All through the Scriptures we see shepherding analogies. We find the relationship between God and his people described in such terms. As it pertains to the church, the people of God are called God’s flock. It is Christ who is described as the good Shepherd who actually lays down his life for the sheep.
Building on this analogy, pastors are called to shepherd God’s flock. The office of elder in the local church is a spiritual leadership office designed to shepherd souls by faithfully leading and overseeing them through God’s Word. God’s people, like sheep in the field, need faithful shepherds to lead and guide them.
So, what about the pastor’s preaching? Should it be funny? Is the pastor to be looking for the ultra-relevant sermon style in order to connect with his modern audience? Is it his job to entertain people—causing them to leave feeling good each week as they have been presented with a helpful moralistic speech filled with relevant stories for application? Actually, none of these approaches to the pulpit accomplish what God has in mind for the church of Jesus. God’s will is for preaching to have an authoritative tone.
In Titus 2:15, we find these words from the apostle Paul to Titus:
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Authoritative Preaching Defined
We live in a world filled with privacy fences. People in our culture enjoy a rugged individualistic approach to life—especially in the American culture where I live. Many people are resistant to authority and do not appreciate other people speaking into their lives. Yet, God knows the human heart and the propensity to sin far better than the most skilled theologian. That’s why he designed preaching to be authoritative.
The word translated authority in Titus 2:15 is the Greek term, “ἐπιταγή” which has in mind an authoritative directive, command, order, or injunction. Out of the seven times this term is used in the NT, it’s translated “command” or “commandment” six of the seven times. Only here in Titus 2:15 do we see it rendered as authority. The idea is that the pastor should be preaching with a commanding authority.
This term is connected to another Greek term which is common in the NT—“ὑποτάσσω” which is often translated “submit.” It’s often used in connection to wives being subject to their own husbands or the church of Jesus submitting to Christ.
All true biblical preaching is authoritative. When the crowds heard Jesus’ preaching—they were astonished. He preached as one who had authority (Matt. 7:28-29). You cannot preach the Bible without preaching with authority. This is why Paul does not permit women to teach or preach in the context of the church because she would be exercising authority over a man which is a violation of God’s design for the hierarchical structure of authority in the life of the local church (see 1 Tim. 2:12).
Authoritative preaching is not centered on the office of the pastor. The pastor does not have any ecclesiastical authority due to his position. The Roman Catholic Church has made this error throughout history. They have developed an ecclesiastical power system that includes the papacy and papal Infallibility among many other structural power grabs. This is not the authority that God has in mind when it comes to his church.
There have been many other grievous errors as it pertains to authority within evangelicalism. One common approach is visible within the charismatic circles where personal authority is built by a person claiming to have direct communication with God. For instance, when someone claims to receive direct revelation from God their popularity soars and people want to hear what they have to say on social media, in books, or in conference settings. Why? It’s directly connected to a perceived authority—due to the mysterious channel of communication that the person has with God. This is certainly not what God has in mind when it comes to authority.
Another error that we see often in evangelical circles is the heavy handed dictatorial leadership that is very prevalent within legalistic circles. The pastor serves as the CEO of the church where he commands, directs, and demands obedience out of the entire church—often majoring on cultural additives rather than the Word of God. This is extremely common within the KJV Only circles. This is not the form of authority that God designed for the church and for pastors.
To be clear, the authority of a pastor begins and ends with the Scriptures. If a pastor is merely commanding people to obey him and his ideas apart from chapter and verse of holy Scripture—he is guilty of overreach. The faithful pastor commands and thunders “Thus says the Lord”—expecting that people will hear the Word of God and obey. Listen to Paul’s commendation of the church in Thessalonica as he writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
As the Word of God is proclaimed, the pastor serves as a herald who announces to the people a message from the King, and the people are to receive it as a message from the King rather than a message from the herald. Just as a herald’s message was to be received as if the king himself were present delivering the message—so the church should receive the faithful preaching of God’s Word as if Jesus himself is standing in the pulpit preaching.
