should be clearly revealed from the text of Scripture.

By exposing his congregation to the whole counsel of God’s word through expository preaching, pastors become emboldened to lead the church to embrace its mission because this mission comes directly from the authority of the text. Larry Osborn claims, “Preaching is perhaps the most important vision-casting tool a pastor has at his disposal. The values and principles taught from the pulpit eventually establish the DNA of a church.”[2] In essence, when pastors lead through expository preaching the end results should become a gospel-centered people who joyfully worship Jesus in obedience to the Great Commission as the very DNA and ethos of church life together.

The theological direction for the church almost always comes from the pulpit. Pastors must see their preaching as more than just expositing the text with accuracy, but as a primary means to lead the people theologically. Through systematic expository preaching, pastors can help cure biblical illiteracy, confront false doctrines that may creep into the church, and establish the congregation’s theological identity. A church’s theological identity is vital to its future, but this identity must be communicated repeatedly so that the people of God can live in the reality of who they are in Christ. Church members may have a fairly good understanding of the church’s doctrinal statement, but will probably never refer to it on a consistent basis. Through week-by-week exposition, the pastor can reinforce the church’s core theological identity by showing how it derives its origin from particular texts. When a church understands its identity through solid theological training, it can accomplish its mission more effectively.

Pastors who integrate leadership with expository preaching help the church discern God’s preferred future and motivate them to obedience in fulfilling the mission.

In addition to communicating a theological vision for the church, leading through expository preaching can also help establish a missiological vision for the church. A theological vision helps clarify what the church believes and who they are as God’s people whereas a missiological vision helps clarify what the church is actually supposed to do and how they interact with the world around them. Shepherds who desire to lead through expository preaching use the pulpit as their primary vehicle to clarify both the church’s identity (theological vision) and their Great Commission mandate (missional vision). Michael Goheen asserts, “Faithful preaching will always move from Christ to mission because there is no participation in Christ without participation in his mission. So the business of preaching is to bring listeners face-to-face with Jesus Christ and all his saving power to equip us for our comprehensive mission in the world.”[3]

Communicating the missiological vision from the pulpit not only equips the church for mission, but energizes them to understand the global scope of God’s agenda to glorify himself through the advancement of the gospel to the nations. Tim Keller encourages, “Missional churches must equip laypeople both for evangelistic witness and for public life and vocation. . . . In a missional church, all people need theological education to ‘think Christianly’ about everything and to act with Christian distinctiveness. . . . A missional church, if it is to have a missionary encounter with Western culture, will need to confront society’s idols and especially address how modernity makes the happiness and self-actualization of the individual into an absolute.”[4]

This equipping for evangelism and mission happens through the expository preaching of the whole counsel of God’s Word, which invariably tackles controversial issues and exposes people’s deeply-held idols of the heart. Leading through expository preaching confronts both a deficient theology and a misunderstanding of the mission of the church. This type of expository leadership that utilizes the pulpit to communicate both the theological and missiological direction for the church requires courageous faith. Many pastors may view themselves simply as caretakers who administrate the affairs of the church, instead of strategic disciple-makers whose expository leadership sets the tone for the church and helps create a culture of mission. Pastoral leadership means more than just overseeing committees, making sure the church programs continue to run smoothly, or functioning like a chaplain that maintains the status quo. Instead, the pastor-teacher serves as a catalyst who leads dynamic change. When pastors integrate effective administrational leadership along with powerful expository preaching, the church becomes positioned to experience spiritual health.

This strategy of leading the church to embrace the Great Commission’s mandate of making disciples should be consistently proclaimed from the pulpit. Bill Hull says,

“The disciple-making pastor declares his beliefs concerning discipleship from the pulpit. He proclaims the purpose and goals of the church. In order for disciple making to become the heart of the church, the pastor must teach it as such. He justifies his claims with solid biblical exposition.”[5]

This encouragement through expository preaching places the pastor in a difficult spot because sometimes he must confront the complacency and disobedience of his people. Leading from the pulpit involves declaring the whole counsel of God’s Word, which at times may offend or challenge the flock. Leadership that cultivates a gospel-centered culture in obedience to Jesus through ministering the Word can be exacting and difficult work at times. The temptation for many pastors may be to simply offer platitudes, psychological self-help, or trite bits of conventional wisdom when interacting with others; but that philosophy of ministry is not expository leadership.

1 Timothy 5:17 serves as a key text that combines leading with preaching: “Let the elders who rule well be worthy of double honor; especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” When pastors fully understand and practice the reality of this text, they can begin to see the culture and ethos of the church change in response to their leadership. May I encourage us as pastors to labor in preaching as we lead our congregations to embrace their theological identity as well as their missiological mandate. Whether we like it or not, every week when we stand before our people, we are the chief mouthpiece for vision, the resident theologian, and the strategic missiologist who must actually lead our people in obedience to the Great Commission. Embrace this awesome call to lead through your preaching!

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.

[1]Michael J. Quicke, 360 Degree Leadership: Preaching to Transform Congregations (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 71.

[2]Larry Osborne, Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team and Staff on the Same Page (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 164.

[3]Michael W. Goheen, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Bible Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 206.

[4]Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 259-60, 271.

[5]Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Pastor: Leading Others on the Journey of Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 153.

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