Expository preaching, a mark of the healthy church, was topic of ‘God Exposed’ conference

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by Lauren Crane

In a recent two-day conference event, Southeastern Baptist Theological partnered with 9Marks to host a conference for pastors, teaching them to faithfully exposit the word of God as they preach and teach.

The September 25-26 conference, which is planned to be the first of nine conferences covering the “nine marks of a healthy church,” focused on the need for men to consistently implement expository preaching as one of the lynchpins of their pulpit ministries.

God exposed panel“Sadly, the things that should characterize a church do not characterize churches in this part of the country,” said Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Dever, also the founder of 9Marks, opened the conference on Friday, speaking to the purpose of the conference in helping pastors improve upon their call to accurately preach God’s word. “We want to give you an idea of something we do in order to think through how to improve your preaching, from guys that know you, love you and have the same theology as you do, bringing you godly wisdom and godly criticism.”

Setting the stage for the conference, Dever opened by preaching on the kingdom of God. From the text of Mark 4:26-34, he reminded the pastors their ministries are part of growing God’s kingdom, but that it is much more than one person’s influence. Looking at the example of the mustard seed as an analogy for the kingdom of God, Dever said it is important to note that the seed grows independent of the man’s work.

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“Throughout the growth process, he is represented as sleeping – no plowing, no tilling. It is self-growing seed, so far as the man is concerned. Of course it depends on God,” Dever said. “Ultimately, it’s not dependent on the man for the seed to grow.”

Although it’s not dependent on man, Dever said men still have a responsibility to help the seeds, or the kingdom, grow. “In this parable, Jesus is telling the disciples the kingdom would grow, regardless of human effort. It’s not ultimately dependent on human action. However, it’s certainly not going to happen without human action – that’s the point of the Great Commission.

“It’s an act of faith every time you preach the word, knowing you can’t bring life but if you preach it, God will give life,” Dever said.

Southeastern President Daniel Akin taught, then, on the importance of preaching the word, both with the content of the word, but also how to preach well.

“What you say is more important than how you say it, but how you say it has never been more important,” Akin said. Teaching from Ecclesiastes 9:12-14, Akin said faithful preaching involves instruction, admonition and exhortation. All must be present in faithful preaching and teaching, Akin said.

“God is the teacher – we are just the messengers,” Akin said. “We deny, then, that the preacher has any message from God apart from the text of Scripture.”

When one is faithful and engaging, what does that look like, Akin asked. He said this preacher will be primarily concerned with the content of what he is saying, while being didactic. “Preach in such a way that the entire meaning of the Bible passage is taught in exactly the way it was intended. Good preaching will always have knowledge. It will always have a strong teaching element. Without it, it may be entertaining, but it won’t be nourishing. I call it cotton candy preaching – it tastes good while you’re eating it, but 10 minutes later you’re starving because it has no nourishment.”

Being able to nourish others through one’s preaching is a result of being nourished by God himself, taught Mike McKinley, pastor of Guilford Baptist Church in Sterling, Va. McKinley taught on the text of Luke 10:38-42, in which Jesus shows that Mary and Martha had different priorities in relating to Jesus. “Martha has worked her hands to the bone, to show genuine care and love to Jesus. Meanwhile, Mary was just sitting. You’d think Martha would be the good guy, and she assumes Jesus will intervene on her behalf. But he tells her, ‘Don’t you get it? There’s only one priority. Only one thing is necessary. What you have chosen is good, but what she has chosen is better.’

“The only thing necessary is to listen to him. That’s what Mary was doing, and that’s why she was commended for her priorities.It’s not the proximity – it’s the priority of hearing Jesus speak,” McKinley said.

This need for pastors to sit at the feet of Jesus is both for their own spiritual growth, as well as that of their congregations, he said. “We need to hear what God is saying to us to know him and to know how to live.

“What does it mean for us? It means we need to devote ourselves to teaching and preaching God’s word. How will God speak to your people? If their greatest need is to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen, how will they hear then? Through the preaching of the word,” McKinley said.

“I wonder if your church would understand their greatest need is to be taught the word of God. Does the preaching of the word of God stand at the center of your congregation’s life, or are you subtly teaching that programs and events are primary?” McKinley said.“If you have preaching of the word at the center, and your church understands this is their greatest need, then the other ministries will line up.”

Many churches do not see God’s word being taught as the primary reason they go to church, said Thabiti Anyabwile, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman. Anyabwile, an African-American pastor, spoke on the various cultural barriers that often hinder expository preaching in non-white contexts, saying that many pastors resent expository preaching as only “white man preaching.” Looking at various preaching styles, such as “hooping, howling and whining,” found in different types of churches, Anyabwile said that “for far too many, these styles have become synonymous with good preaching. Thus, many people think exposition is not relevant. They think if you’re committed to exposition, you won’t be able to reach the people.”

He said for an example of faithful expository preaching in the midst of shifting cultural norms, a pastor need not look any further than the example of Nehemiah.  After the exile, he was charged with rebuilding the wall in an unfamiliar cultural setting. Yet he faithfully preached God’s word, Anyabwile said.

“People responded with an expositional preaching conference. They gave the meaning of God’s word. Everyone could understand the meaning for the impact of understanding, not primarily about emotions,” Anyabwile said. “We preach this way to impact the understanding of God’s people.

“Preaching should be designed to awaken. When God’s people needed to be awakened, it was exposition that awakened them. We are to help people understand what grows out of faith in Christ.”

CJ MahaneyC.J. Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries, taught that, before presenting God’s word to their congregations, preachers must be faithful to studying, understanding and clearly conveying the message of Scripture, always allowing people to glimpse the cross in every message.

“Apart from your personal godly example, the most important way you are serving the church is by effectively preaching to the church. Preaching is the most effective way to lead your church. There is no substitute for it, and we are not in pursuit of a substitute for it. Nothing is more important than the passion for preaching.

“We have been entrusted with the old, old story. We’re not called to add to it or recreate it, but we’re called to preach it. In essence, we must be committed to being unoriginal. May you be unoriginal in the most important part of your message – the sighting of Calvary from your text.

Mahaney advised the pastors to never try to improve upon the content – only upon one’s understanding of it. “The content is pre-determined. It must be the gospel, whether the culture is receptive to it or not.”

Closing out the conference, Dever once again addressed the gathered preachers and teachers. For those who combat the idea that it is still necessary to have one man address the congregation on the word of God, Dever said this is a parable of the gospel.

“Every Sunday when you get up and speak you’re enacting a parable of God’s grace. You’re bringing God’s word to people who can bring nothing,” Dever said. “Preaching is central, both when we gather and when we scatter.”

“Expound God’s word so the people may see their God. You preach for an audience of one, who has called you to make him known. What happens when God is exposed? Some think when God is exposed, he’ll run from shame or come up wanting. In truth, when God is exposed, it’s the sinner who will hang his head in shame, and see that we are lacking,” Anyabwile said.“When God is exposed, we will rejoice. Let the people see their God.”

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