Church Planting, Expository Preaching, and The Sermon Shop

There has been some excellent conversations about church planting and church reforming lately which is really exciting. I thought I’d bring up something I have currently looking into in recent days, namely that of expository preaching and church planting. Unlike many other seminaries, Southern Seminary is not training “specialists” with “skill sets,” but the focus has been on training pastor-theologians who are committed to the truth more than the latest technique which “works.” A foundational motif for expository preaching is a high view of Scripture, especially the sufficiency of Scripture. When ministers are no longer trained to mine the depths of God’s self-revelatory Word, a future generation will be trained who will know God superficially through minimal exposure to what God has spoken.

I suppose I should make a caveat here. I am not against methods, strategy, technique, and all that jazz. What I am saying is that our emphasis is being placed on God’s Word and competent communicators of God’s revealed truth. The overriding issue is whether your philosophy of ministry is going to be driven my pragmatism, novelty, and technique, or by God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s gospel. With that said, I have a huge concern among those training Southern Baptists church planters that churches cannot be started or sustained by expository preaching. Instead, church planters are being advised and encouraged to preach to “felt needs” with “how to” messages because they are more “effective” and “make the sale.” Let me point you to a couple of article’s I read recently:

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has a website called the Church Planting Village. When you go the resource library, you will find a page dedicated to preaching which they have called “The Sermon Shop.” The second link on the page directs you to something we have addressed here at Said At Southern, namely pastoral plagiarism. At the sermon shop, a church planter can find information on how to market their message, improve their message, and craft their message. Church planters can use how to sustain an audience, appropriately use sermon illustrations, come up with catchy sermon titles, incorporate PowerPoint into their messages, and even find tips on how to start a pastoral blog. However, in the midst of all the tips and tricks, I found nothing even remotely related to expository preaching (a PDF of Stetzer’s chapter on preaching is available which I mention in the meta below).

Two main articles on sermon preparation are provided, both by the same author. While he makes some good points in general, let me bring out what appears to be the common line of thinking of preaching for church planters today. In the article, “How to Preach in the 21st Century,” Greg Penna, Strategic Resourcing Associate with the Church Planting Group at the North American Mission Board, writes:

Church planters are required to have messages of excellence every week. In sales, you are only as good as your last sale. In church planting, you are only as good as your last effective sermon. . . .The person in the congregation will judge your message against a message they have heard on the radio or television. It may not be fair. After all, that speaker has only one primary job, to preach. Most of the time they have an entire staff to help craft the message. Therefore, take advantage of every short-cut you can without resulting to plagiarism.

Later, Penna writes:

Titles matter; preach more “how to” messages. Rick Warren calls this, “felt need preaching.” It should be called, “a common sense way to approach the preaching.” It is a myth to think that this is topical preaching! In Acts 16 the powerful story is told about Paul and Silas praising God and singing songs in jail. Imagine a title, “The Theological Lesson of Philippi.” No one will come! Now imagine the same sermon titled, “How to Overcome in any Situation.” The house will be packed.

Now if Penna is arguing that the message should have specific and direct application, there is no problem here. But I am hearing is emphasis on titles, “felt needs,” “how to” self-help stuff, and encouragement to take advantage of “every short-cut” in order to “make the sale.” In an attempt to be relevant, effective, and marketable, I fear that fidelity to Scriptures is being sacrificed, and man-centered methods are trumping Scripture’s God-centered message.

The second article is entitled “How to Plan Preaching,” and I would like to include a few excerpts as well:

Because a church plant doesn’t have a multitude of ministries, the worship service must meet people’s needs. A key to meeting needs is a fresh, lively, inspiring, weekly message. Each week the congregation asks, “What is in this message for me?”

Again, the article begins with the focus on man-centered “felt needs” (and as we will see, ends there as well). Penna then moves onto a method of planning based on the calendar. Certain times of the year seem more conducive to certain types of preaching. Since it is summertime, let me share what he said about this season of the year:

After Father’s Day, the hot, heat of summer falls. Now is the time to be most creative in sermon and church calendar planning. The goal is to have something so good the church family will wait until after church to leave for their vacation. Single sermon zingers on topics of interest will work. Summer time is a great time to cover hot topics (i.e. homosexuality), eschatology, and any series on self-improvement (i.e. “How to Manage Your Money”).

Now notice the rationale behind what to preach and when. It is meeting the needs of people through a method and means that will accomplish the best results. In short, it is driven by a pragmatic end. Penna then moves back into the “how to” emphasis:

What if part of the sermon plan included six weeks in the book of Deuteronomy? Don’t look at it as six weeks studying the book of Deuteronomy. That won’t pack much of a punch to the Christian community, let alone those needing life-change. That same series could be repackaged into, “How to Succeed in Life—Lessons from the Ancients,” and begin the process of having a theme.

The question that first comes to my mind is, “Is ‘How to Succeed in Life’ the point of the book of Deuteronomy?” Should we not be committed to the text in its context, having our messages driven by God’s self revelation? Penna concludes,

Congregations spend very little time thinking about preaching. They have never studied what makes a good or bad sermon. They couldn’t write a sermon if forced too. However, in the final analysis, they measure preaching. Their only barometer is, “Did that message meet our needs?”

When the final analysis of God’s people is meeting our needs, I have to wonder if their conclusion and line of thinking is a product of the kind of preaching we have been giving them. Should not the analysis be, “How can and be more like Christ as a result of what God has taught me through His messenger?”

As seminary students, whether we are going to be pastors, church planters, church reformers, or lay people in the church, the fundamental issue when preaching is the sufficiency of Scripture and the preacher’s fidelity to it. Christ has committed Himself to build His Church, and He has committed Himself to His Word. But after reading these articles and others, I must ask you the question.

Can you plant a church through expository preaching?

Let me know what you think.