Authoritative Preaching Is Positive and Negative
Paul directs Titus to exhort and rebuke the people. This involves both positive and negative aspects of preaching. The pastor is to encourage as he calls people alongside him and seeks to lift them up and comfort them in the faith. He is likewise to engage in rebuke in order to lead them away from sin and toward holiness.
The trend of our culture today is positivity. Everyone wants to be nice and positive. Any negativity is viewed as culturally unacceptable—unless it’s a major political season and then the gloves come off. When it comes to preaching, within the local church setting, many people are looking for a really nice guy to give really nice speeches about really helpful morality without being negative. That is simply not biblical preaching. Sheep wander off and walk straight toward predators. Sheep have a tendency to walk away from good water and good food into desolate, dry, and dangerous land. Sheep need to be rebuked.
That’s why Paul instructed Titus to rebuke the church. That’s likewise why Paul instructed Timothy to rebuke the church in his preaching (see 2 Tim. 4:1-5). The Greek term translated rebuke is “ἐλέγχω” which has in mind the idea of bringing a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing. The focus is upon convicting or convincing someone of wrongdoing. That is the role of a pastor.
Faithful preaching involves commanding with authority from God’s Word in such a way that both encourages and rebukes as is necessary for everyone in the church.
Authoritative Preaching Demands Obedience
Paul gave Titus a clear command regarding his preaching ministry on the island of Crete—“Let no one disregard you.” The island of Crete was filled with lawless rebels and raging heretics who were teaching a works based salvation by circumcision. Both of these groups of people were impacting the churches on the island of Crete.
As the rogue mentality of lawlessness made its way into the church, it would be very common to have people who resist bold authoritative preaching. It would not be uncommon at all to have people who wanted to reject the pastor’s preaching based on their own private interpretations. That’s why Paul commanded Titus to be persistent in his preaching ministry.
The term used by Paul which is translated disregard is unique. It’s the Greek term, “περιφρονέω” which means to have disdain for, disregard, look down on, despise, or to evade. This is a compound Greek term. Phroneō means “to think,” while peri means “around.” The point Paul is driving home to Titus is that he must not allow people in the church to “think around” him as he preaches the Word and shepherds souls.
It’s common to have people rationalize their sin based on what they believe or what they have always heard. Paul’s charge to Titus was that they were not to be allowed to avoid or evade the clear teaching of Scripture. Titus was to be persistent in his preaching and he was to disciple the other pastors on the island to Crete to do the same thing in their approach to the pulpit.
Think about God’s design of authority and his calling of pastors to preach and teach holy Scripture in the life of the local church. Shallow preaching that avoids a tone of authority and seeks to please people will be disastrous for the health and vitality of the church.
It was Martin Luther who once said, “Always preach in such a way that if the people listening do not come to hate their sin, they will instead hate you.”
The calling of the pastor is to lead the church through a faithful teaching ministry. His doctrine must be healthy or it will have a negative impact upon the entire church. This is why Paul instructs Titus to be certain that his teaching was sound, which is another way of saying it must be healthy.
Titus 2:1 – But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
The Contrast of the Faithful Pastor and the Unfaithful Heretics
Notice how Paul begins this verse. He writes, “But as for you.” This was a means of providing a vivid contrast to the evil enemies of the cross who were plaguing God’s people. The teaching of Titus must have a completely different aroma than the teaching of the heretics. People should be able to notice the difference without being confused.
This is critically important as we consider the preaching and teaching of faithful pastors. They must be so closely aligned with God’s Word and so consumed with the gospel that there is no mistaking their teaching with the false teaching of those who seek to lead people astray with false doctrine. Sound doctrine and false doctrine must be clearly distinguished from one another.
The Calling of the Pastor
The calling of the pastor is to the task of preaching and teaching holy Scripture. Notice that Paul didn’t call Titus to entertain the people. It should be further noted that Paul didn’t instruct Titus to engage in the work of psychology or sociology. The calling of Titus was to teach the Word of God and to appoint elders to that same task in the context of local churches across the island of Crete.
Paul says, “teach” which is the Greek term, “λαλέω” meaning to express oneself by speaking. It literally means to talk. When connected with sound doctrine, this places the contextual emphasis upon imparting knowledge in a formal sense of teaching. It was Martyn Lloyd-Jones who once said the following:
Preaching the Word is the primary task of the Church, the primary task of the leaders of the Church, the people who are set in this position of authority; and we must not allow anything to deflect us from this, however good the cause, however great the need.
