EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Brian K. Payne, associate professor of Christian theology and expository preaching at Boyce College and pastor of First Baptist Church of Fisherville, Kentucky, Jim Orrick, professor of literature and culture at Boyce College, and Ryan Fullerton, lead pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, talk with Towers writer RuthAnne Irvin about their new book, Encountering God through Expository Preaching: Connecting God’s People to God’s Presence Through God’s Word.
RAI: Why did you all collaborate to write the expository preaching book?
BP: It began with Jim Orrick’s vision and dream, and at the time, he was in Ryan’s church, and he’s told me this on numerous occasions, “Ryan’s the best preacher in the city.” I would agree with that. He wanted Ryan’s insights. He wanted Ryan to be a part of this project. But we saw a need. I mean, there are some great books on preaching out there, but we felt like the topics we addressed had never been assembled together in one book. We were really passionate and convictional about the particular issues we addressed in this book, so that’s why we felt like the Lord gave us the burden for it.
RAI: How is this book unique?
RF: There are a lot of preaching books, and we’re not aware of a preaching book that brings together both character and hermeneutics, the role of the Spirit and the role of careful exegesis, and then even includes worldview issues in terms of hermeneutics and theology, which Brian handles so well. We tried to run the gamut. So there are books that go deeper on all those subjects, but not an entry level book that brings them all together.
RAI: You talk about bringing your people along with you to experience God’s truth. So for our readers who haven’t picked up the book, can you give a brief explanation of what expository preaching is?
RF: Well, the whole book really tries to unpack one phrase, that “expository preaching happens when a man of God says to the people of God, ‘Come, experience God with me in this text.’” So probably more Christians have experienced that than they have ever read the book. There are Christians who have just said, “Boy, when I heard the Word this morning I heard the Lord.” And you hear from people all the time, “Did you have my number or were you reading my email?” And of course we weren’t but God was unpacking the heart.
JO: Expository preaching is exposing the truths and ideas in a chosen text of scripture and explaining, proclaiming and applying those truths with the authority of God’s Spirit. The main idea of the text ought to be the main idea of the sermon. The supporting ideas of the text ought to be the supporting ideas of the sermon.
RAI: You encourage pastors to preach through whole books. Are there times where you would say it’s okay to step away from the series and address other things, like with the mass shooting in Las Vegas?
RF: I think what we’re trying to argue in the book is the best main diet for a congregation is going to be walking through books of the Bible. That’s going to teach them to think God’s thoughts after him and learn how to argue. By going through books, God sets the agenda in a unique way. We kind of talk about how it can be good, and even necessary at times, to walk through topics because it allows you the ability to pinpoint something.
JO: If there is a crisis in the church, interrupt your series from the book you are preaching through, and help your people understand what God says in his word about the crisis. Do the same if there is a national crisis or issue that is weighing heavily on everyone’s mind. I was pastoring in Kansas City when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001. Everyone was heavy with the event. I interrupted whatever I was preaching through at the time, and I devoted two weeks to helping my people think through from a Christian perspective what had happened. In 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, I was interim pastor in Frankfort, Kentucky. On the Sunday morning after the decision was handed down, I announced that I would address the issue of same-sex marriage during the evening service. I think our Sunday night attendance doubled that night. People wanted to hear what the Bible said about the issue.
RAI: So what practical things have you found helpful in consistently preparing to preach expositionally? Has it changed over the years?
BP: First of all, he begins so well in the book on you have to be a man of God. You have to walk with God. You have to be repentant vertically and horizontally and have a vibrant walk with God. I can’t lead people where I’m not going. If Christ is not my treasure, in the pulpit I’m just performing, I’m faking. That’s the first step.
JO: Memorization has been such a revealing way to encounter revelation! I sometimes wonder if I thoroughly understand anything that I have not committed to memory. If you start early and continue plugging along for 35 or 40 years, you end up with a lot of material committed to memory. When I preach from a book of the Bible that I have committed to memory, I have already put many hours of meditation and prayer into every passage in that book. I know the general message of the book, and I have considered every passage in its context.
RAI: There’s a chapter where you talk about expectations. Are there ways you deal with unmet expectations, either from your congregation or from yourself, like when you prepare and the sermon falls flat?
JO: Realistic expectations while seeking faithfulness: Do not seek great things for yourself. Be faithful day by day. The seeds of truth that you quietly sow in your day-to-day life will grow. If God has sent you to school, study like a son of God. If you die the day before graduation, you will have died in the field where God sent you to work. The great work of a preacher is not sermon preparation; it is preacher preparation. God knows where you are and what he intends to do with you. Wait on the Lord and be of good courage. “The stone that is fit for the wall will not be left to lie in the ditch” (ancient proverb).
RF: You have to set your goal as faithfulness rather than a certain vision of success. There is some link between our faithfulness and the fruitfulness of our ministries, but not a direct link. There are many, many godly men who labor in small places who are godlier than you but that are not seeing the fruitfulness you’re seeing. One of the things I think it’s important to remember is whether you’re a large church or a small church, whether your church looks like it’s not growing or whether it looks like it’s experiencing exponential growth, most of the work preaching does is secret work. That is, most of the things that happen in people’s hearts as you preach, you don’t hear about. Or maybe they’ll mention it to you five years after they heard the sermon. Unless people are going to line up and tell you everything they think God did in their hearts during every sermon, you’re not going to know most of it, yet he’s doing a deep work in every heart, every Sunday.
RAI: What advice do you guys give in your preaching classes or training courses to those who are just figuring out the ropes of expository preaching?
JO: Saturate yourself with the Word of God. Meditate on it day and night. Stop wasting your life reading social media, sending text messages, reading tweets and blogs, watching sports, and playing video games. Redeem the time. The thing you do crowds out the thing you might have done. Walk with God. Realize the dignity that God has conferred on you as a son of God and as a preacher of God’s Word. Do not be a parrot. Do not clomp around in some other preacher’s shoes. God called you to preach, and he intends to communicate his truth through your voice and your personality. If you abide in Christ, and his Word abides in you, you will bear much fruit.
BP: You have to know your Bible. There’s not a preaching class that’s really going to make a preacher. God makes the preacher. But the preacher’s responsibility is to be a man of the Word. I try to make it a daily discipline to read in theology outside of my daily reading of Scripture. I try to read in theology, biblical theology, systematic theology. I try to read current events. I read an article recently that said “The two most important books on a pastor’s desk are his Bible and the church directory.” So as you’re exegeting the text, you’re thinking about your people.