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42 Responses to Church Planting, Expository Preaching, and The Sermon Shop

  1. Marc Backes says:

    Can I call you Timmy or should it be Mr. Brister? Either way, a great post!

    I’m reading Stetzer’s book and giving the highlights over at The Jonah Syndrome and so far what I’ve read is really, really good stuff.

    I also read Rohrmayer’s “Church Planting Landmines” and found it to be good as well. However, in both books, Rohrmayer more than Stetzer, there is a definite openness to all “kinds” of churches. While I don’t think they would take it as far as the author you quote, they’re certainly not touting Piperesque / Kelleresque preaching methods for church planters…

    From what I’ve read so far, it’s almost as if there is an assumption that you will either A) be a great preacher or B) be a great church planter, but you can’t be both, to which I would disagree. Granted, finding both may not be commonplace, but I think you can stay absolutely committed to “expository” VBV / Text By Text preaching and have a “growing” church plant.

    Pragmatism may build a community, but as Bonhoeffer would say, without Christ at the center of that community, it really isn’t a Biblical community at all.

    I’m interested to read Stetzer’s chapter on preaching. I’m expecting good things, I hope I’m not disappointed…

  2. Marc,

    You can call me Timmy. Mr. Brister has too much a rhyme to it. 🙂

    I did notice at The Sermon Shop that Stetzer’s chapter on preaching is available in a PDF. I gave it a look this afternoon, and this is what Stetzer has to say on the matter:

    “All biblical preaching should be expositional preaching. Exposition means a presentation of the meaning or intent. All true preaching explains the meaning or intent of the Bible. This does not mean that preaching has to be a verse-by-verse study of the Bible. It does mean that it has to convey accurately the meaning and intent of the Bible.” (271)

    Stetzer then goes on to give what he considers to be four kinds of expository preaching:

    1. Verse-by-Verse Preaching

    “This is the systematic reading and explanation of a biblical text, involving one book of Scripture and its piece-by-piece analysis.”

    2. Thematic Expository (or Doctrinal) Preaching

    “Thematic preaching is an excellent form for preaching Bible doctrine. The speaker can focus on everyday topics by expounding on a specific biblical text. The pastor can focus on Bible sayings on any relevant subject by a careful study and exposition of relevant biblical passages.”

    3. Narrative Expository Preaching

    “Narrative preaching presents the biblical text in the form of story and follows that story to completion. A narrative sermon functions as a lengthly illustration that uses a biblical text as its beginning and end.”

    4. Topical Expository Preaching

    “Of the four forms of exposition, I recommend this form the least. Its weakness grows out of the limits of time and the speaker’s inability to include enough biblical text about the topic in one sermon. Although I discourage this form, it is helpful at times. Topical exposition generally revolves around one passage, centering on one theme. it is topical because it’s usually a single message on a single subject. It’s expository, because it uses the biblical text as its source.”

    This is the most helpful treatment on expository preaching I have seen from the Church Planting site, but I am not sure that Stetzer’s definition and forms of expository preaching would be agreed upon by everyone. But the definition of expository preaching is a follow-up topic (and will be addressed).

    But for the sake of the topic at hand, it seems that church planters are saying that expository preaching does not “work.” Stetzer seems to be the exception.

  3. Tony Kummer says:

    This should be a good conversation. I have heard, “Whatever it takes to bring in your crowd, it will take more of the same to keep them.” It seems like building a church around anything other than the Gospel would be a mistake.

    My very limited ministry experience is already confirming this to be true. I would love to hear from any experienced pastors or church planters on this issue too.

  4. I’ve always told the people in our church plant that I didn’t plant the church. Our core group didn’t plant the church. No one was impressed with me, or our core group. I couldn’t gather a group of people to walk down the street together. They would never follow me. The Bible planted our church – plain and simple. The Word of God draws and gels together a group of people around itself. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to plant a church. If this is true, then it stands to reason that the best training one can give a church planter is a solid theological, biblical, practical knowledge of and respect for Scripture. There aren’t multiple methods of planting churches – only multiple venues for doing the same thing.

  5. Tony Kummer says:

    Darby wrote, “The Word of God draws and gels together a group of people around itself. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to plant a church.

    This issue seems to come down to our confidence in the sufficientcy of the Scriptures. Do we trust in the power of God’s Word and Spirit to accomplish what He wants to accomplish in the church planting endeavor? Are we trusting in our own strategies, talents and energies rather than in God?

  6. I think your point is valid, Tony, considering how often church plants fail. I have planted (and pastor) a growing church, and I’ve personally sponsored another plant that fell apart. My heart and method were identical, as far as I can tell. If my confidence wasn’t firmly rooted in God’s Word and Providence, I would be tempted to throw in the towel, or alter the method to produce the desired results next time. I don’t believe that’s an option church planters can entertain. I just don’t see that much scriptural warrant for broad altering of the method.

  7. Marc Backes says:

    You guys have some great comments! As I’ve read Rohrmayer, Stetzer, and Keller’s Church planting manual, I have to admit to being a hair overwhelmed. And I suppose that’s a good thing as I in my human flesh would never be up for such a task as starting a church with the Gospel at the core that renews a city and sees a multiplication of Gospel centered churches from it. Sorry for the runon sentence….

    I also have a very strong impression that Mark Driscoll is right. Getting the right man might just be the hardest thing to do in church planting because not only does he have to be good logistically, relationally, strategically, emotionally, mentally, physically, he ALSO MUST BE VERY SOUND Doctrinally. And of all the manuals I’m reading and pouring through right now, Keller is the only one that takes that issue MORE SERIOUSLY than the other areas in which the planter must be strong.

    Stetzer and Rohrmayer have FANTASTIC advice about the do’s and don’ts of starting a church. Holy cow, the advice is awesome and it comes from experience of seeing it done wrong and blow up, so I’m a fool to no capitalize on their hundreds of years combined experience….

