Preach About the Church to the Church
Many would say the conservative evangelical church has entered a golden age of expository preaching. A genuine commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture has led to a genuine commitment to expositional preaching. We see great examples of this all throughout the country, and even the world.
A BLIND SPOT
But despite this trend, what if a blind spot—a byproduct of 20th-century evangelicalism—exists in our preaching? Put plainly, an overemphasized Christian individualism may be eroding our churches and our preaching. What I mean is that we have primarily talked about the Christian life as an individual pursuit of God and therefore devalued the necessary role of the local church in the life of the believer.
The Christian life runs on twin engines—both our individual relationship with the Lord and our congregational relationship with other local believers in a covenant community, a local church. Certainly, we must emphasize the individual nature of the Christian life, but that’s too often where we stop. The congregational nature of the Christian life appears to be an optional add-on or a minor aspect of Christian discipleship. That’s why we hear the common refrains, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” Or: “I love Jesus, but I’m just not that into church.” Because the church is Jesus’ bride, that’s like telling me, “Keith, I really like you, but I can’t stand your wife.” Our relationship won’t be the same.
Our preaching has inherited this imbalanced Christian individualism, resulting in weakened local churches. Today’s preaching largely aims at the individual Christian and neglects a congregationally shaped view of the Christian life.
THE MISSED GOAL OF EXPOSITORY PREACHING
Ironically, this misses the whole objective of expository preaching. The Bible is a congregationally shaped book. It is written about God’s people, to God’s people, for God’s people. The Old Testament is written to the people of God—Israel. The New Testament is written to the people of God—local churches. Even the New Testament letters written to individuals (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) are written to pastors of local churches, instructing them on how to lead God’s people.
Expositional preaching, then, exposes God’s Word to his people and helps them live out the truths found in the Bible. Because the Bible is congregationally shaped, our preaching must be congregationally shaped; it must be ecclesiological. In fact, if your preaching is not ecclesiological, you’re not truly doing exposition.
Again, I’m not advocating a push of the pendulum to the opposite side. We must not neglect the individual aspect of the Christian life. We must maintain a balance between the two.
So what’s the remedy? Ecclesiological exposition, or what Mark Dever describes as preaching about the church to the church. While modern expositional preaching results in sermons to a group of individuals, ecclesiological exposition helps Christians grow in their individual walks with the Lord while also helping them relate to one another and fulfill Christ’s mission in the local church. After all, God’s vehicle for complete Christian maturity isn’t just quiet times; it’s the local church (Eph. 4:1–16). Congregationally conscious preaching creates a compelling community of believers who disciple one another, exhibit genuine love and care for one another, and display the glory of God to a watching world.
Just like bifocals enable someone to view up close as well as far away, ecclesiological exposition keeps both the individual and the congregation in focus. When we read the Bible, we’ll surely find individual applications for our lives, but we must also view the Scriptures through a corporate lens, asking, “What does this passage mean for our life together as a church?”
On a practical level, such a paradigm shift in preaching affects the explanation, illustration, and application of the text of Scripture. Preachers who do this kind of preaching will explain the corporate implications of a text and apply the text to the congregation as a whole. As a result, a culture of discipling and Christlike affection will develop, as church members see how they relate to one another. All of this will help a local church to more clearly broadcast its corporate witness to the surrounding community.
Pastor, as you prepare this week’s sermon, examine what the text means for each individual Christian in the room. But don’t stop there. Don’t forget to also consider how that individual might understand and live out the passage in the context of their particular church. Consider what ways your congregation is, or should be, obeying the commands of Scripture as a corporate body.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the SB Texan.