I was reflecting on a conversation I had with a church friend of mine. I had accepted his invitation to visit his home church. An experience that even he agreed was boring.
He told me that he stayed there, despite how boring it was, because he felt safe there. Why? Because the pastor preached right out of the Bible.
This begs the question; Is the presence of the Bible and use of scripture enough evidence that you’re in a place where you can gain the wisdom and understanding that is essential for spiritual growth and discipleship?
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1
Just the other day I was talking with a man who recently started attending a new church. He was really excited about it. “What do you like about it?” I asked. With great enthusiasm, he said, “I like the fact the pastor preaches right from the Bible. So many don’t, you know.”
I’ve been to a lot of Christian churches and I never found one that didn’t preach from and through the Bible. They all preach the Bible. They just don’t all preach the same way. Nor do they all arrive at the same conclusions about the meaning of each scripture or passage.
Even within the same denominations, you’ll have inconsistencies in interpretations.
This isn’t to say that any of them are wrong. The fact they have a Bible in their hands… just doesn’t automatically mean they are right.
A perfect example is the time our team visited three different churches of three different denominations in three different cities on the same weekend. One was Pentecostal, one United Methodist, and one Baptist. All three were teaching from the same passage of scripture. None of them communicated the same message. None of them handled the verses in the same way. None of them applied the verses in the same way. We each have our own preference for style and teaching and that’s perfectly fine.
There are three primary Biblical teaching formats: topical, textual, and expository. Most pastors tend to favor one over the other. Most Christians, by the way, tend to favor one over the other as well.
The problem is that many of us make a value judgment saying one is a more valid method of teaching what the Word of God has to say than the other.
With topical teaching, the pastor selects a topic and uses passages from the Bible to elucidate that topic and support the thesis. Love, service, marriage, parenting, sex… the Bible has something to say about all of them.
In practice, the pastor prays about what God wants them to teach the church and then they go to the Bible to construct their message using a variety of verses. Many people find this style of learning helps them connect to the Bible on a very personal level. This style can be useful for helping us gain practical knowledge about how the Word of God relates to our everyday lives.
The danger is that if you are not reading the Bible on your own, you may never fully experience scripture within its original context…and with the Bible, context is everything. There is a beautiful unfolding of the story of God when the books of the Bible are read one by one. A careful teacher will make sure the scriptures are used in ways that preserve the contextual message. Having said that, it’s a dangerous assumption to think that all pastors are that careful.
Textual teaching is where one specific passage from the Bible is used as a jumping-off point for the pastor’s lesson. For example, the pastor may use the story of the Good Samaritan to teach a message on serving others. Like topical teaching, this style is easily relatable to the average listener but, once again, it uses the Bible more as a reference book. Unless the attendees are reading the Bible on their own, the only understanding of the Word of God they’ll have is the one their pastor gave them.
“I believe the Church has to get back to expository teaching…allowing the text to speak for itself. Instead of topical verses that say what I want it to say…the scriptures must be the final authority…if you’re not careful, you’ll have an entertaining leader …but what happens when that leader falls apart?…the church is over because it was built on a personality… I have been that leader…” Jay DePoy, Ashville, NC
Expository teaching is when the pastor teaches through the Bible verse by verse. Each week’s message will be whatever lesson the text at hand is teaching. Most conservative churches feel expository teaching is superior to others. It illuminates the Bible one scripture at a time and allows the learner to better comprehend the “full counsel of God”.
On a practical level, many people find expository teaching hard to follow…or even boring. I say that depends on the teacher.
In reality, no matter the style, a teacher will convey the message the way they, themselves, understand the text. Therein lies the rub.
The most important thing about learning what the Bible has to teach is this; what we hear on Sunday morning is not enough to lead us to wisdom and maturity no matter how great our teacher is or what teaching style is employed. We grow in wisdom and knowledge when we pursue God’s Word, pray for wisdom, and live out what we learn.
Hearing it will never be enough.
“You don’t go to a restaurant once a week expecting to be fed…if you only feed on the Word of God once a week.” Pastor Dale Travis, Family Life Church, Amarillo, TX
“…Pastors are held accountable for what they preach, the listener is held accountable for what they hear…” Pastor Vic Redding, Faith Free Will Baptist Church, Greensboro, NC
Read that last quote again. Ultimately, the communication style isn’t what matters most. It’s up to each of us to make sure we are not just “hearing” the word of God – but what we do with what we’ve learned that changes us from “attenders” to true followers.
In His love and service,