    BUT, I’m also immensely thankful that my Gospel and doctrinal roots have been shaped by Piper, Keller, Carson, Ferguson, Driscoll, et all…

    It’s a dangerous thing to learn “practical” things because in doing so, you can rely on them instead of the Gospel…HOWEVER, I’d be foolish not to recognize the gifts and equipping God has given me to be fruitful in the other areas that are so vital in church planting…

    Sorry for the long post…just wanted to expound my thoughts in this discussion…

  8. I think what we are seeing here is how theology must not only drive our missiology, but it must also shape our methodology. There is an intrinsic link between pragmatism and man-centered theology where the emphasis is placed on man’s performance, man’s techniques, man’s methods, etc.

    Expository preaching may not be efficient, but it could also be that we are using the wrong measuring stick too. When are looking to statistical information over a short period of time, the sample reveals more than we realize. I believe it also speaks to impermanence in the church.

    Expository preaching works if you are going to plant your life there in that church, and give them God’s Word for the next four decades (as John MacArthur, for example, has). It does not work if you want quick and immediate results. In other words, I think it could be said that pastoral permanence and expository preaching have a strong link. I would be interested in seeing how long those who preach felt-need, topical how-to messages stay in their churches. My hunch is that you will not find many pastors who preach for more than a decade with such messages.

    You know, there was a seed that was sown among shallow ground that appeared to bring forth fruit but quickly withered away.

  9. Devin Hudson says:

    Amidst the conversation don’t forget expository preaching is a method. It is just as dangerous to elevate one preferred method to “this is the only correct way” as it is another. Church plants have been planted and grown and people have been reached with a variety of preaching methods. I actually prefer what I call “gospel-centered” preaching. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to the “success” and “longevity” of a church plant. Preaching preference is one of them. There is an innate tendency in each of us to trust methods. I think the missional question that must be asked within church planting is: what is going to connect people in this culture to the gospel? And the answer will look somewhat differently within each culture.

    *All of this coming from a “successful” church planter in a post-Christian culture with a PhD from Southern in NT with a minor in expository preaching.

  10. Tony Kummer says:

    I am really glad to have you contributing to this conversation. God is using your ministry in Vegas in ways the rest of us are tempted to covet and copy.

    I think the way Dr. Stetzer defines expository preaching is very helpful. His goes beyond the structured “elementary” methods they teach us in Seminary. It seems like too many people think of expository preaching in the shape that you have to do to pass preaching class. In which case most of our hero pastors would fail – ie Piper.

    Question for Devin,
    In the church planting circles you interact with, do people think expository preaching can ‘work’ in church planting?

  11. Devin,

    Thanks for your comment. I think we can agree that trusting in a method is a tendency we should avoid. As a successful church planter, could you define “gospel-centered” preaching? I think I know what you mean, but it would be great if you could qualify that term definitionally.

    Second, do you believe that expository preaching is to be used only in certain cultural settings? I hear that since we are living in a post-modern culture, expository preaching just won’t work with the younger generation. Instead, narrative preaching is preferred. On the mission field in pre-literate cultures, chronological storying is used (although I don’t know if that would be considered a form of preaching). It seems to me that some would have us believe that expository preaching and messages comprised of propositional revelation is relevant only to the modern era.

  12. While finishing seminary (in vastly unchurched Oregon) and living with family my wife and I are intentionally being part of a young, growing church (in depth and numbers) that centers around “How To…” preaching, which is completely different than the Word-centered ministry we’ve be a part of for the last decade (and have made the switch on purpose for perspective and family and seeking mentoring). The titles to the sermons (and series) are hokey but the content is rich, mostly because the lead pastor’s life is deep and he speaks from a place of integrity and experience, and certainly is Bible-saturated in thought. In fact, each sermon sort of has a string of a few short expositions of some of the key passages, just that they are not from the same chapter, and thus perhaps the people don’t notice it (since they don’t see it in their Bibles not having them nor turning to the texts — it’s all provided on handouts). This “How To…” approach sort of drives me crazy, but rather than simply hop on over to a “better” church (since we are the church and are not simply going to church) — we have chosen to be there, be challenged, encourage a theological depth and to influence the leadership. As Piper has reminded time and again, for our people to have substantial lives they need to be fed substantial preaching. (And would you agree that people develop an appetite for what they are being fed?)

    My main issues are (1) the people are not interacting with their Bibles (and when else in a given week would they?) and thus are not able to feed themselves; and (2) most are content to simply have conclusions spoon-fed rather than go to the root of the matter and see the thought- and life-process that comes from hearing and doing the Word.

    Any thoughts or advice?

  13. Devin Hudson says:

    Question for Devin,
    In the church planting circles you interact with, do people think expository preaching can ‘work’ in church planting?

    Reply from Devin:
    I run in a lot of lanes from Acts 29 to Purpose-Driven types to NAMBers to Andy Stanley wannabes. I have simply chosen to try and learn from as many as possible and be involved in the lives of as many as possible without tying myself to one specific group or model (I am actually a part of A29 – but that is another story in itself).

    I think the question of whether ex preaching can “grow” has to do with the circles in which you are running. Some movements don’t even broach it. Some deal with it extensively. Even in a movement like A29 which would identify itself primarily as a movement of expositional style preaching, there is some diversity. And as much as Mark Driscoll wants us to believe that he is a straight expository preacher, anyone who has heard him regularly knows that his style is definitely not textbook exposition. Mark engages people with his style which is what causes people to listen.

    I think model preference has to do with both culture and communicator. In our culture, we have to drive people back to the basics because they have limited or no knowledge of Christ. That is why I practice gospel-centered preaching.

    It also has to do with the communicator. John Mac is a straight expositor (with questionable exegesis at times — oops did I say that out loud) for a reason – can you imagine him being anything else? Dr Mohler is a straight expositor for a reason. Piper is what he is for a reason as is Dever, Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, TD Jakes, etc. These guys were created and gifted in a way that shapes their preaching styles.

