by John Meador
"Going expositional" is my way of describing the challenge of preaching through an entire book of the Bible, word by word, and phrase by phrase.
If you've never done this before but have a desire to do so, there are certain questions you need to be asking and answering. The answers to those questions, found through prayer and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, should lead you to a place of confidence and boldness in your preaching. Then, the Word itself will do the work in people's lives.
How do we know what book we should be preaching through? That is one of the great challenges of powerful exposition. I've always sensed that taking a scholastic approach of simply giving a good balance of the Bible's books was not the right method for the preacher. After all, the primary goal of a pastor is not merely Bible knowledge. The primary goal that we should have is "equipping saints for service," and it requires an intimate knowledge of the congregation and the Word.
So how do we know? Purely and simply-prayer. The preacher who doesn't pray diligently through the selection process will miss the powerful anointing of a specific word at an opportune time in the life of the congregation. Though God certainly over-rides and overcomes our lack of wisdom by speaking through the Word in spite of us, it is a wise shepherd who prays through the decision as to which book to preach.
One of the disciplines of this preacher's life is reading the Bible in its entirety each year. By doing this, I am better prepared to know what book of the Bible may be God's prescription for the congregation's need. In the same way a physician knows his medicine, the pastor should know the Word. As he prays for the congregation, the book that best fits the need can emerge in his mind through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Recently, I faced the crossroads of decision in my ministry once again. My question in prayer was, "Lord, where do you want me to focus? What book should I journey through with our congregation?" As I prayed about the need of our particular church, the culture we are in, the challenges we face, and the concerns we have ahead of us, I began to be drawn to the book of James.
Now let me be quick to say that I had my mind on a number of books before I was drawn to James. I would read through those books in light of the criteria above, and would look to see if the Holy Spirit would lead me that way. I considered three different books before I realized those books were not where we needed to be. Only when I took extra time, and only when there was a degree of desperation on my part-"Lord, I really need Your leadership!"-did the book of James emerge in my mind.
As I began to read James with the needs of our congregation in mind, I "saw" the message series begin to fall into place. Study became more than discovery of truth. It moved to the level of practical application-I began to envision these applications in the life of my congregation. I felt that the Spirit of God was quickening both my comprehension and creativity toward the words in James and study became something I didn't want to take a break from. It flowed. I saw why we need the book of James, who needed to hear it, and how it would impact us. I was able to envision the entire church, moved and motivated to "be doers of the Word, and not hearers only." I began to get excited. I knew I was in the right place.
Let me get specific about what excited me. In the first portion of James 1, we have a large and prominent section on "trials." The admonition to trust and not become "double-minded" stands out in the text. The warning against being "like the waves of the sea, storm-driven and wind-tossed" stood out to me. I thought specifically of the trying times we face economically and politically. I realized the struggle people are having during a recessionary economy, facing fears and concerns that could cause them to be driven like the wind if their faith is not anchored properly. I believe the Lord wants to provide answers for our people on how to trust in tough times.
Each section of James holds that same type of urgency for the things we are facing-and through that process of prayer and sensitivity, I'm on the journey through James. We'll look next time at how we break the book down-and how we cause our message series to resonate with relevance and urgency.
After all, if God has truly led us to a place of study, we can expect the Holy Spirit to anoint and empower it in supernatural ways. That's preaching I look forward to.
John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.