Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Need for Expositional Listening

As I've been pondering the points outlined in Thabiti Anyabwile's excellent little book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, it occurs to me that the key and cornerstone to being a healthy church member is the first point - being an expositional listener. Perhaps that's why Anyabwile places this at the beginning of his list of marks of a healthy church member. Expositional listening is defined as "listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians." Or as he further states it, "listening primarily for the voice and message of God as revealed in His word."

So why is this so important? What makes this the foundation for all other marks of church member and corporate church health? First and foremost, this is our only connection to the power of the Gospel of Christ and the power of God contained in His word. Apart from looking for and dealing with God's intended meaning of His word, what are we left with? We are left only with a Bible that is like the pirate's code, sort of a guideline, but devoid of its power and authority over us. The Scriptures become a tool to be used to say whatever we want them to say. And the church, individually and corporately, becomes sick and weak.

It seems to me that there's a direct correlation, as well, between so many of us failing to be expositional listeners, and the famine in today's church of pastors who are expositional preachers. The faithful pastor who struggles with exegeting the text, exposing its original intended meaning, developing clear application of that meaning and crafting engaging communication of all these points is a rare commodity in the evangelical pulpit of our time. Could part of the reason for that be due to our lack of expecting, even demanding that our shepherds be this sort of man? We are far too willing to settle for far too little when it comes to the preaching and teaching of the word of God in our churches. We tend to be much more like those described in 2 Timothy 4:3, "wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires." This passage refers directly to the connection between what we as the flock desire from our pastors, and the results we will get.

So how does this non-expositional listening and preaching express itself? I have seen several ways that less-than-expositional preachers have sought to fulfill our less-than-expositional listening desires. Like taking a passage of Scripture and using it a a framework to hang all kinds of points and applications on it that have little or nothing to do with the meaning of the text. I call this faux-expository preaching, since to the non-expository listener it seems like actual preaching from the text, when in fact it's using the text as a pretext for spiritualized or therapeutic points. Of course there's the thinly disguised and popularly labeled "topical" preaching method, which is a legitimate form of preaching when done in an expository manner - submitting to and basing the topic on the primary meaning of the texts involved. But the non-expositional listener will never notice when the non-expositional preacher simply has a set of points to be made about a topic and strings together a series of verses free from their context and meaning to support those points, and fills the missing content with stories and anecdotes. And then there's the "sermons" that are not sermons at all, but rather pep talks, psychological self-focused therapy lessons or pragmatic how-to-live self-help sessions that masquerade as preaching to the non-expository listener because they might have a Bible verse or two sprinkled in. I've seen and heard all of these types of non-expository preaching many times, and unfortunately even in my own local church as I recently posted about.

But the expository listener will not suffer these kind of preachers and teachers long. He or she will have ears that seek not to be tickled by superficial or banal stories and word-less preaching, but will itch instead for the clear and solid expository preaching of the true God-intended meaning of His word.

This is my heart's desire for all who would claim the name of Christ - that we would be so focused on hearing from God through His word faithfully preached that it would be a strong encouragement to those pastors who do so, and a strong corrective to those who do not. With the end result that His church is built up and healthy, with every pulpit filled by an expositional preacher who brings the word of God regularly to a flock of expositional listeners. For our good, and His glory.

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