    My personal experience is this: guys who embrace a philosophy of ministry and preaching style similar to a MacArthur have a hard time reaching nonbelievers (which I believe is critical in the church planting movement). They might attract a lot of Christians seeking “deeper” pastures but few of those type pastors have grown their churches through true conversions. Most simply attract dissatisfied Christians. I am not saying that is right or wrong. I am simply saying that style tends to attract a certain type person and it is usually not an unbeliever.

    I know there are a lot of nuances to my above statements that could take this conversation a million directions but at the end of the day I think preaching style has a lot to do with cultural context and personal giftedness.

    I would also add here that expository preaching is the EASIEST method for me personally. I have 27 hours of NT Greek and exegesis. Exposition is easy. What is difficult for me is cultural exegesis and culturally current communication that bridges the gap between a post-Christian culture and the gospel in a 30 minute window.

    I might as well put a bullet in my other foot by saying I think it is a bit unwise to only teach one model of preaching in SBC seminaries, but that is another discussion for another day.

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  15. Timmy,

    Thanks for that smackdown of a comment in #8. That is one of the big reasons I started preaching through Romans last fall. I don’t want to be one of those preachers who stays 3 years and then scrams. 😉

    Narrative preaching? Maybe I can provide a perspective on that. I heavily studied “narrative therapy” while a pastoral counseling student, and it is a technique that I tend to use quite often with Deaf counselees, since the Deaf tend to encapsulate everything within a story. But in my mind I couldn’t ever preach in such a manner, if indeed “narrative” preaching operates along the same lines of secular “narrative” therapy, or even if I attempted to do so in a distinctively Christian way as I do with counseling.

    By bringing the counselee, or the listener, to a place where they can share their story and write their future story, narrative therapy can work if the counselee attempts to model their story after Scripture, and by trusting in the providence of God. (Yes, I know this runs dangerously close to a synergistic view of providence, but bear with me for a moment.) The counselee learns to pattern their story after Christ when faced with the issues being counseled rather than the sinful, unredeemed plotline currently unfolding. The goal is a Romans 12 transformation. That is why, I think, such technique only works with believers.

    But this simply cannot be done in preaching. Preaching by its very nature is not a “sharing” moment nor a “story writing” moment. You simply cannot preach the Gospel in “narrative” preaching, and none of those whom I’ve seen use it have been very successful in conveying the Gospel. At best you’re challenged to straighten up and act right. Mostly you’re just entertained. At worst you’re left feeling better about yourself with no real heart change. I’d say it would be so-so for use with believers and I’d give an “absolutely not” for use with unbelievers.

    But now, if we were talking about Stetzer’s use of the term, which I have never seen used, we’d have a different conversation.

  16. Devin Hudson says:


    could you define “gospel-centered” preaching?

    Second, do you believe that expository preaching is to be used only in certain cultural settings?


    1. I don’t really have a specific definition at this point (although I am writing some articles). In essence, it has to do with driving people back to the cross – to the gospel. But it also has to do with how the gospel affects everyday life – which is why in our church we deal with everyday life issues from a gospel perspective.

    It also has to do with preaching as a marathon and not a sprint. At times in my preaching, I create tension that only the gospel can resolve but I may not always resolve that tension immediately. I might allow it to continue throughout a series in order to prepare the hearer for the reality that the gospel is more than enough. So gospel centered preaching does not always mean I spell the gospel out clearly every message (although I usually take it back to the cross in the end). It simply means the gospel stands behind every message and is preached from this perspective.

    Here is the question that haunts me in my preaching: what am I going to say in approximately 26 hours a year (although my people would probably say it is more in the 40-50 hour range) that will impact someone’s everyday life with the gospel? And that question does not even consider the fact that most people in our culture will only show up a couple of times a month at best (which cuts that time in half). I have simply reached the conclusion that there are real life issues that I will address every single year from a gospel perspective. For example, about 90% of our church is 20s-30s. Many of those are married or are looking to be married soon. For that reason, I had better talk about a gospel-centered marriage at some point during the year. That is where they live life. There are other issues (notice I am trying desperately to avoid the word “topic” or “need”) that I will address every year because I want the gospel to saturate their lives as spouses, parents, employers & employees, students, friends, missionaries in our culture, etc. I have found I simply cannot do that AS effectively going verse-by-verse through books that may or may not always deal with the issues that are current in our culture. What I can do is teach people that the gospel impacts every facet of their lives.

    You must also consider the fact that a large percentage of the people who attend our church are nonbelievers and/or previously unchurched. At one time it was about 40-50%. That helps shape your style.

    I think gospel-centered preaching strikes the balance between topical, narrative, and expository preaching. And if we broaden our definitions like my friend Ed Stetzer likes to do, we can no doubt fit it under the umbrella of “expositional style” preaching.

    2. I think each preacher must be a student of their culture, understand their giftedness, understand their audience, understand who is coming to their church and what type of church they are, and then communicate the gospel in a way that will most effectively engage the hearer and impact the culture (missional preaching).

  17. Devin,

    Thanks for the reply. I am not that familiar with “missional preaching” because I have understood the idea of being “missional” as living out the gospel and communicating it in our culture. I do not see the central point of the message on Sunday morning to be to unbelievers, because the church is comprised of regenerate believers (or supposed to be). Therefore, I would take a different approach in being missional in the world versus the teaching of God’s Word in the church.

    This leads me to another point. The central priority of the pastor is to teach God’s people God’s Word, which brings me back to the exposition of Scripture. I fear that pastors today find the Scriptures to be a launching point or proof text to support their topics and stories rather than the centerpiece of their message.

    I noticed that you are preaching a series based on Hollywood Blockbusters. I would be interested in knowing how you use God’s Word in these messages, and secondly, how you communicate the gospel in them.

