Bringing Your Audience Along for the Ride

 |  January 9, 2019

As I write this post I have five children. Yes, five children. Four boys and one girl. All under the age of 8. Needless to say, things are a little crazy around our house. I am a father to three fun, wild, silly boys, one sassy-sweet little girl, and a 6 week old baby boy. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on. I have to confess to you that I don’t have this parenting gig figured out. (If you do, PLEASE get in touch!) I am still growing in my role as a father, but I have learned a lesson or two over the last few years. One that has particularly stood out to me recently is that my children do as I do, not as I say. In other words, they imitate what I do far more readily than they carry out what I have told them to do. I tell my children to speak kindly to each other and to treat other people like they want to be treated, but I listen sometimes in horror as one of my sons will speak quite rudely to one of his brothers. And the words and tone are both just a bit too familiar—if you know what I mean.

Your children will do as you do. Your church will as well. Many of us realize this when it comes to matters like how we treat other people, but did you realize, brother preacher, that your people will treat the text of Scripture as you do? You can talk about the inspiration and authority of Scripture, but every time you preach you are teaching your people a hermeneutic—a way to handle and interpret the biblical text—and your people will do as you do, not as you say. How then can we teach our people from the pulpit how to do proper exegesis? How can we take our audience along for the exegetical ride we went on in our study? My goal in this post is to provide a few brief pointers on how to accomplish this.

1.Share Your Questions

As you read the text you were planning to preach for next Sunday, you undoubtedly had some questions arise in your mind. What is the meaning of that word? How does this clause relate to the one that precedes it? What is the function of that participle? Why is the author saying this? What in the world is Paul talking about with baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15? What is the overall point the biblical author is making?

To give you a more concrete example, I recently preached Psalm 23. My questions may seem rudimentary to you, but here are a few that came to my mind as I studied the text in preparation to preach it.

  1. Of all available descriptors, why does David say God is his “shepherd”? What is he trying to communicate by using this image?
  2. What is the meaning of the word “want” in verse one?
  3. Is being made to lie down in green pastures and being led beside quiet waters in verse two, two separate ideas, or is it an example of Hebrew parallelism, communicating a single idea?
  4. What does David mean by “the valley of the shadow of death”?
  5. Are the words “rod and staff” in verse four redundant?
  6. What is this business about the Lord preparing a table before him in the presence of his enemies?
  7. Why is there a shift from talking about the Lord (he) in verses one through three, to talking to the Lord (you) in verses four and five?

This list is not exhaustive, but you get the idea. As you preach, share your questions with your people. The questions you share will help them to frame the types of questions they should be asking as they read their Bibles.

2. Share Your Misconceptions

I still recall when I first heard Psalm 23:1 as a young boy. At the time I desperately wanted the G.I. Joe aircraft carrier, which was the holy grail of the toys of the era. Seven and a half feet of pure playing pleasure and the envy of every red-blooded American boy. But when I heard Psalm 23:1, I thought it meant I couldn’t want something and be right with God. That verse, however, isn’t communicating anything about desire. The word “want” is arguably better translated as “lack.” Sharing your own misconceptions will show them that you are human and that sometimes getting to the meaning of a text takes work. It will also show them there are misconceptions about textual meaning. In other words, it will show them that some interpretations are incorrect.   

3. Share Exegetical Possibilities and Reasons for your Interpretation

Some texts lend themselves to more than one interpretation. As you preach, share the possibilities. Showing them that there can be more than one way to think about a text will help teach them to slow down in their Bible reading and ponder the possibilities. It will also help them to understand why in some cases their Bible reads differently than their neighbor’s. For example, in 1 Timothy 3:11, is Paul talking about deacons’ wives or deaconesses? The NASB and NIV say “women” while the ESV and NKJV read “their wives.” There is exegetical data to support both positions. But don’t just share the possibilities. Share your own position on the meaning of the text and what evidence led you to land there. In this way, you will be training your people to think their way through the Bible rather than to feel their way through. In the age in which we live, the importance of this cannot be overstated.

4. Share the Main Idea of the Text

This may seem elementary, but preaching can often devolve into a running commentary on the text. By doing text-driven preaching you will be preaching the biblical author’s point and also showing your people how the text fits together, since you will be letting the structure of your text drive the structure of your sermon. Our people are largely engaged in what I call “sound-bite theology.” What I mean by that is, they take little snippets of Scripture from various places in the Bible, often without giving any attention to the context, and they are forming their ideas about God from this practice. I am convinced that preaching as a running commentary reinforces this practice as it often treats verses of Scripture as separate, distinct, and unrelated ideas rather than as pitching to a single point a biblical author is making. This lends itself to reading our own ideas into the text. Do text-driven preaching. Clearly communicate the main idea of your text as you preach. This will help lead your people not to miss the proverbial forest for the trees and will train them to look for the point the text is making, rather than creating their own.


Recreating in the pulpit the exegetical process you went through in the study will help teach your people how to read and interpret Scripture. It may also have the added bonus of generating more interest in your sermons and making them more memorable. Your people are watching how you handle the Bible. Many do so unconsciously. Bringing them along for the ride will not guarantee your people will do sound exegesis, but I am convinced it makes it more likely than if you don’t. The goal here is to help our people to rightly divide the word of truth. As you step into the pulpit remember: They will do as I do, not as I say.

Jeff Hampton is a PhD student in preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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