An Essential Mark of a Healthy Church: Expositional Preaching

By Mark Dever

(Originally published as chapter 5 of What Is a Healthy Church?)

If a healthy church is a congregation that increasingly displays the character of God as his character has been revealed in his Word, the most obvious place to begin building a healthy church is to call Christians to listen to God's Word. God's Word is the source of all life and health. It's what feeds, develops, and preserves a church's understanding of the gospel itself.

What It Is

Fundamentally, this means that both pastors and congregations must be committed to expositional preaching. Expositional preaching is the kind of preaching that, quite simply, exposes God's Word. It takes a particular passage of Scripture, explains that passage, and then applies the meaning of the passage to the life of the congregation. It's the kind of preaching most geared to get at what God says to his people, as well as to those who are not his people. A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God's Word.

There are many other types of preaching. Topical preaching, for example, gathers up one or more Scriptures on a particular topic, such as the topic of prayer or the topic of giving. Biographical preaching takes the life of someone in the Bible and portrays the individual's life as a display of God's grace and as an example of hope and faithfulness. And these other types may be employed helpfully on occasion. But the regular diet of the church should consist of the explanation and application of particular portions of God's Word.

The practice of expositional preaching presumes a belief that what God says is authoritative for his people. It presumes that his people should hear it and need to hear it, lest our congregations be deprived of what God intends to use for shaping us after his image. It presumes that God intends the church to learn from both Testaments, as well as from every genre of Scripture—Law, History, Wisdom, Prophesy, Gospels, and Epistles. An expositional preacher who moves straight through books of the Bible and who regularly rotates between the different Testaments and genres of Scripture, I believe, is like a mother who serves her children food from every food group, not just their two or three favorite meals.

An expositional preacher's authority begins and ends with Scripture. Even as Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles were given not just a commission to go and speak but also to speak a particular message, so Christian preachers today have authority to speak from God so long as they speak his words.

Week 1 What Is True Spirituality?

Getting Started

This entire six-week course is about expositional preaching:

What Is Expositional Preaching?

Simply stated, expositional preaching is preaching that takes the main point of a text of Scripture, makes that the main point of the sermon, and applies it to life today. Expositional preaching is preaching that exposes the meaning of Scripture and brings it to bear on our lives.

Since the goal of expositional preaching is simply to explain and apply God's Word, we're going to take a step back for this first study and think about why God's Word is so important for the life and health of the church.

What Is True Spirituality?

In this first study we are going to consider the question, What is true spirituality? That's a question on a lot of people's minds today, not just Christians. While being "religious" is decidedly unpopular, spirituality is in, big-time.

1. What are some things you've heard non-Christians say about spirituality?

2. What are some things you've heard Christians say that true spirituality consists of?

Digging In

In Psalm 19 David writes,

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2 Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge.

3 There is no speech, nor are there words,

whose voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

In them he has set a tent for the sun,

5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,

and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,

and its circuit to the end of them,

and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure,

making wise the simple;

8 the precepts of the Lord are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure,

enlightening the eyes;

9 the fear of the Lord is clean,

enduring forever;

the rules of the Lord are true,

and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,

even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey

and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?

Declare me innocent from hidden faults.

13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;

let them not have dominion over me!

Then I shall be blameless,

and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in your sight,

O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

1. Verses 1 through 6 focus on one way God makes himself known and verses 7 through 11 focus on another. How would you summarize the two ways God reveals himself that are celebrated in this psalm?

2. What do we learn about God from his revelation of himself in creation (vv. 1-6)?

3. What can't the creation teach us about God and about how we are to relate to him?