  18. Tony Kummer says:

    I am definitely learning from this conversation. It seems like we are all trying to clarify what it means to preach the Gospel in our culture.

    I may be wrong, but I have always understood expository preaching to be more than a style – it begins with an attitude of humility toward God’s Word.

  19. Mike Hamby says:

    This is a good discussion. I am encouraged to think and learn through much of what is being written, especially by our brother Devin. There are connections for me which are interesting and curious. I share the passion to bring the gospel to bear in every sermon. I also recognize the urgency of speaking to the issue of marriage from Scripture. The big question it seems is how will preachers do that? Here’s a thought. Which books of the Bible will not address marriage in a gospel centered fashion? Just off the top of my head, here are the books of the Bible that I can think of which speak directly, explicitly, and sometimes uniquely to marriage; Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, various Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Hosea, Micah, Malachi, Matthew, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Peter. I’m sure someone will notice that I have overlooked some, which only highlights the point. And surely applications to marriage can be legitimately made from passages which don’t address marriage directly. I think it is important to remember that working through these books will force both preacher and listener to face other issues that might not be on the radar screen of ready application and yet just might be very important for them. What if the preacher preaches a sermon on an attribute of God that seems to have nothing to do with a young couple’s marriage? Could any of us invent something more engaging and authentic than the Song of Solomon?

  20. Devin Hudson says:

    Hey Timmy. Thanks for the feedback. I think the points you raise are general arguments in this discussion but I will address them briefly.

    1. Missional Preaching – a term I adapted to define the goal of gospel-centered preaching, i.e., missional living. Missional has more to do with the aim. This is where I believe we miss the mark in the attractional vs incarnational discussion. I don’t think it has to be either/or but both/and. As a church start, we want to attract people (and must attract people in order to survive), but the ultimate goal is not attraction for the sake of attraction the goal is attraction in order to lead people into a relationship with Jesus that is real and turns them into missionaries in our culture. Attractional outreach upfront allows us to build missional living into the DNA of the people we reach. I spend very little time having to explain missional living to our church because they simply learn it as a part of our process. I don’t have to unpack the religious baggage before teaching them they are missionaries. It is simply part of who we have been from day one. When they come in, they are taught the goal is to make them missionaries in our culture and to restore the shalom of our community by serving it.

    Obviously I believe missional living takes place outside the Sunday gathering we call church which is why I use gospel-centered teaching. It translates into everyday life.

    2. You write: “This leads me to another point. The central priority of the pastor is to teach God’s people God’s Word, which brings me back to the exposition of Scripture. I fear that pastors today find the Scriptures to be a launching point or proof text to support their topics and stories rather than the centerpiece of their message.”

    A couple of responses here: first, your assumption in the first sentence cannot be based on biblical examples. Neither Paul nor Jesus modeled this type of preaching which is why I find it so interesting to hear guys defend expository preaching as the only legitimate means.

    I have no problem saying it is my calling to teach people God’s word. I simply translate that as “the gospel” so my goal is to teach PEOPLE the gospel which leads to my second point. Yes the church by theological definition is a regenerate people. I am not using the term in that manner. I am simply talking about the community of people (both believers and non) who gather at Grace Point on weekends. So I am not going technical here. That being said, I once again think falling into the either/or trap here is a mistake. I am often asked who is my target in preaching. My response is simple: “people”. I want to engage the hearer. Obviously there are times my teaching addresses believers more and other times I am talking more specifically to nonbelievers. But as a rule, I think gospel centered preaching should be done in a way that simply deals with how the gospel affects the lives of everyday people. As they progress on their spiritual journey and many of them cross the line of faith, that teaching is applied differently (by the Spirit). This is why we are not considered a seeker church b/c we don’t target seekers. We target people. Admittedly we go after unbelievers at a high level b/c we are in a culture that is 95% lost which leads me to another point.

    Third, this discussion stems from the concept of church planting. Church planting cannot be about simply gathering believers – particularly in a culture like ours where the few spiritually mature believers here are already a part of a church. I find it almost amusing when people discuss the fact the church cannot be attractional. Every church is attractional at some level. And the reality is this: a church plant (again not using the technical term here) in an unchurched culture MUST be attractional or they simply will not survive. Church planting is about reaching unbelievers. That will not happen if you do not get them in an environment to hear the gospel.

    Regarding your concern about the launching point of some pastors … obviously pastors blow it. There are extremes in every area. I also know pastors who can preach incredible expository sermons and yet see virtually no people come to Christ and they cannot engage an audience. Again it is not about either/or.

    3. You write: “I noticed that you are preaching a series based on Hollywood Blockbusters. I would be interested in knowing how you use God’s Word in these messages, and secondly, how you communicate the gospel in them.”

    Again I believe in culturally current communication. Vegas is an entertainment-driven culture. Movies is a part of that drive. The theater closes to where we meet attracts 80,000 a month. So we have simply chosen to use a culturally current avenue to communicate a gospel-centered message. This series simply deals with real life issues that are raised in a cultural vehicle (movies) that people are fascinated with (they are all blockbusters). So what am I going to do with that? Ignore it and continue through my 773 weeks in Leviticus or deal with it from an exegetical basis? We choose the latter. So we take an issue like revenge and we go to a particular passage (Rom 12.17-21 in this case) and we break it down from the text. And we teach people how to deal with this issue from a gospel perspective – neither topical or expository (by strict definition), gospel preaching.

    By the way, blockbusters is not a series for every culture or church. I would not do this series if I were in Louisville or Birmingham. But I am not. I am in Vegas so I must do constant cultural exegesis in order to seek avenues to bridge that gap between the people we are here to reach and the gospel.

    Hope that helps. Let me know if I can clarify.

    I would be interested in hearing your perspective on the role of a pastor in a church plant in a predominately post-Christian community that is 95% lost. If you and your wife parachuted into this community, how would you go about impacting it for the gospel?

