Why Pentecostals Don’t Preach Expository Sermons?
By Jeff Magruder
I am an expository preacher, and I am also a Pentecostal. People do not often use these two categories in the same sentence, much less to describe the same person. Why is that? If you look closely, you will find many of the convictions that shape both views are similar — a high view of biblical authority, a reliance on the Holy Spirit to empower our preaching, and a desire to let biblical truth meet human need. After having thought, read, and asked others regarding this question, I have come up with some possible answers. None of these are intended to be critical; rather they are suggestions for why Pentecostals have not been more interested in expository preaching.
We Confuse Expository Preaching for a Methodology Instead of a Philosophy
Many homiletics instructors introduce preaching students to expository preaching as one approach among many, rather than seeing it as guiding principle (i.e., the main idea of the text will be the basis for the main idea of the sermon). Once that guiding principle is in place, the form the sermon takes (inductive, deductive, narrative, verse by verse) varies depending on what will best communicate to the audience. The form an expository sermon may take changes, what does not change is the main idea of the text that governs the sermons main idea.
We Have Seen Expository Preaching Done Badly
Expository preaching has suffered in the hands of its friends. Well-meaning preachers have thought that to be expository means to offer their listeners nothing more than running commentary on a text or heavy exposition and little application. Nothing will dissuade Pentecostal preachers more than an approach to preaching that appears dry or unrelated to the needs of people. Fortunately, a commitment to expository preaching does not require we choose between relevant application and biblical content. As one of my preaching professors said in seminary, “Application justifies and focuses the exposition.”
We Do Not Believe Expository Preaching Allows Us to Deal With Contemporary Issues
On the surface, this concern seems genuinely valid. However, probe a little deeper and you will see that clear exposition of the Bible will force us to address several contemporary issues (some which many of us would prefer to avoid). As an experiment, try preaching a series through the Book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, First Corinthians, or the Ten Commandments, and watch how contemporary your preaching becomes.
We Have Misunderstood Our Source of Authority
By what authority does the preacher speak? The ultimate authority of the sermon does not reside in the preacher’s call or in the preacher’s position, but in the Scripture he is preaching. Authority can only come when one can say, “Thus says the Lord.” The Pentecostal preacher must not say this until what he is preaching actually comes from the Bible and he has properly interpreted and applied it.
We Believe That Making Room for Expository Preaching Means Not Leaving Any Place for Other Approaches to Communicating the Gospel
Preaching involves proclaiming the gospel and the preacher is a messenger, or herald of that gospel. Technically, it is not a sermon unless the preacher is explaining and applying the Bible. This does not mean there should not be a prominent place for speeches, reflections, testimonies, etc. nor does it follow from this that there is no place for other mediums of communication or an expansive use of the arts. But it is helpful to understand the difference so there is a clear understanding of the role and importance of each. Expository preaching will not be the only thing we do behind the pulpit, but we should seriously consider making it the main thing.
We Are Afraid Too Much Preparation Will Replace the Leading of the Holy Spirit
One could argue that Pentecostals have been so committed to being led by the Spirit that they have neglected the other essential practices needed for good preaching such as, preparation, organization of the message, planning a preaching calendar, and allowing the main idea of the text to be the main idea of the sermon. Do not underestimate the Holy Spirit’s ability to lead you in planning. If the Spirit can guide you at the altar, during your prayer time, or in day-to-day living, He can certainly give you wisdom to plan. Remember that the preaching plan, like all plans, is a projection based on the best information you have at the time. If you need to revise it, do so. The Holy Spirit will guide you. Let it be clear, there is nothing inherently contradictory about being led by the Spirit and preaching expository sermons. Both commitments require effort, patience, and a willingness to let God have His way.
We Have Not Thought Through the Implications of Preaching From An Inspired and Authoritative Bible
Expository preaching is a logical commitment for Pentecostals who have a high view of Scripture. If you review any doctrinal statement of the major Pentecostal fellowships you would find phraseology such as “infallible,” “immutable,” “verbally inspired,” and “authoritative” are prominent in describing the nature of the Bible. Expository preaching assumes the power and authority of Scripture. Expository preaching presents the power of the Word as the preacher explains and applies it to the lives of people. Pentecostal’s strong commitment to the authority of the Bible should lead us to utilize more intentionally expository preaching.
We Define Pentecostal Preaching in Terms of Style Instead of Substance
When people think of Pentecostal preaching, they commonly think of a delivery style that is characteristic of Pentecostal worship (exuberant, spontaneous, simple speech, etc). Without wanting to dismiss the distinctions found in much Pentecostal sermon delivery, it would be a mistake to think that we understand Pentecostal preaching primarily in terms of style. Indeed, you cannot fully appreciate what motivates this zeal unless you define Pentecostal preaching in terms of theology.
Pentecostal preacher R.H. Hughes offers a helpful description of Pentecostal preaching. He wisely refuses to distance Pentecostal preaching too much from preaching done by other evangelical ministers. Hughes focuses not on differences in delivery, instead he addresses the unique theological emphasis that Pentecostals have, most notably the Book of Acts as a pattern for the life of the church along with speaking in tongues, gifts of healing, and spiritual warfare. Assuming his description is correct, we need to define Pentecostal preaching in terms of doctrine instead of delivery. Does it stress the need of the church to be empowered by the Holy Spirit? Does it teach that the works of the Holy Spirit through the disciples in the Book of Acts is more than just a record, but instead a pattern for Christian service and spirituality? Does it create expectation in the lives of the audience regarding Gods ability and willingness to work through spiritual gifts, yesterday, today, and as long as the church is doing her work? If the answer is yes, then that is Pentecostal preaching, and it is my conviction that expository preaching will help to firm up, clarify, and better explain the biblical base from which those doctrines emerge.
Why Pentecostals ShouldPreach Expository Sermons
Expository preaching is a philosophy of preaching, that when done intentionally and thoughtfully, will provide Pentecostal preachers with the ability to deal with relevant issues with confidence that their proclamations are firmly based on the rightly divided Word of God. Expository preaching does not limit creativity or minimize the value of other forms of communication, but rather helps clarify what preaching really involves and grounds the speaker and the audience in Scripture. Expository preaching does not require that one deny his culture, personality, or delivery style. Rather, the Pentecostal preacher takes those vital ingredients and weds them to proclaim the authoritative, transforming gospel. Ultimately, the greatest value of expository preaching for the Pentecostal preacher is the opportunity to partner with the Holy Spirit from the determination of the biblical concept to the final delivery of the message.
Jeff Magruder, D.Min,, assistant professor at Southwestern Assemblies of God University, and pastor, Abundant Life Assembly of God, Grand Prairie, Texas