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10 Things You Should Know about the Demise of Expository Preaching


Biblical preaching has fallen on hard times in the western world. There’s certainly no lack of speaking and sharing and shouting. And dramatic presentations and video clips are prevalent in pulpits across America. But there is precious little biblical preaching. The Bible makes a token appearance here and there, but rarely to be explained and expounded and acknowledged as authoritative for how we think and live. There are several reasons for this dearth of biblical preaching, ten of which I’ll mention. Continue reading...

Biblical preaching has fallen on hard times in the western world. There’s certainly no lack of speaking and sharing and shouting. And dramatic presentations and video clips are prevalent in pulpits across America. But there is precious little biblical preaching. The Bible makes a token appearance here and there, but rarely to be explained and expounded and acknowledged as authoritative for how we think and live. There are several reasons for this dearth of biblical preaching, ten of which I’ll mention.

(1) For one thing, pastors have stopped preaching because they have stopped studying. In effect, they have stopped talking because they have little to say. If they do have a lot to say, it’s typically their own ideas and idiosyncrasies unrelated to the inspired text.

(2) This next statement may sound harsh, but so be it: If you are not called to study, you are not called to preach. I’m not suggesting you need a seminary education or a Ph.D. (although both would be wonderful, if God so leads you). But I am saying that a prerequisite for consistent, effective biblical preaching is devotion on a daily basis to in-depth study of the Scriptures. The 19th century Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon once said, "If we are not instructed, how can we instruct? If we have not thought, how shall we lead others to think?"

(3) The lack of study may be traced to several causes. The first culprit is simple laziness or sloth. Again, it was Spurgeon who said: “If by excessive labor, we die before reaching the average age of man, worn out in the Master's service, then glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of Heaven!”

And again, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed.”

Make no mistake: the kind of study that makes for effective exposition is hard work. It requires countless hours, week in and week out, prayerfully and passionately reading and analyzing and evaluating the text, together with careful construction of messages that both accurately reflect what the text meant then and what it means now. There simply are no shortcuts to what God regards as successful pulpit ministry.

(4) Another reason for the lack of study among pastors and thus the dearth of biblical preaching is a pervasive anti-intellectualism that has taken root in our churches. There is a revolt against the importance of the mind in the Christian life, especially among charismatic Christians. Many are paralyzed by the unwarranted fear that too much of the Word of God will eventually quench the Spirit of God. Pause for a moment and reflect on the absurdity of such a thought! We must remember that the mind isn’t our enemy, the flesh is. Our flesh is to be mortified but the mind must be renewed (Romans 12:1ff.). Again, the problem isn’t the intellect, but pride. Thinking isn’t a threat. Arrogance is. It isn’t the Word of God that threatens the vibrancy of life in the Spirit but ambitious, self-serving sinners.

(5) Another reason for the demise of preaching is that many pastors have lost confidence in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. If the Bible is not truly the word of God written, if it is not infallible and therefore trustworthy in what it says, no wonder that so few preach its texts. If the Bible is fundamentally no different from any other book, better to preach from what will arouse and entertain your audience. If you regard the biblical text as merely “inspiring” (as are also Shakespeare and Austen, etc.), but not “inspired”, your commitment to it will progressively wane and wither.

Preaching will not long survive if one does not embrace the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Scripture, notes Geoffrey Thomas, “is the breath of God; every sentence and every phrase is the sigh of Jehovah. . . . It is not their perfect reliability that gives the Scriptures their unique authority. It is not even their complete truthfulness. The Bible is powerful because it is the Word of God; what it says God says" ("Powerful Preaching," in The Preacher and Preaching, 371). Bryan Chapell concurs:

"Without the authority of the Word preaching becomes an endless search for topics, therapies, and techniques that will win approval, promote acceptance, advance a cause, or soothe worry. Human reason, social agendas, popular consensus, and personal moral convictions become the resources of preaching that lacks 'the historic conviction that what Scripture says, God says'" (Christ-Centered Preaching, 23).

(6) A symptom of this loss of confidence in the authority of Scripture is the predominance in today's pulpits of the topical sermon. In one sense, of course, all sermons are "topical" in that they are about something specific. But there is a difference between a topical address or speech and a textual sermon. A discourse is not a sermon unless it is textual, i.e., rooted in a phrase, a passage, a paragraph of the Bible.