  21. Devin,

    I am all for exegeting culture (which is at least as hard as exegeting Scripture; at least we have specific tools and hermeneutics and helps in the Word) as you say, but is it not a little bold to say, “Neither Paul nor Jesus modeled this type of preaching which is why I find it so interesting to hear guys defend expository preaching as the only legitimate means.” (#20 in response to Timmy.)

    Then what are we to make of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 24:25-27? I may be totally off here, but at least part of what He was doing was exposition (and it was more than simply preaching a long Topical sermon on the types and prophecies of Christ from the OT) perhaps not in our textbook way. (I realize at this point I may be misreading what you wrote, or at least intended…)

    In exposition there does seem to be the danger of wanting to get through the text (as in books) and make all the necessary points more than impacting PEOPLE. Perhaps a question is to ask, What is my goal in preaching? What is my goal in preaching this specific text? (Stating them in a list at the top of one’s notes helps to refine and refocus.)

    My non-denominational denomination is all about preaching the Word, but I often find that it is just a simplistic Bible study and not really engaging. Great exposition, lots of illustrations, and the people are being fed. But they are just getting fat, because there is a disconnect between hearing and doing. Bible intake is there, and even many application points are emphasized. Yet there needs to be more, right? That is where the “missional” emphasis needs to be (we are to incarnate the Gospel; which is a whole different paradigm), even making it intrinsic in the Sunday morning messages by seeking to move people out from themselves and catching the vision that being the church is not simply gathering and then not doing bad the rest of the week until we meet again.

    Related to preaching, I wonder how much we are being trained to fulfill the 54 Pauline imperatives for pastors (no worries, it isn’t long).

  22. Brian says:

    I liked the comment linking expository preaching with longevity. Once I changed my preaching style to expository, I found that I “wanted” to be with this congregation for the long haul. It wasn’t as if I planned to bolt after three years or so, but I actually began to long for this congregation.

    I will chime in with the others, though, about making an expository message connect with the hearers. Knowing, being, and doing must all should be interrelated in a sermon, small group study, whatever. If it doesn’t – we are NOT preaching a Biblical exposition, IMO (since the Scriptures call us to knowing/being/doing). The same goes for a topical sermon. I’ve heard plenty of topicals that didn’t quite connect.

  23. Devin,

    If my wife and I parachuted into your community, the first thing I would do was know beforehand where I was parachuting and why. When I get there, the first thing I would do is get on my face and pray. The second thing I would do is spend as much time in the community as possible, getting to know and build relationships with people in the community. I would also seek out like-minded ministers who I could me with for encouragement, prayer, and counsel. The third thing I would do pour my life into men whom God has allowed me to influence with the gospel of Jesus Christ, either having led them to Christ or been an instrument to help them grow in grace. If I am going to reach families which are foundational to the church, I must reach the men. Fourthly, I would unite work to bring a united vision to bring gospel-centered ministry to our community.

    That’s just a few ideas off the top of my head. I can assure you that I have not thought about this as much as you, and certainly not as much as I would like. There are probably several significant others things I would do, but to be brief, that’s a small summary.

  24. Devin Hudson says:


    I think you said it right – part of what he was doing was exegesis. That is a far cry from expository preaching as a model prescribed in Scripture. I would also add this single account is a dialogue. When Jesus talks to crowds comprised of both followers and non-followers, his approach was totally different. I would argue the same for Paul. I just think it is presumptuous for a person to suggest expository preaching is the only valid means – which in return makes me question why it is the only one taught at SBC seminaries. Also remember I practice expository preaching in the broader sense of the term so I am a proponent of it.


    I was talking more specifically in terms of generating a group of people from which to build. Again – you are in a culture 95% lost. What do you do to start and sustain a group of people from which to build? Will you seek to gather both believers and nonbelievers? And will you only preach expositional messages geared for Christians in that context?

    Here is where the reality of church planting and expository preaching must be discussed – particularly in a predominately lost culture.

    I would also like to see your points of disagreement with my previous post.

  25. Devin,

    I think there has to be a clear line between the church and the culture. The church is in the culture, but the church must be distinct from the culture. The church is comprised of regenerate, baptized believers. You can have people attend your church who are unbelievers, but that is not necessarily making them part of the church. So on Sunday morning, yes, I will preach expository messages, but they will also be evangelistic (i.e. gospel-centered). I believe the sermon is primarily for the Church, to teach God’s people God’s Word. You seem to think otherwise.

    My concerns would be twofold (at least):

    1. How you define the church

    2. How you understand the relationship of the church and culture, and

    3. How far you will contextualize the gospel in the culture

    The second issue I brought up earlier. How far will you go in your contextualization? How far is too far? What governs or guides your methods of contextualization? Do you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture in ecclesiological matters? What regulates what you do or do not do as a church?

    There is a real tension between biblical fidelity and cultural relevance. In many ways we can be conversant with culture; but in other ways we must be counter-cultural. Honestly, many of the church planters I have talked to brag more on their cultural expertise than on Jesus. I find that problematic.

    There is much more to be said, perhaps I still need to be more specific. I appreciate your challenge to help me think more in depth on these issues, and although we may disagree on certain points, I do find this to be a profitable discussion.

  26. Devin Hudson says:

    T: “I think there has to be a clear line between the church and the culture. The church is in the culture, but the church must be distinct from the culture.”

    D: Agreed. Not sure anyone would disagree with this statement.

    T: “The church is comprised of regenerate, baptized believers.”

    D: Agreed. Ecclesiology 101

    T: “You can have people attend your church who are unbelievers, but that is not necessarily making them part of the church.”

    D: Agreed. I said earlier I was not using “church” in the theological sense of the word but to merely represent the group who gathers on Sunday. I usually refer to them as our community. I agree with Stetzer in that we have discovered people in our culture often become a part of our community long before they cross the line of faith and become a part of the “church”.

