3 Styles of Preaching

With all the earlier discussion on the blog about orthodoxyBiblical Theology, Scripture, and Bible study, it’s probably fitting that I also address preaching. For a few reasons…

  1. Preaching connects us to all to all those elements listed above (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 1:9; 2:1)
  2. Preaching is an essential component of a local church (Rom. 10:14; 16:25; Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 4:13-16; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 4:1-2)
  3. Preaching is imbued with the power of God (Rom 10:13-17; 1 Thess. 2:13)
  4. Preaching allows the glory of God to shine (1 Cor. 1:21; 2:4; 2 Cor. 4:5)

If preaching is so important in the life of the church, we should expect a high standard of the preaching in our own church.

Now, I am not telling you to go pester your pastor on every point of difference you have with their preaching. The congregation I belong to can certainly testify that I have not preached infallibly behind the pulpit, though I aim for nothing less! Mistakes will be made in the pulpit, because no pastor has perfect theology, and we are all learning together. I am also not advocating that you hound every church in the city whose theology you disagree with. That’s a waste of time, and won’t benefit anybody. What is beneficial is identify biblical preaching, because then you can immerse yourself in the life of that church, obeying the Word of God as it is preached rightly. As we progress, I’m certainly not presenting myself as the high standard—but I think we can and should have a baseline when it comes to preaching, and strive for it.

What constitutes “biblical” preaching?

Perhaps we should ask, “What does the Bible think is ‘biblical’ preaching?”

By this, I mean, how does the Bible itself present preaching done correctly? We can find some examples throughout the Bible…

  • “the Levites, explained the law to the people” (Nehemiah 8:7)
  • Jesus “explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27)
  • Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3)
  • approved workman are “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15)
  • “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2)
  • Teach and preach these principles” (1 Timothy 6:2c)
  • “Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?‘ And he said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: ‘He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth. In humiliation His judgment was taken away; who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:30-35)

I’ll stop there.

From the Old Testament to the New Testament, a pattern emerges: explanation, teaching, and preaching (which is proclamation). In other words, the Bible’s own “opinion” of correct preaching is at least the explanation and teaching of the meaning of the Scriptures, and the proclamation of it’s truths.

A preacher’s primary job is to give a sense of the Scriptures meaning, and then exhort people to respond. 

Biblical preaching is expository preaching. 

Mark Dever helpfully explained expositional preaching as explaining a Scripture’s main point, then explaining and proclaiming that main point in a sermon. Or even more succinctly, “Making the main point of the text the main point of the sermon.”

So according to the New Testament epistles (letters written to early churches), a church must include expository preaching as part of its worship gathering.

But, you say,

There are a lot of types of preaching! Some preachers preach for 15 minutes, others for an hour; some preach on a single verse, and others preach whole chapters or even books; in between these are so many different styles of preaching: storytelling, verse-by-verse, series, etc. How do you know which one is good?

I’ve heard some of my own friends elevate sermon styles over others, and denigrate others for preaching in a way that they do not like. Notice that this has nothing to do with faithful preaching, but preaching preference.

The requirement of faithful preaching is expository not stylistic. In fact, different styles of preaching are useful, as well as expository, that is, they can explain the Bible using different methods of communication. Here are a few (though not all)…

Styles of expositional preaching:

  1. verse-by-verse
  2. narrative
  3. topical

Let me “exposit” these three styles of preaching…

1. Verse-by-verse.

This type of preaching takes a macro-angle approach to the text, seeking to camp out on a single verse(s), and discover the meaning of the verse before forming an application. This type of preaching is easily identified because you’ll find the preacher moving through a book of the Bible from start to finish, in short increments–usually a verse or two at one time. The sermon is developed around the propositional truth (the main point) of that particular passage. Some books, because of their logical layout, are more natural to preach in this fashion, such as The Epistle to the Romans or the book of James.

Example: Ephesians 4:26 – the main point of this verse is to practice self-control. 

Preachers of this style: John MacArthur, Chuck Smith, John Piper, Britt Merrick.

2. Narrative.

This type of preaching takes a wide-angle approach to the text. Instead of developing a sermon around the main point of a verse, it is based on the main theme that runs through a collection of verses—sometimes whole paragraphs—like a golden thread. Some books, because of their narrative nature, are more natural to preach in this fashion, such as The Gospel according to John or the Book of Esther.

Example: Ephesians 4:17-32 – the theme that runs through this passage is the elect of God which is also called the church, and it outlines how we should live accordingly. Another example of a dominant theme is “suffering” found in the book of Job. And so on.

Preachers of this style: Timothy Keller, Dan Kimball, Dave Lomas.

3. Topical.

Topical preaching usually means that a topic is already determined, and the appropriate text is sought out for informing the topic and formulating the sermon. This type of preaching is like a prescription being aimed at a relevant issue at hand. I’ve done this before, when the Jesusita Fire raced through Montecito, CA., and many college students lost their rooms and belongings. Out of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and the situation, I was not about to continue in our verse-by-verse series through Romans. I prayerfully sought a word from the Lord in relation to suffering, and then students turned to pray with each other for those who suffered loss. Topical preaching allows us to address pressing issues in the moment of need.

Example: “What is Worship” (from Romans 12:1)

Preachers of this style: lots of people.

Any of these styles can be useful in explaining the Scriptures well.

I say this, because there is sometimes push-back from people who call a sermon “unbiblical!” simply because they did not like the style of it’s preaching. We all have preferences when it comes to style, and that’s ok. But the standard we should hold up involves asking different questions of the preaching.

What to look for in a preaching ministry:

  1. Am I getting a sense of what the text means?
  2. Am I getting a sense of the greatness of God?
  3. Am I discovering how this text finds or points towards it’s fulfillment in Jesus?
  4. Am I beginning to understand God’s overarching plan of redemption?
  5. Does the sense of the text move me to respond to God in some way?
  6. Do I know how to respond to what the text is saying?
  7. Am I more in love with God and others because of this text?

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB where he is committed to challenging Santa Barbara's independence by calling the city to follow Jesus. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting Peoples, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on October 8, 2013, in Church, realitysb, Scripture, sermons, theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Well done Chris, thanks.

  2. Great post. I believe to be a well-rounded minister you should use all three styles.


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