Common Pitfalls with Expository Preaching

Here are a few things we all struggle with at times. These are items to either avoid or amend in our expository preaching (in no particular order):

  1. Not taking enough time to observe the text of Scripture.
  2. Observing things that are not there or are not significant.
  3. Not checking and double-checking your observations.
  4. Rushing exegesis for the sake of exposition.
  5. Being slavishly dependent on commentaries.
  6. Preaching too long.
  7. Preaching too short.
  8. Missing the point(s) of a passage.
  9. Abusing the aorist tense .
  10. Losing site of the context.
  11. Having all heat (passion) and no light (content).
  12. Having all light and no heat.
  13. Flattening out a text for the sake of a theological system.
  14. Erecting a theological “mountain” in the place of a mere theological “hill.”

18 responses to this post.

  1. #4 is the battle for me. Exegesis is a never ending process. We could explore the text for decades.
    However, the sermon must be delivered each and every Sunday. At some point I must move from exegesis to “how do I best communicate these truths?”

    Great list.

  2. It is hard work Justin. Growing up with men who were skilled orators I think many times #4 would lead to #11. Thanks for your comments and thoughts.

  3. […] – “Him We Proclaim” 14 Expository Pitfalls July 13th, 2007 According to Expository Thoughts, here are some of the most common… 1. Not taking enough time to observe the text of […]

  4. Dear sir,

    Overall, I like your list. But I wonder about number two on the list:

    “Observing things that are not there or are not significant. ”

    If, by this statement, you mean finding something in the text that is not there, then I agree. However, are there not times when taking note of what is “not there” can be significant? This would seem to be particularly the case when the expected response is not given or when something is missing in connection with something that is usually paired together.

    In Christ,

    Pastor Frank Sansone

  5. What a great little check list. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for the great list even for personal Bible study. I’d love to hear more thoughts on 13 and 14!

  7. Frank,

    I agree with what you’re pointing out. When I said “Observing things that are not there or are not significant” I was referring to the tendency of some to miss the obvious and wax eloquent about rabbit trails that have little or no import on the text.

    This can manifest itself in hyper typology or allegorism or even emphasizing things about a text that a text does not say or mean.

    Thanks for your comments. I hope this helps.


    You said you would love to hear more about #13 & 14. Here goes:

    “Flattening out a text for the sake of a theological system.” I see this happening a lot in current books on preaching and various movements. In particular it is happening a lot with those in the “Biblical Theology” movement (Vos, Greidanus, Goldsworthy, Dever). I think they have done some wonderful things and I am a big fan of their books and contributions. I think they have brought a necessary corrective to those who make the opposite error of #14. However, I think it is forced to assume that the main idea of every text should be sifted through a redemptive-historical grid. So I would disagree with the prevalent idea that we should find Jesus in every text but I do believe we can get to Jesus from any text (two very different hermeneutics). Furthermore, I do not believe a system such covenant theology, dispensational theology, or redemptive-historical systems should be imposed on a text. Our theology should be the result of exegesis (another blog post some day).

    # Erecting a theological “mountain” in the place of a mere theological “hill” refers to those (any of us) who focus on a theological truth to the exclusion of other truths that are equally taught in Scripture. This can also take the form of exalting a theological hobby horse (e.g., eschatology) by emphasizing things that are minor points in a given text to the exclusion of the main point(s). So for example, Matthew 10:5-15 has a statement in passing about eternal punishment (vs. 15) but it’s not the main point (i.e., commissioning of the twelve). So to camp out there and build a massive theology of eternal damnation on that text could be misguided.

    I hope this helps. Feel free to follow-up if I’ve been unclear.

  8. Posted by jbstarke on July 14, 2007 at 12:26 am

    Amen to #9!

  9. This is a great list. Observation has been critical in my time in the study. When I do not devote much time to it, it seems that I become more dependent on commentaries and my preaching suffers.

  10. Posted by CalebKolstad on July 15, 2007 at 1:59 am


    Please follow up on what you mean by #9.


  11. Caleb,

    I am not Paul, but perhaps this quote from D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies is what he is thinking of:

    More than two decades ago, Frank Stagg wrote an article about “The Abused Aorist.” The problem as he saw it was that competent scholars were deducing from the presence of an aorist verb that the action in question was “once for all” or “completed.” The problem arises in part because the aorist is often described as the punctiliar tense. Careful grammarians, of course, operating within traditional categories, understood and explained that this does not mean the aorist could be used only for point actions. The aorist, after all, is well-named: it is a-orist, without a place, undefined. It simply refers to the action itself without specifying whether the action is unique, repeated, ingressive, instantaneous, past, or accomplished. The best grammarians understood this well, and used the term punctiliar much the way a mathematician uses the term point in geometry – to refer to a location without magnitude. But just as the mathematical notion is not intuitively obvious, so also has the notion of punctiliar action been a stumbling block to many interpreters. Stagg provided many examples of grammarians and commentators who insist, for instance, that the phrase all sinned (hemarton) in Romans 5:12 must indicate a once-for-all action, presumably when Adam sinned; that the presentation of the body in Romans 12:1 is a once-for-all commitment; that the repentance noted in Revalation 3:19 must be once-for-all action because the verbal form is metanoeson; that the aorist etuthe in1 Corinthians 5;& (“for Christ our Passover lamb was sacrificed”) means that Christ’s death is a completed once-for-all event; and so forth. And if grammarians and commentators draw such conclusion, who can blame the busy pastor foo trading on the aorist to gain theological capital?

    Bob Edwards

  12. Posted by CalebKolstad on July 16, 2007 at 6:30 pm


    That is what Dr. Farnell taught us in our Greek class but i really appreciate your comment that clarified that issue for me. The Lord bless you this week.


  13. You might add the failure to apply the passage to the life of your congregation. A good sermon needs both exposition and application.

  14. Bob and Caleb,

    Stagg’s article is a great article. I would also recommend Charles Smith’s article “Errant Aorist Interpreters” that appeared in Grace Theological Journal (2:2 Fall 1981).

    I would make two points about the aorist (one positive and one negative). Positively, the aorist is only showing that action has taken place. Negatively it does not mean that action has happened “once for all.” The latter is a major misnomer (e.g., Rom. 12:1; 2 Tim. 4:2).

    Thanks for your comments.

  15. Posted by CalebKolstad on July 16, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    I would add another one: Making too much (and in some cases too little) out of a preaching outline.

    Think of your favorite 5 sermons of all time. Now tell me what the expository outline of that sermon was….if it even had one. I doubt many people would remember the exact outline used in those sermons. I do think people remember what text was exposited, what the passage means, and how it impacted his/her life.


  16. Excellent Caleb

  17. Posted by Chris Pixley on July 17, 2007 at 1:17 am


    Very insightful. Sometimes we (those who run in our circles) become overly beholden to a particular approach to outlining the text. But outlines are nothing more than a tool to help illuminate the meaning of a given text which is the critical component of faithful exposition. I am often guilty of confusing this in my own mind (and, therefore, preaching).

  18. Posted by CalebKolstad on July 17, 2007 at 5:12 am


    I loved my time at TMS. It is an amazing place with an even better staff. The best seminary in the world. With that said, one of the things that i did not fully agree with during preaching lab was the insistence by some of the profs of having a particular style of outlines.

    Anyways, an outline is a skeleton that can help a congregation stay with the preacher. I just have never bought into needing to have one particular kind of outline for every sermon. My opinion is a variety of outline styles is most helpful.

    Hope you’re doing well Chris.


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