Moving from Topical to Expositional Preaching in Immigrant Churches: Five Steps of Preparation
Expositional preaching should be the regular teaching diet of a congregation. In many immigrant churches, however, topical sermons often dominate the pulpit. From messages on stewardship for a building project to character studies highlighting various virtues to exhortations regarding Christian service in the church to evangelistic messages for the unsaved—immigrant churches’ pulpits are often steered by the felt needs of the moment. To be sure, there’s a time and place for topical sermons, but they shouldn’t make up the bulk of any church’s diet.
If you’re the main preacher in an immigrant church, how can you move your people to love expository preaching? Consider these five practical suggestions.
1. Prepare the leaders.
If you have elders, deacons, or some young men you are training, it may helpful to start a discussion about expository preaching in your elder or leadership meetings. Some immigrants may think that expository preaching is an “American” or “Western” way of teaching that may be “too boring” or “too intellectual.” Others may be skeptical because they may think you’re just following the latest trend of your favorite preacher or podcast.
To counteract this, perhaps read a book on expository preaching with your leaders. There are lots of good options: Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, Expositional Preaching by David Helm, Christ-Centered Preaching by Brian Chappell, Preaching by John MacArthur and the Master’s Seminary Faculty, Word-Centered Church by Jonathan Leeman, or the classic Between Two Worlds by John Stott. Consider even taking some of your elders or leaders-in-training to some good Bible conferences where they see expository preaching modeled—or perhaps a Simeon Trust worskshop. If you know a good immigrant expositor, consider also inviting him to preach in your pulpit.
2. Prepare the congregation.
Prepare the congregation by showing from Scripture the pattern set forth by the prophets and apostles. Whether in Ezra’s exposition of the Law (Neh. 8:1–8), the teaching of our Lord in the synagogue (Lk. 4:16–21), or even Paul’s instructions to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:13), show them how biblical authors sought to constrain their messages around God’s authoritative, inerrant, and inspired Word.
Find every opportunity to show the need not only from the pulpit, but in other ministry settings. Create the need and demand for expository preaching via Sunday School, devotions in prayer meeting, Bible studies, church newsletters, and more. Let no opportunity go to waste.
3. Prepare good sermons.
You need to model faithful preaching to your people from the pulpit. So give yourself to the study (2 Tim. 2:15). Give yourself to praying, translating (if able), meditating, thinking, analyzing, clarifying, organizing, digesting, and applying the text both to yourself and your church.
Expository preaching is hard. It takes work to parse the grammar of a text. It takes work to understand the background and interpretive difficulties of a text. It takes work to think of illustrations and applications. It takes work to outline and organize, to turn all that work into a sermon for people to hear and understand. It takes work to synthesize your study and deliver a sermon that is digestible, simple, and clear while also being faithful to Scripture. It takes work to, as David Helm says, get it right and to get it across.
Is this any different in an immigrant church? Probably. You need to work doubly hard to simplify your language when preaching to immigrants. English may not be their first language. If you do use difficult theological terms and concepts, make sure you are defining and explaining them clearly, even laboriously. Knowing your people will help you explain difficult concepts in culturally appropriate ways.
How will you know if any of this is catching on? You’ll know when your people begin to discern the difference between a preacher’s opinions and what the Lord is actually saying in the biblical text.
4. Prepare various ministries.
If you have small groups or mid-week studies, focus them on the text—the one from either last week’s or this week’s sermon. Another idea: schedule upcoming sermons, along with the requisite passages, in your bulletin. Do this weeks or even months in advance. This can help to create anticipation around the sermons. If you’re able, give each small group/Bible study leader a set of questions to help people think more deeply through various applications.
These are just some ideas. How else can you make the preached Word an anticipated event in the life of your church?
5. Prepare yourself.
Practice makes progress. Paul told Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). Don’t expect to hit a home run every time, but simply seek to faithfully communicate God’s Word to God’s people. If you’re giving your heart to the study and prayer, then it should overflow by Sunday morning. The congregation not only needs a prepared sermon, but a preacher with a prepared heart.
Pray that God would use his Word to shape and sanctify your own life (1 Tim. 4:16). Pray also that your people would desire the pure spiritual milk of the Word (1 Pet. 2:2). And then get to work, knowing that as you water and plant God’s Word week in and week out, God will bring the fruit in his time.
* * * * *
- The State of the Immigrant Church, by John Lee
- Gone and Back Again: My Departure and Return to the Immigrant Church, by Jonathan Szeto
- Opportunity or Accommodation? Thinking Through Cultural Practices in the Immigrant Church, by Geoff Chang
- Make Sure Your Church Members Are Christians, Not Just Immigrants, by Jeremy Yong
- Create a Culture of Expository Preaching: Moving from Topical to Expositional Preaching in Immigrant Churches, by Alex Hong
- As the Pastor of an Immigrant Church’s English Ministry, How Should I Relate to the Senior Pastor? by Hanley Liu