“Preacher, you must have been reading our mail.” “Have you been listening to us over the back fence?” “How did you know what I’ve been struggling with in my life?” Expressions like these are heard in churches everywhere. The implication is that the pastor’s message hits pretty close to a particular sin or struggle. Sin is present in churches. Since sin hinders the pursuit of holiness, it must be rooted out of our congregations. The question raised is how does one go about it? The pastor cannot become a private investigator seeking dirt on his flock. Through nearly fifteen years as a Senior Pastor, I have discovered that the best method for rooting sin out of congregations is the practice of systematic exposition. By definition, systematic exposition is the “consecutive exhaustive treatment of a book of the Bible or extended portions thereof, dividing the text into paragraphs and consecutively preaching from them.”Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 31–32. Now you might ask how preaching through a book or a section can help root out sin in the church. I believe that there are three ways that this process will assist the pastor in his approach to help mortify sin in the congregation.
First of all, systematic exposition, either through a book or a significant portion of scripture, serves as an accountability tool for a pastor. Many preachers are susceptible to the fear of or the desire for the approval of man. This predisposition might cause a pastor to shy away from specific topics in the scripture to keep from offending big givers or close friends. I recall an instance very vividly in an early pastorate where the next paragraph dealt with forgiveness. I am not talking about being forgiven, but rather the process of forgiving. These verses would be extremely pointed for my church because before I became the pastor, they went experienced a nasty and bitter split that divided the community and families. Systematic exposition prevented me from wimping out and skipping a passage that I knew would be difficult for the people I loved to hear. Due to the fact I was in a systematic series congregation knew that it was coming, and God used it powerfully. Without the accountability of the church knowing which paragraph was next, I might have been tempted to shy away from the topic altogether.
Protection from Accusation
A second way in which systematic exposition can help root out sin in a church is that it prevents someone from accusing a pastor of singling out their sin for a sermon topic. This week I am preparing to preach on divorce. I recognize that divorce is a challenging subject for many in the church. No church has been untouched by it. The odds are that there is someone in my church that is currently contemplating the issue. It is even possible that I might hear of it in the week that I am preparing this message. The practice of systematic exposition shields me from any accusation of selecting that passage to attack those individuals because it is merely the next pericope in the book. Anyone following along in the series will know that divorce is the next topic on the agenda. Therefore, the preacher has the freedom to preach it boldly and unapologetically without fear of accusation.
Trusting the Holy Spirit to Superintend the Process of Sin Elimination
The final benefit of systematic exposition in rooting sin out of a church is that it trusts the Holy Spirit to superintend the sin uprooting process. Admittedly, there is a human element that goes into planning a sermon series through a book or portion of scripture. However, in the midst of this calendaring, the Holy Spirit exercises his omniscience. The Holy Spirit is aware of everyone who will attend on a particular date and often allows those sermons to fall when they are most needed. In a previous ministry assignment, I was preaching through Hebrews. In Hebrews 13:1-8 the author extends a series of final exhortations from the preacher to the recipients. As I stepped up to preach, I noticed one of my dear, faithful prayer warriors was beaming because her grandson and his girlfriend were there. Embedded in that list of exhortations is the mandate to honor the marriage bed and keep it holy. The sermon was well-received, and I did not think anything of it again until the following Tuesday. That was the day of the week our prayer ladies gathered at the church for their weekly gathering. She was grinning from ear to ear that morning when I greeted her. She told me, “Preacher, you will never guess what happened. You saw my grandson and his girlfriend attending with me, Sunday?” “Yes, ma’am. That was a blessing to have them.” Her smile brightened, “Well, you remember the remarks about marriage being holy. It convicted them. They were living together, and they went to the courthouse yesterday and got married.” I could not have manufactured circumstances like that if I tried. Through systematic exposition, I preached the next passage, and the Holy Spirit uncovered a sin issue in our church and rooted it out.
The church must mortify sin. One of the best ways to do that is through systematic exposition. It provides accountability, protects the preacher from accusation, and allows the Holy Spirit to do his work in rooting sin out of Christ’s church.
Clint Ellis is the Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida.
|↑1||Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 31–32.|