by Lauren Crane
The future of expositional preaching depends not on perfect sermon preparation, but on the faithfulness of the saints to humble themselves before God in prayer, seeking to know him and correctly understand his word.
This reliance on desperate prayer was the focus of both a chapel sermon and sermon-preparation workshop led by Jim Shaddix on February 16-17 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Shaddix, former associate professor of preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado, discussed pastoral care, preaching and ministry during several sessions at Southeastern.
During a chapel service on Tuesday, he preached on the story of Ezra found in Ezra 8:21-23, 31. On Wednesday, Shaddix broke down his sermon and explained how pastors can faithfully put together exegetical sermons, using his own sermon as the illustration.
“I realize it is possible to do this thing we call ministry, and this thing we call preaching, our entire lives and entire ministries and appear to be successful at it and all the time, be doing it in the flesh. That scares me to death,” Shaddix said. “Preaching may be one of the easiest areas to fall into this trap, if we approach it from a purely academic and practical standpoint. You can approach this thing called sermon making from those standpoints and forget that what are dealing with is a mystery. God has ordained it to be a part of the conversion of souls and a future of the New Testament church.”
It was with this understanding of the seriousness of “rightly dividing the word of truth” that Shaddix said the sermon preparation process must begin with much time spent in prayer, before ever delving into language studies, commentaries or background studies. Looking at Acts 6:4, Shaddix said pastors must devote themselves to both prayer and the ministry of the word, as the early church members did.
“First is prayer, even before the ministry of the word. I’m not talking about quiet time or prayer that every believer is called to. How much time, as a pastor, am I devoting to that in comparison to the amount of time I devote to the ministry of the word?” Shaddix said. “That half (prayer) of the ministry is assumed, and the other half of the ministry is not assumed. Because we assume prayer, it does not take the same precedence as ministry of the word.
“Exposition will not stand by itself. If you assume prayer and do not practice it in equal commitment to the ministry of the word, it will break down the passion of the church.”
Shaddix said when formulating the sermon, after much prayer, the next step needs to be determining what it is God has to say through his word. “Every preacher has the responsibility to ask the question, ‘What does God say?’ There are a lot who get up and talk about things God didn’t say. That’s why sermon-making and preaching are different. Preaching is what God said. Sermon-making can be about anything. Preaching demands we find out what God said. Reduce the subjectivity of interpretation and go in and let the text speak for itself.”
Using his sermon on Ezra 8, Shaddix said to first encapsulate the sermon in a “pregnant sentence.” For the text of his Tuesday sermon, Shaddix said, “Real trust in God doesn’t have a back-up plan, but instead relies on desperate praying.” He said, “When I come to the end of the message, this is what I hope is communicated.”
Shaddix said the bulk of the message falls under the “exposition” part of the sermon. “This is where I say, ‘Let’s see what God has to say about this.’ This better be the meat of what you challenged them to hear.
“When I say ‘exposition,’ I’m not talking about sermon form, but about rightly exposing the text of Scripture,” Shaddix said. For his message on Ezra 8:21-23, Shaddix used three points to demonstrate what the text says about operating without a back-up plan. “What does ministry without a backup plan look like? Taking risks for the sake of the gospel,” he said. “If we’re not careful in ministry, we will build a mentality of insulation all around us. However, when I search the pages of Scripture, I can’t find the promise of a title or a salary or safety. You’ll only find the call of God.”
Ezra was able to take risks for God because he was jealous for God’s honor and glory, Shaddix said. “The real issue is the heartbeat of Ezra, who looked at the glory and honor of the God he served and said, ‘I don’t want anything to taint that.’”
Shaddix said another thing that is key in operating without a backup plan is the same thing that will be key for the future of expository preaching – desperate prayer. This idea of whole-hearted prayer should be a daily part of ministry. In this time of separation from God, before Christ returns, Shaddix said he believes we should be seeking the face of the Lord desperately. “Something about exile makes us desperate for God. Don’t waste your suffering.
“These are desperate times. The bridegroom Jesus is going to come back for his bride – the church – but between here and then, we are in need of a generation who is desperate for God and is cring out for God to show his glory,” Shaddix said. “When I look into the future and see what will be needed, this is the huge one.”
As Shaddix shared advice and instructions on how to faithfully preach and teach the word of God, he said the preacher must immerse himself completely in Scripture. “When I look at this commentary on Ezra’s life, he seemed to have been permeated with God’s word. His belief and things he taught started somewhere before sermon prep. It was more than just what he taught – it permeated his entire being.”
Dr. Greg Heisler, associate professor of preaching and speech at Southeastern, was thankful to be able to expose students to another preaching resource by inviting Shaddix in to preach and teach.
“I have a conviction that preaching is as much ‘caught’ as it is ‘taught.’ That's why our students need models who are excellent expositors in the pulpit, so they can 'see' what preaching looks like,” Heisler said. “The best thing about Dr. Shaddix's visit to Southeastern was his willingness to preach a message in chapel and then take time the next day to help students understand it. Textbooks are helpful, but there truly is no replacement for spending time with living examples who are willing to pour their lives into our students.”
Every preacher has the responsibility to dive into Scripture, allow it to transform his life and then faithfully teach what God has said to God’s people. Shaddix said, “The people we’re preaching to are looking at the Bible and saying, ‘That’s irrelevant to my life.’ They say that justifiably. There have been numerous layers that have been piled up on the relevance of the word of God – layers of the language gap, time gap, cultural gaps, and underneath it is the supernatural, eternal word of God. It is the only thing with the power to transform people’s lives through the power of Jesus Christ.”
He said the Bible begins and ends the same way, with people seeing God and being transformed by him, becoming like him. “That is the purpose of preaching, to recreate people into the image of Christ. It is not to talk about topics or address needs.”
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.