Last May, two Uzbek pastors who interned at our church in Almaty, Kazakhstan, asked me to come to Tashkent, Uzbekistan to teach a group of about 20 Uzbek Christian leaders. They asked me to select a topic, and I decided to do a 4-day course on block diagramming––going through various sections of 1 Peter, Ruth, and a couple of Psalms.
In case you didn’t know: in countries with very few churches, when some missionaries come and offer a course, it’s usually the same group of leaders who attend it. These folks have been through seminars on how to find a “man of peace,” how to use films about Jesus, how to use various storytelling drafts to share truths about God, and how to be empowered by the Spirit, as well as weeks of classes in theology. However, they’d never been taught the basic principles of an inductive Bible study. Even pastors with decades of experience, who have attended the equivalent of underground seminaries, have never seen a text be broken down into structural parts.
Unfortunately, this is a common situation in Central Asia. The problem is not that indigenous leaders can’t receive any training––you’ll be shocked at how many options for free training are available for an indigenous leader––but that very few offer training on how to read and understand the Bible properly, let alone how to preach expositionally.
That’s one of the reasons we work hard to prioritize expositional preaching at our local church and offer as much training as we can on how to prepare expositional sermons.
We Trust in the Power of God’s Word
I doubt that any Christian pastor would dare to say that he doesn’t trust in the power of God’s Word to do God’s work of giving new life to the spiritually dead and building up believers. In theory, this should have led to the prevalence of expositional preaching in Central Asia because an expositional sermon’s goal is to preach the main point of the author of the biblical text.
Expositional sermons—more than any other kind of sermon—rely on the Word to do the work. It forces the preacher to take the role of a mailman, not the author. The goal is to deliver the truths that have been taught in Scripture into their context.
Unfortunately, I know only a handful of pastors in our region who are at least consciously attempting to find the author’s intent in the text when they prepare their sermons.
We Want to the Local Church to Have a Strong Foundation
Expositional preaching centers the church around God’s Word and God’s design for the church. It can’t guarantee that the church will remain faithful to God, but it acts both as a railroad (safeguards) and a locomotive (moves forward) for church life.
As pastors study the Word weekly and feed the flock on it, this sets the tone for everything else at the church.
As pastors study the Word weekly and feed the flock on it, this sets the tone for everything else at the church: what songs we sing, what prayers we pray, how we do our small groups, counseling, and one-on-one discipling, how the church budget is spent, etc. If expositional preaching is truly the number one priority, I can’t imagine a church where everything else is not to a large extent aligned with that priority.
In a way, prioritizing expositional preaching makes the rest of church life and ministry straightforward and simple. You’ve got a solid anchor and can see how other parts can hang on it. Now a big part of the leaders’ job would be to keep that priority.
We Want to Teach Others How to Preach in their Own Context
Can you learn to preach like Sproul? I guess if you read hundreds of his sermons you might sound a bit like him, but Sproul’s sermons could have been preached by only one man––Dr. Sproul himself. His process of sermon preparation is not replicable.
We prioritize expositional preaching is that we can train other men how to prepare expositional sermons.
The last reason why we prioritize expositional preaching is that we can train other men how to prepare expositional sermons (we primarily use the tools developed by Simeon Trust). We can equip other Christians with tools on how to see the structure of a text (how biblical authors organized the text). This structure will in turn reveal the emphasis of a text. Working with context (literal, historical, cultural, biblical) will help understand the original author’s main point.
After that is time for theological reflection: how does the main point relate to the gospel of Jesus Christ? After thinking about gospel connections, we work on crafting the main point we’ll be preaching to our audience and various applications. Finally, we are ready to give a shot at titling the sermon and drafting an outline.
Having a replicable process of sermon prep doesn’t mean that the gifting of a particular preacher doesn’t matter, or that further training in theology has no value, but it brings “expositional preaching” from something abstract to very concrete. It helps a preacher track his progress and see his strong and weak sides.
Pastors in Uzbekistan are Growing from Training in Expositional Preaching
By the fourth day, the group of Uzbek leaders made significant progress in their diagramming. Seeing the light and the joy in their eyes and the zeal with which they were working on the texts was so encouraging. Their diagrams and attempts to find the text’s main point have become pretty decent––in a mere four days.
They were living proof that the idea of not very-educated Christians from poor places needing to use movies, pictures, and storybooks was wrong. With just one tool, they got better equipped to work on the text, which, if the Spirit empowers, will draw them closer to Christ. When you prioritize expositional preaching, perfection is never possible, but progress is inevitable.