Many preachers, notes J. I. Packer, “simply do not trust their Bible enough to let it speak its own message through their lips. . . . [The result is that] in a topical sermon the text is reduced to a peg on which the speaker hangs his line of thought [or a diving board from which he plunges into the pool of his own ideas]; the shape and thrust of the message reflect his own best notions of what is good for people rather than being determined by the text itself” (“Why Preach?” in Preaching and Preachers, 4).

(7) Another reason for the demise of preaching again comes from Packer. “Low expectations,” he writes, “are self-fulfilling” (4). Many people today have never been taught to expect anything powerful from the exposition of Scripture, and so, not surprisingly, they receive little. “Today's congregations and today's preachers seem to be mostly at one in neither asking nor expecting that God will come to meet His people in the preaching, and so it is no wonder that this does not often happen” (4-5).

(8) Another factor is that rituals often push preaching into obscurity (or reduce the time available to devote to exposition of the word). This isn’t necessary. I have been greatly enriched by the beauty and stability of liturgical worship. Ceremony and sacrament shouldn’t, but on occasion do, tend to marginalize preaching.

The contemporary emphasis on congregational participation in virtually every phase of corporate worship (not a bad thing, by the way!) has led some to find preaching boring. Of the five senses, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing, the latter has been minimized while the other four have been accentuated. People in church today want to see pageantry, smell incense and flowers, taste the sacraments, and touch whatever can be touched. But hearing the Word of God has largely lost its appeal.

By the way, I’m not at all suggesting that worship should be exclusively oral in nature. I enjoy and encourage the restoration of the aesthetic dimension into our churches. If there is anything we Protestants can learn from our friends in the Orthodox and Catholic Church it is the importance of holistic devotion to God, a worship that engages the entire man, body and soul and spirit. But we must guard against letting this renewal of the aesthetic diminish our confidence in the life-changing, Christ-exalting power of the preached Word. Besides, there is a unique and often incomparable “beauty” in the preached word that no sight, sound, smell, or flavor can rival.

(9) Related to the previous point, preaching is on the wane because the power of the spoken word to communicate significant and life-changing truth has become suspect. We live in an action-oriented, visual, culture where mere “words” are trivialized and “sermons” are viewed as archaic.

Many applaud these changes, seeing in them a much needed shift from the logo-centricity (or word-centeredness) of traditional evangelicalism to what they perceive as a more holistic approach to Christian ministry.

(10) Preaching has also fallen on hard times because, in fulfillment of Paul's prophetic warning, the time has come “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). People don't want biblical preaching and, sadly, few are willing to buck the tide of popular sentiment.

Paul identifies the problem. People will develop a distaste for “sound doctrine,” insisting that it is either irrelevant (“who cares what you believe, just as long as you live right”) or disruptive (“I don't like being told to repent of sins or hearing about hell, etc.”), or divisive (“people will take sides on controversial issues and split our church!”).

People will prefer entertainment to exposition (“wanting to have their ears tickled”). Hankering after the new, the odd, the unusual, the sensational, will replace the desire for the solid meat of the Word. They will look to their own “desires” rather than the desires of God to determine what they will hear. One of the greatest temptations preachers face today is scratching the “itch” of so-called “felt-needs” among their congregation. There is often a significant difference between “felt-needs” and “biblical-needs”. What people often want is not always what they need.

In a subsequent article we’ll turn our attention to the positive benefits of expository preaching in particular.


Most pastors know that christiansilly know the word of God , that's what bible study is for to dig deeper I to the word of God n know more n more. But a sermon should elaborate on subjects of his word in today n what was told when Jesus walked the earth. To go over n over n over the same scriptures year after year leaves the church members thirsting for more..... thx for this article....we need to know more about repentance n what the Holy Spirit that Jesus left us inside when he left to be with his father to guide us in our everyday lives <3 Amen! Still miss you Pastor Steve

Hallelujah to every point. I have been sold on this style of preaching for some time. But since our son, a member at Bridgeway Church put me on to Sam Storms preaching, my wife and I have followed series after series and are sold on it with the occasional exceptions for special times. We just recently finished a series on Romans 12 that took us 12 months to go through the chapter and really could have used another month.

Great article. So true.

