Is expository preaching against discussion?

We have been discussing the role of dialogue within the context of the sermon. Craddock has argued that the preacher should inductively lead a person to make their own conclusions about the text as it applies to their life. In essence, he argues that this brings the hearer into a form of dialogue with the preacher even though actual dialogue may not take place.

Pagitt has taken this a step further and seeks to “re-imagine” the sermon as a discussion rather than a declaration. The sermon in this case does not rest on exegesis but on group formulation although Pagitt attempts to claim otherwise (Preaching Re-Imagined, 54; 185-89). The representative works of progressional dialogue and inductive preaching are so full of straw argumentation that one would think that folks who regularly hear good expository preaching are never allowed to discuss the sermon. One could get the idea that questions about an expository sermon are forbidden and always considered out of order unless one embraces a postmodern rationale that says the best direction is no direction.

While discussion is excellent even essential at the right time, we should still remember that preaching is a “live” event in which the Word of God is to be heralded (2 Tim. 4:2) not discussed. Additionally, an argument could be made that the moment of the preaching event itself is the defining moment and everything else (application, discussion, etc.) is simply part of the necessary ongoing response. Jonathan Edwards made statements along these lines when he wrote, “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by the impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 4:397).

So how can we positively dialogue “around” an expository

  1. Have a plan: The reason why some may balk at the idea of sermon discussion is because we’ve all been in groups where the level of involvement never gets past the narcissistic “what this means to me” style of dialogue. Have purpose and intentionality when forming discussion groups. There should always be a knowledgeable facilitator who can bring out the best and help move things along.
  2. Create Discussion times: There can be discussion/application groups that meet for Sunday School or at other times in homes. We encourage our church members to invite visitors and fellow believers into their homes on Sunday nights for fellowship and discussion around the Word. One of our families makes it publicly known that there is always lunch available at their house for anyone who wants to come on Sunday afternoon (and there’s always someone there). We have some family in our home most Sunday nights.
  3. Know Your Congregation: A good sermon will raise questions and provoke natural discussions. Pastors should make themselves available and not hide away from their congregations. One way I do this is to meet with the men of my church over lunch once a week where anything can be asked or questioned.
  4. Cultivate Sermon Accountability: Meet with people who will speak honestly about your sermons and genuinely help you become more effective. All of my elders do this and I also have fellow pastors in other churches who challenge me. Video yourself once in a while and force yourself to watch it (you will learn a lot).
  5. Pay attention to the craft of sermon construction: An expository sermon does not mean that there should be no mystery or “a ha” moment of discovery. Inductive homileticians like to point out that there is no discovery or building of anticipation in expository sermons. There’s no reason why this has to be the case. Work hard on transitions and “plot development” especially when preaching narrative (which is the majority of Scripture). Maybe we can develop this more in a later post.

Any thoughts?





8 responses to this post.

  1. I want to make a few clarifications because I know some of what I said here could be taken in a different way (regarding the practical points I offered at the end of the post). I will give a much more detailed response tomorrow in another post “Leading Small Groups” but for now I want to offer the following for balance:

    1.The ideal is to have trained men who can handle God’s Word leading such groups. They are members in good standing who support the leadership and do not have independent axes to grind. Their above reproach in all areas and holds the faith with a clear conscience.

    2.We don’t want just anyone creating discussion because 1) it’s not a democracy but a family and 2) the wrong person or family can create division. Those that I mentioned in the post would be members of our church who have shown giftedness in these areas and I will say again they are MEMBERS of our church. This means we know them, love them, support them and will be glad to support their ministry in our body. If you have members that you can’t say this about then they probably shouldn’t be members (I know that’s another post for another day).

    3.I started having a men’s lunch where I invited about ten men that I know are faithful and are all good models of fellowship and solid conversation. After we established a core I began to invite all the men of our church to these lunches (which we have just started). We brown bag it and just sit and enjoy one another over lunch once a week. I have gotten to know men that I have “known” for years. I discovered recently that one of our men has published the only exhaustive history of radar. I found that out over lunch and I have known him for six years.

    4.Sermon accountability is not a time for your worst critics to let loose on your style and ability. This needs to be a delicate balance of men whom you love who also know how to cut it strait. I also realize that such men will not have had all the training that most preachers have had but I see this as an advantage in other ways. They are not looking for the same things that your classmates looked for in preaching lab when you were in seminary. If these are the right individuals they will bring out your best and help you make more real life connections with your congregation.

    5.Sermon craft is just that, how you put your sermon together. You have probably noticed that we do not say a lot about that around here (maybe we should) but there is a good amount of subjectivity in regards to this. Nevertheless, I am arguing that we do not need to embrace dialogue preaching or inductive preaching in order to build anticipation within the sermon. If we are careful with how we set-up points and how we unfold the bog idea then even the sermon can have the appearance that we are leading someone down a path to behold a wonderful and practical treasure about God and His Word.

  2. Paul,

    Though my specific thoughts on this topic were focused on a somewhat different issue none the less all this information is extremely helpful.
    Thanks for the post and the comment post.

  3. I am curious-Do you think this sort of discussion time would lend itself more to an informal setting rather than a formal setting (i.e. Lord’s Day service)?

  4. I would not favor having discussions during the sermon (I tried to make this point in the post). I would say anything outside of that is an issue of liberty that the leadership of the church should consider.

    In our church service we place a heavy emphasis on prayer, singing, reading of Scripture, the ordinances, and the preaching (not discussion).

  5. I do see now where you did make that point. I suppose “Reading is [still] Fundamental”.

    Sorry about that.

  6. No worries Joe. I should have been more clear in my initial post.


  7. […] Lamey at Expository Thoughts has been wrestling with the issue of expository preaching and discussion: While discussion is […]

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed preaching through Malachi just over a year ago, in part because the book is itself a sermon, but also because the message is structured in the form of dialogue…the preacher, speaking for God, makes a comment or poses a question, and then he offers back the characteristic response of the people. He then answers their question or objection with God’s inspired response.

    That is often how I will try to frame expository messages. I frame the truth from the passage, state the principle to be understood and applied, and then offer what might be a characteristic response of the people–often in the form of a question. For example, we fear no evil when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). As we preach that passage we can ask these questions, stating it like this: “Now some of you may be asking, ‘How do we walk through this valley, and how do we experience fear as we go through it?’ Let me describe it…” And then you give modern parallels to the ancient experience.

    So you are dialoguing with yourself, but on behalf of the people. Another good reason that you cannot be a good shepherd, or a good preacher, if you are not often with the people that you preach to. You must know the questions that they might characteristically be asking as you teach truth. You must know where they see their weaknesses, but you must know them well enough to know where they need spiritual leading, but may not understand it fully.

    Preach on!

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