I have the awesome privilege and responsibility of preaching at Sunrise Community Church. The pulpit has been adequately described as the golden ball and chain. I never thought I’d preach regularly but now I wouldn’t trade it. As for what and how I preach, I’m committed to preaching the gospel of Christ through the sequential exposition of Scripture. Thankfully, our elders and church family expect me to preach messages from the Bible. For this legacy and expectation, I’m profoundly grateful.
In the past year or so, I’ve starting a running tab (mentally until now) of all the topics I’ve been encouraged to address from the pulpit. Either directly or indirectly (articles, tweets, etc) I’ve been told I should be talking about: the orphan crisis (165 million and counting), racism, sexism (misogyny), marriage, small groups, gender-specific accountability groups, giving, forgiveness, counseling, ecclesiology, the national anthem (and American Christianity in general), greed, discipleship, end times, women’s roles, missions, local outreach, and I could go on. I’m told on some of these issues, if I don’t lend my voice, I’m complicit in the perpetuation of whatever particular ill is running rampant. I admit it can be paralyzing.
I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that I simply don’t have the capacity, expertise, or drive to address every cultural and doctrinal issue. It takes me some time to think through things. Quick responses are rarely thoughtful responses. We live in a day of hot takes and quick sound bytes. Careful and biblical thought requires time to marinade, at least for most of us! On top of that, particularly with current events, it takes some time for the facts to come out and be vetted. Wading into a story with half the information is a perfect recipe for misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
For me, on a typical week in the pulpit, I default back to what I know, teaching the next text. I want to give you some reasons why I take this approach, but first, a few caveats are in order.
Caveat #1: I do address cultural and/or doctrinal issues sometimes. This depends on the significance of the event and importantly, the impact on my local flock.
Caveat #2: I see value in helping our people learn to think through issues of the day so I’m not outright rejecting taking time to work through current events or controversies.
Caveat #3: Some pastors are much more gifted at responding quickly. There are certain thinkers that I look to when something happens. I want to hear Al Mohler talk about the headlines. I’m glad for his podcast, The Briefing. But news flash, I’m not Mohler.
With that in order, here are a few reasons why I’m a predictable preacher of the next text.
- The Nature of the Word of God.
By the nature of the Word, I mean to say the Word of God is in fact, inspired by God and is useful for “for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (see 1 Tim 3:16-17). And of course, the next verse says it’s this word that equips the man for every good work. God’s Word, all of it, is useful. Sequential exposition, I believe, honors a commitment to a high valuation of the Word of God.
- The Command to Preach the Word of God
Paul exhorted Timothy to “preach the Word.” (2 Tim 4:2). He was to preach the Bible whether it was popular or not (in season or out of season. The Bible is thin on *specific* application of text in many cases. I think we demand a level of specificity from our preachers that simply isn’t in the text. By forcing the text to be “practical” we sometimes end up cantilevered out away from the text, dangling dangerously away from solid exegetical footing. When a particular issue is clearly addressed by a particular text, by all means, say it, but be careful of feeling an obligation to say something and then google searching for a verse that may work. Let the text drive the sermon. Always.
- The Scope of the Word of God
If you teach through books of the Bible, you will inevitably have opportunities from the text to address whatever cultural ills you see of the day. It’s amazing to me how often my text, chosen weeks if not months out, lines up with what is happening. Exposition keeps a balanced diet for the people. There are some things that are easier than others to talk about. Exposition forces us to wrestle through hard text. And that’s good for both the preacher and the church. It’s easy to cherry-pick a verse here or there to address a hot topic, but I think something is lost when this happens. Let the book unfold week by week and you may be shocked just how often the Word speaks directly to the issues at hand.
Let me add a final qualifier at what I’m not saying. Some may hear me and think I’m saying that we can either “preach the Bible” or “preach on cultural issues.” That’s a false dichotomy. I’m not accusing the preacher who tends toward addressing the hot issue of being a Bible-less preacher. He may very well be using the Bible and doing it well. But I think on balance, most of us are better served to let the exception be the exception and trust the Word to work as you faithfully preach it the way it’s written.