Great article Dr. Storms. I agree with your concerns. I find great hope and encouragement with the expository approach that Len Sweet and Doug Witherup are championing. It utilizes the art of Story. In "trusting the story" the preacher can discover and communicate gospel to a post modern world.
Yes culture is increasingly at odds with Biblical teaching and preaching, and it will surely increase in that regard. Perhaps if preachers use the methods that Jesus used "story telling" there will be many who will have ears to hear.

This is why I love my expository Jimmy Swaggart Bible. It will change how you study and is the most wonderful tool I have found!!

The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit,and joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thought and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
We are called to preach the word. By it hearts are enlivened to God, set free, healed, directed, delivered. Preach it, speak it, pray it OFTEN. Holy Spirit shows us how to humbly and creatively deliver it. Studying to show yourself approved unto God a workman that needs not be ashamed.

Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words
Saint Francis of Asisi

An exceptional article! I'd only suggest adding that social media has significantly reduced people's attention spans. Andy Crouch's book on technology touches on this. People are so distracted today with every beep and buzz on their phone that they have lost their appetite for God and an ability to give one's attention to God in prayer and in study throughout the day. "Better to check Facebook than read the Bible" is how many Christians operate. Our phones are rewiring our brains, causing us to seek constant stimulation and approval (how many likes on my post?). When people use their smartphone to read the Bible in church they often drift into reading emails and texts and social media. I think it's wise to suggest that people bring their Bible and not rely on the phone in service. Too many distractions. Bottom line: people can hardly give attention to expository preaching because their attention span and affections have been affected by modern technology.

Great article. One thing I think you missed (although it's possibly a root cause of 7, 9 and 10) is that people have misunderstood *why* we preach. Preaching has become a method of merely teaching - transmitting information - and because we are beginning to understand that it's not the method of teaching that most people respond to, we have lost confidence in preaching itself.

Too many evangelical preachers have been brought up on "what impact will this have on Monday morning?" being the key question that drives their sermon prep, whereas I think Edwards had it right when he said that the "main benefit obtained by preaching is by an impression made upon the mind at the time" - the impact of the preached Word on the hearts of people.

I LOVE this so much! One of my favorite lines is: "Many are paralyzed by the unwarranted fear that too much of the Word of God will eventually quench the Spirit of God. Pause for a moment and reflect on the absurdity of such a thought!" May God grace his people to go for the word!

Excellent article!

Thank you pastor Pressley for sharing Sam Storm's excellent insights into the reasons that ex positional preaching has virtually been abandoned in the modern American church. Only a wholehearted ongoing practice of expositional preaching will please and glorify God, equip the saints for godly living -personal apologetics-and the successful tteacing of our children in the truth of God while they are being bombarded with artistic and Celtic influences, etc.Thank you for sharing these thoughts and for personally practicing expository preaching in your church and ministry. God be praised!

Jeremiah 23:28-29 would be another good place to read...probably the whole chapter about false prophets and shepherds.

Thanks Sam, good points but the indictments would pack more punch if you offered some quotes / examples of what is being criticized.

Thanks, Sam. Great and challenging thoughts that can't be repeated often enough.

Wow! So we'll thought out and helpful, thank you! Sharing this with the young preachers I share life with.

These are excellent, and I heartily agree. May preachers be encouraged to preach the Word, because it is the Word of God that is the supernatural power to change lives. For eternity. To God be the glory, and courage to his heralds.


I enjoyed your article. I especially relate to points 6 and 8. Even as a Chaplain I rarely preached "topical" sermons which was surprising to for most of the inmates. Another issue was their desire to spend 45 of the 65 minutes 'worshiping', i.e. signing. When I first introduced the Regulatory Principles of Worship to them you would of thought I was from another planet.

Thank you for sharing. I agree. It is troubling and yet fully verifies the word of God. GOD be praised. He is ruler of all. It is so necessary to cling to Him to exist.

Outstanding commentary and on point! Thank you Pastor Storms.

It's a good list. I'm on this side. But I'd also put forward another. Some studious pastors don't make the effort to communicate in a way people will hear and understand. They make powerful truths very boring and uninteresting. We can be as lazy in this regard as others are about studying. And then the great work of exegesis is not fully utilized. I'm not talking about trying to use manipulative communication techniques but making the effort to speak the truths of the passage in a way that's recognizable and compelling to the average person. Heralding truth is not reading a study outline.

Amen to these 10 points. Might I add number 11 in jest. The ushers forget to pick up the earplugs after the music and before the preaching.............................

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