    T: “So on Sunday morning, yes, I will preach expository messages, but they will also be evangelistic (i.e. gospel-centered). I believe the sermon is primarily for the Church, to teach God’s people God’s Word. You seem to think otherwise.”

    D: I also preach expository messages the majority of the time. And my messages are always gospel-centered. I believe the sermon is primarily to engage the hearer with the truth of God in a way that connects the hearer with the gospel.

    T: “My concerns would be twofold (at least): 1. How you define the church”

    D: Evidently the same way you do – regenerate, baptized believers.

    T: “2. How you understand the relationship of the church and culture”

    D: I will use Driscoll’s analogy here of culture + church + gospel as opposed to church + culture – gospel (classic liberalism), culture + gospel – church (parachurch), or church + gospel – culture (fundamentalism).

    T: “3. How far you will contextualize the gospel in the culture … The second issue I brought up earlier. How far will you go in your contextualization?”

    D: Further than some. Not as far as others. I would say as far as necessary to preserve the integrity of the gospel and engage the hearer.

    T: “How far is too far?”

    D: When the gospel has been forfeited.

    T: “What governs or guides your methods of contextualization?”

    D: Primarily Paul’s contextual “I become all things to all men in order to save some.” I would also add Stetzer’s “contend for the faith” as well.

    T: “Do you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture in ecclesiological matters?”

    D: Yes. I do not embrace a full regulative philosophy and do not think anyone can completely and honestly. I can be more specific here if needed.

    T: “What regulates what you do or do not do as a church?”

    D: Does it compromise the gospel (contend)? Does it connect to the culture in which God has placed us (contextualize)?

    T: “There is a real tension between biblical fidelity and cultural relevance.”

    D: Agreed.

    T: “In many ways we can be conversant with culture;”

    D: Actually I would say everyone is conversant with a certain element of their culture. Some simply choose to only converse with the Christian subculture within their culture. Others are conversant in a negative way and turn away their culture. We seek to engage our culture with the gospel.

    T: “but in other ways we must be counter-cultural.”

    D: Agreed. I have preached 2 series this year that reiterate this point. A series on the “you say – but I say” passages of Matthew 5 called Antonymn which spoke about how the words of Jesus were and are counter-cultural. And actually the series we are in now where I talk about how God and culture collide. I would say as many of my messages talk about the counter-cultural aspects of following Christ as the other. The gospel stands in opposition to the me-centered philosophy of our culture so gospel-centered teaching is by nature counter-cultural in many regards. I think you are missing an important point here about the culture serving as a vehicle to get people to the gospel which is counter-cultural upon arrival.

    T: “Honestly, many of the church planters I have talked to brag more on their cultural expertise than on Jesus. I find that problematic.”

    D: And on the opposite side, many of the guys I have talked to can do incredible exegesis, parse every known word, apply principles of hermeneutics, read from the original, but they have no clue what is happening in the world around them and reach no lost people with the gospel they can parse so eloquently. Both extremes are very problematic.

    T: “There is much more to be said, perhaps I still need to be more specific. I appreciate your challenge to help me think more in depth on these issues, and although we may disagree on certain points, I do find this to be a profitable discussion.”

    D: I find it profitable as well. I think my challenge in relation to the central subject of the thread in how a person enters a lost culture and starts a church from scratch based on your philosophy.

    There is a dialogue in church planting about whether a church should build from core to crowd or seek to go from crowd to core. I think in our culture the best route is crowd to core. It is the only way that I know a church can survive and then thrive. This is why I think gospel-centered preaching is the best method.

    I also think the “should a seminary only teach one method of preaching” discussion is a valid one.

    And just one question: would you classify the preaching of Jesus and Paul as expositional (not to mention the preachers of the first several centuries of the church)?

  27. Ann Addison says:

    I am so glad to see you all discussing this subject. I pray that the Lord is preparing a new crop of Christ-centered pastors. My husband and I recently searched the city to find a Christ centered church. We were astonished at how difficult it was to find a Christ-centered church in a fairly large city (we had been attending in an outlying area since we moved here). If you are interested, I wrote a post called “Christless Christianity” describing what it means to me (a mid forties, lay-woman) to hear the gospel every Sunday. I included in my post two recent resources I heard that defined Christ-centered churches and preaching.

    May God richly bless your efforts to preach the gospel. Desire Christ. Delight in Christ. “Eat” Him and serve Him to others… for their very lives depend on it. Focus on Christ, not numbers.

  28. Devin Hudson says:


    I would strongly urge you to remember that Christ-centered not only means taking people back to the gospel but it also means serving others. Jesus was others-focused. A church that is “Christ-centered” but whose eyes cannot see beyond their own walls is truly not a Christ-centered church. We don’t focus on numbers but we sure do make every effort we can to get as many people as we can in contact with the gospel.

    I browsed your article and quickly realize that our church would be one of those “one-time visit” churches (and we would be okay with that). Yet you can rest assured that our church does not teach or live a “Christless Christianity”. In my opinion, that is a prejorative term that smacks of arrogance at a certain level.

  29. Ann Addison says:

    Devin, I am not against numbers or methods. And, I don’t mean to be offensive… my point is that at the very least, the main worship service of the church should be about Christ. I don’t see how a church can be considered to be centered on Christ if it does not spend the main worship service of the church worshipping Him. The main worship service of the church should at least include the good news of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins. A gospel-centered sermon proclaims the gospel.

    I also think there is much value in following the traditional liturgy taken from the Old Testament worship. I’m not sure of the exact OT example, but it is close to this:

    God’s call to worship
    Our ascent to worship
    Confession of our sin before entering God’s presence
    God’s offer of forgiveness
    Our rejoicing because of that forgiveness
    God speaking to us through the preaching of the Word
    Our response to God’s word through song or prayer and going out of the service to serve others

    The preaching of the Word, prayer, song, communion, giving are included appropriately as the elements of the above order.

