Last week I was one of the presenters at a pastor's conference on an isolated Caribbean nation. (Yes, one of those ones that got smashed by Hurricane Sandy - which made for an interesting couple of days.)
I was speaking about the importance of Biblical Theology and how we as pastors can teach it to our congregations. But I was also invited to be part of a panel which discussed various issues and took questions from the floor for an hour each day. During one of these panels I was reminded that exegetical preaching is good for you.
It came up because we were talking about the different of roles of men and women in ministry, and someone asked about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 - the famous "head covering" passage.
We talked about the different issues involved in the passage, cultural things, creation order, expressions of authority and submission to authority etc. It is a difficult passage, requires hard work to understand it, and even harder work to teach it. And then it came to me - that is exactly why a steady diet of systematic, exegetical preaching is good for us. Because it makes us think and work hard.
You see, if each week you preach on what has come to you during the week, or what is the "live issue of the day"or what doctrinal or theological topic you think needs to be addressed in any particular moment, I'm guessing you'll probably never preach on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Because it is unlikely to come up on your radar as a "hot topic"while you are considering what to preach about this Sunday.
But if we are committed to work through a book, chapter by chapter, then we commit ourselves to the hard yards or having to deal with these sorts of passages. And that is a good thing, because I think if we preach week in and week out on what we think the congregation needs to hear, then I suspect we tend to preach on what we think we already understand, and therefore our preparation and thinking gets sloppy. We spend more time trying to work out how to communicate what it is we already think we know, rather than being challenged by something new and then working out how to communicate that.
But if each week as we open to the next chapter in our program, we are presented with the agenda from the Bible, sometimes - in fact hopefully, many times - our thinking is going to be challenged, our eyes are going to be opened to new truths and insights, and we are going to need to read and prepare carefully to answer the surprises and challenges that the text throws at us. Yes, that will require careful thought, hard work, and longer preparation, but that is a good thing, because it will make us students and servants of the text, rather than authorities over it.
So, get that diet of regular, systematic, expository preaching going - and look out for the challenges it will bring your way!
(The picture is of sunrise over our city this morning, snapped by our most excellent language tutor Lillian.)