by Tony Merida
“If I take this class, will it make me a great preacher?” On the first day of class, I tell students upfront that I cannot manufacture expositors. I wish I could. Why do I say this? For this reason: much of great preaching and teaching rests on the individual’s personal life and with the sovereign Spirit of God. One has to take personal responsibility for spiritual and theological depth, and for personal and ministry growth, and one must acknowledge that God sovereignly works in people’s lives by his own pleasure and for his own glory.
To highlight this reality, allow me to offer nine marks that contribute to the making of a great expositor. Examine your own heart as you read through this list.
1: Love for the Word of Christ and the Christ of the Word.
Good preaching and teaching are an overflow of love for the Savior. It is actually possible to preach a Christ-centered message without having a Christ-centered heart. Guard against this. Good preaching and teaching come through a person who treasures the Christ of the Word. Let the Word drive you to the pulpit; do not let the pulpit (only) drive you to the Word. Avoid studying only to preach sermons. Beware of becoming “The Sermonator,” mechanically churning out sermons weekly but failing to meet with the risen Christ personally. Be renewed in the gospel personally. Sit under your own preaching. Let the Word pass through you before it passes from you.
After giving a few answers to the question “Where and how did you learn to preach?,” preaching giant John Piper said, “I don’t think there is much you can do to become a preacher except know your Bible and be unbelievably excited about what’s there. And love people a lot.” Heed this counsel. Be personally enamored by the Savior, and then out of love for the bride, lead them down the aisle to the Groom.
2: Love People.
Those who feed the flock must love the flock. Preparing messages is often lonely, and it is always tiring. Remember why you do it! Jesus loves his church, and we are called to love who Jesus loves. Avoid being a machine gun behind the podium, just firing content at people. Preach from a heart of love. The goal is not only to get through a message but also to get through to the hearts of people. Make sure when you are speaking to unbelievers that you do so with the compassion of the Father, who invites both hedonistic prodigals and moralistic Pharisees to enjoy his transforming grace. Do not replace truthfulness with “tolerance” but speak the truth in love. Bryan Chapell said that as an early preacher he wrote at the top of his notes “Love the people” as a reminder of this important point.
I cannot hand out teaching gifts to people. To quote the instructor from the movie Chariots of Fire, “I can’t put in what God has left out!” God in his sovereign grace has equipped people with unique gifts for building up the body. Teaching may or may not be your primary gift. That is OK. We need all types of people to serve the body faithfully. Rest in the grace of God. Use the gifts and abilities that he has given you.
With the exception of giving students a few reps in sermon delivery class, I cannot give anyone experience. To grow as an expositor, you need to find ways to preach and teach a lot. Your early sermons may be like your first days riding a bike. You and the bike will get scratched up a bit, but keep riding. Most do not start out as proficient riders. And even the best preachers have improved from their early days. Take every opportunity you have to teach the Bible to people. Churches are not the only places where you can expound the Bible. Visit prisons, nursing homes, or shelters. Take a young person out for lunch weekly and teach him the Bible. It will bless him, and it will improve your skills.
5: A Mentor.
I try to mentor nine or ten guys in our pastoral training program. I was blessed to have an incredible mentor in Jim Shaddix. If you do not have such a mentor, then be not dismayed. You can benefit from three types of mentors: life-on-life mentors, a mentor from a distance, and a deceased mentor. If you do not have a life-on-life mentor yet, start with the other two. Watch someone from a distance closely via technology. Not only can you watch sermons online, but you may also communicate to them directly through various devices. (I have a faculty colleague who video chats with his mentor monthly.) By a “deceased mentor” I mean some- one like Spurgeon, Luther, Calvin, Knox, or someone who faithfully taught God’s Word and walked with Jesus. Read and study about them. Ideally, the perfect combination is all three. The Lord may allow you to have multiple mentors (of all types), and if so, thank him for such a privilege.
Related to the previous point, when it comes to preaching and teaching, you can learn a lot by watching how someone goes about his craft. A mentor may or may not be a great model for exposition. You will do well to have many skilled models of exposition in your life. Danny Akin’s words are correct: “Great preachers listen to great preachers.” You should not copy another’s style (unless you want to look silly), but it is wise to watch and learn from faithful examples.
Here are a few of my models. D. A. Carson is my favorite Christ-centered expositor. I love to watch him dissect a particular text in context then fan out and show how it fits within the redemptive storyline of the Bible. Akin does a tremendous job outlining passages in a book of the Bible. Alistair Begg, Mark Dever, Dick Lucas, Jim Shaddix, and Sinclair Ferguson have been wonderful models for weekly pastoral preaching. Tim Keller has impacted me more than anyone in the past five years. His ability to speak the gospel to the unbelieving skeptic, while doing substantive biblical preaching, is remarkable.
7: Holiness and Prayer.
You must have a lifestyle that reflects a love for Scripture. People need to see the pastor/teacher exemplifying his teaching. You must accept responsibility for pursuing God and exemplifying Christ. You cannot separate your life and your ministry; the two are tied together. Lack of character will make you both unfaithful and ineffective. Involved in this pursuit is the need to cultivate a vibrant prayer life. Faithful preachers are faithful prayers. They commune with God regularly.
Here is where I try to be of most help to aspiring preachers in class (and with this book). You need to learn things such as how to exegete a passage of Scripture, how to incorporate biblical theology into expository preaching, how to apply the text in a gospel-centered manner instead of a moralistic manner, how to preach Christ from the Old Testament, how to prepare a sermon manuscript, and how to excel in other hermeneutical and homiletical skills. This book will provide some homiletical instruction that will hopefully be helpful to your Word-driven ministry. But this is an introductory book, so I encourage you to read other works, such as Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching, John Stott’s Between Two Worlds, and others referenced in the following chapters.
9: The Sovereign Spirit of God.
Much in the preaching and teaching event is “mysterious.” I cannot explain all the spiritual dynamics involved in delivering the Word. God has blessed all sorts of Word-driven disciple makers through the years for his own reasons, by his own power. The wind blows where he wants it to blow. God does miraculous things with weak vessels who may or may not be polished in the pulpit. Praise his holy name.
Editor’s note: This is an adapted excerpt from The Christ-Centered Expositor: A Field Guide for Word-Driven Disciple Makers. Order a copy at LifeWay, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Christianbook.com.