    I would urge all preachers and seminary students to listen to the audio…quoting me from my blog…
    “If you would like to hear the example sermon that I took the above notes [my blog post] from, you can find it at this LINK Scroll down to Monday, May 14, 2007. In hour one, “The Goodness of God’s Law,” you can fast forward about half way through the hour to hear the diagnostic I quoted above [in my blog post].”

  30. Can you plant a church through expository preaching?

    I am going to…but I am not Baptist so that may not count. I think that the exposition of the Bible must be properly aimed and communicated in the context the church is planted. There must be connection with the hearers…so culture matters.

    See my Preaching Should NOT ignore culture

    But how many sermons can you preach on marriage, money, purpose, success, and kids? I prefer to preach about Jesus…to married folks, with or without money, sensing no purpose, successful failures or failing successes, with kids or without.

  31. Devin Hudson says:

    Reid: “Can you plant a church through expository preaching?

    I am going to…but I am not Baptist so that may not count. I think that the exposition of the Bible must be properly aimed and communicated in the context the church is planted. There must be connection with the hearers…so culture matters.”

    Devin: Actually the question “can you” does not really cut it. Of course you can. But there are much deeper issues than this simple answer. Whether you can and whether you effectively plant a church in a predominately non-Christian culture that reaches unbelievers are two entirely different things.

    Reid: “But how many sermons can you preach on marriage, money, purpose, success, and kids? I prefer to preach about Jesus…to married folks, with or without money, sensing no purpose, successful failures or failing successes, with kids or without.”

    Devin: Didn’t know the two were exclusive. I preach Jesus every Sunday. I am not sure how many sermons you can preach about any subject. I just know that what you have to say better connect your culture & their primary issues with the gospel. Again the truth is always true but it is not always perceived as true.

    If expository preaching is the method you choose, great. Doesn’t make it any more exclusive or right. I actually prefer exposition as well.

  32. Devin,

    Hey man, thanks for the note. I guess you did not read the post I linked to over at my site about preaching and culture…because I agree with you. That link was “part of” my post.

    Btw, I am moving to a predominately non Christian area in eleven months to do just this. And without knowing me don’t assume that we’ve never “done it.” I became a believer at age 20, never was in a church growing up. I was studying Physics, while a wrestler at UNC Chapel Hill when Jesus invaded my life. I don’t want to comment on the stuff we have been doing the last 11 years, or do resume stuff as it would seem out of place. But let me just say that we have not been living a hypothetical “can you.” So please pray that God will connect the gospel to non Christians in the place to which we are moving. It is hard soil.

    After reading all the stuff above, I guess you are associating some of the expository stuff with dudes who think the culture is 100% evil, who preach as if reading a commentary in order to make the sheep fatter on the Bible. I think the narrative of Scripture, unleashed and actually lived missionally is essential.

    My resistance to some of the topical stuff I hear is that it is constantly about the same type stuff. We have to acknowledge that some of the felt need jazz is catering to people’s idols and at some point we must go after those.

    Maybe you also read other people’s posts into my brief comments. I just think for topical to be biblical, the topic ought to be something a certain passage of Scripture, in context, is actually teaching. Slinging together 30 verses from 5 different translations in order to pass out anecdotes seems pretty weak to me.

    Thanks for the interaction man. I am running with Acts 29 as well.

  33. Devin Hudson says:

    Hey Reid. I will try and check out the article some time. I spent 14 years in NC so I am a huge Tarheels fan.

    Actually in my previous posts I endorse what I call gospel-centered preaching which is different than topical. Neither am I a “felt needs” preacher in the sense that my messages are tailored for felt needs alone. I believe in engaging both “felt” needs and raising awareness of “hidden” (spiritual) needs within people through gospel preaching.

    As my earlier posts indicate, I am not an opponent of expository preaching. I actually practice expositional preaching at a certain level. Where I suggest caution is when we start embracing a method that was not even practiced in the NT as the only legitimate means.

    I think gospel centered preaching strikes a good balance which helps produce gospel centered living.

    Thanks for the interaction. Hope for more.

  34. Agreed. Go Heels! UNC is the one place on earth where wrestlers had no shame in being basketball fans 🙂

  35. Devin Hudson says:

    I read your article and agree with it. MacArthur has a tendency to dismantle some great straw men. I also agree with your assessment that Paul brought the same message through different modes and means which is why I think limiting effective preaching to one model is unwise.

  36. Aaron Harvie says:

    I am writing to support and affirm my friend Devin. Devin and I went to school together at Southern and I too have planted a successful church outside of Philly. Devin knows that our context in the Northeast is a lot tougher than glitzy Vegas! Ha!
    I agree completely with Devin about approaching preaching from a gospel-centered view. My preaching is expositional and I define that term as a sermon that is driven by the text and its context and not my points. That means it could be verse by verse or series.
    As young men seeking to bring people into a life changing relationship with Jesus always be reminded that we as Paul are to share the gospel as well as our lives. 1 Thessalonians 2:8.
    To plant a church it to die to yourself and that means your personal preferences. We are bond-slaves to obey the Lord and see His kingdom expand.
    Devin, Keep up the work and always remember you owe me!

  37. Devin Hudson says:

    Thanks for the words Harvie. Just think – without my influence you would never be living in Philly, would not have someone you could consistently beat in golf, and would not have someone to take you to school day after day on the basketball court.

    Anyone who knows the Harv loves the Harv.

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  40. Scott Welch says:


    Man, you are everywhere on the web! Great stuff! I am a church planter that is trying to do just that, plant a church and sustain it through expositional preaching of the Word of God. When we stop asking “What works” and start asking “What pleases and gives glory to God?”, maybe we will see a paradigm shift in approaches to church planting. And yes, this approach is a long haul and is slow going for most “church growth gurus”. Soli Deo Gloria!

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