Certainly the pastor wears many hats as it pertains to the work of shepherding. The most important task and the central calling of the pastor is to the preparation for and faithful teaching of God’s Word. The pastor can do a hundred things well, but if he fails in this one area, he is an unfit pastor who fails in his calling to the office of an elder.
The Message of the Pastor
The message of the pastor must be healthy. That’s the meaning of Paul’s word to Titus when he instructs him to deliver sound doctrine. Literally he’s saying, “teach with healthy teaching.” The word used by Paul for doctrine is “διδασκαλία” which came to be used in the New Testament, especially in the pastoral epistles, to mean the sum of the body of teaching by the apostles.
For that reason, we often say, “doctrine matters.” By way of contrast, Paul had warned Titus that the Cretans were known as liars. The heretics who were peddling a false gospel were not to be trusted because they had come into the community of the Christians insisting on salvation by grace plus law. In short, these two groups that were impacting the church on the island of Crete were teaching unsound doctrines.
The unadulterated Word of God is what the local church needs. Anything else will not fulfill the people and will lead to unrest, lawless behavior, and ultimately will be so dull that it will not penetrate the hearts of people and will be incapable of saving the soul (James 1:21; 1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 3:16). Unsound preaching leads to unsound living. Paul understood that Titus’ responsibility was to disciple elders who would disciple local churches.
As we consider the landscape of our evangelical culture today, we must avoid the popular trappings that entangle so many local church leaders and subsequently—entire churches. It was once a very popular trend to replace preaching with psychology. Today, the popular trend seems to be centered on replacing theology with sociology. What this does is place an emphasis on anthropology rather than theology. Such an unhealthy focus leads churches to become fixated upon man rather than God. This approach to the church today will result in division rather than unity and frustration rather than doxology.
Unsound teaching will produce unsound churches. It would do us well to remember that the world around us is constantly seeking to deform the church. We must be striving for ongoing reformation as we seek to honor God through biblically informed worship and a lifestyle that is consistent with a pursuit of holiness.
At the center of Christian worship stands the pulpit. Anything less than authentic Christian preaching causes enormous and catastrophic problems in the life of the local church. The first mark of an authentic church is expository preaching. When substitutes are made upon the preaching of holy Scripture in attempt to become relevant, cool, and attractive to the culture—the church becomes less than authentic.
By way of summary, expository preaching is a verse-by-verse approach whereby the preacher sequentially works through books of the Bible in a systematic manner. While there are various forms of expository preaching that would include topical exposition where the preacher preaches a series of sermons from various texts in an expository manner—the normal approach is to preach verse-by-verse through an entire book of the Bible over a period of time.
In a more definitive manner, expository preaching is the communication of a biblical text derived from a literal, historical, grammatical interpretation. The preacher observes, interprets, and applies the text with hermeneutical precision and communicates the single meaning of the text with homiletical skill in such a manner that preserves the author’s original intent while pointing people to Jesus Christ.
If Christian preaching is expository preaching and if the first mark of an authentic church is expository preaching, it goes without saying that at the heart of a Christian sermon is Jesus Christ. Far too many sermons from the Old Testament within Christian churches on Sunday morning would not offend a Jewish synagogue if preached there on Saturday morning. Why is this the case? Because in many cases the preacher explains everything about the text itself from a micro-perspective including the central point and contextual background without ultimately pointing people to the macro-perspective or the canonical whole which will always lead us to Jesus.
Charles Spurgeon has been quoted as saying, “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.” However, Spurgeon never actually made that statement. It was Lewis Drummond, in 1992, who attributed it to Spurgeon in his biography, Spurgeon: The Prince of Preachers. Although Spurgeon never made this statement, it is an accurate description of Spurgeon’s preaching style. He would make his way to the cross in every sermon—from both the Old and New Testaments.
As we make our way to the cross in our preaching, we must avoid the errors of allegorical interpretation along the journey. It would be wrong to take any random text in the Bible and make the interpretative claim that it’s a reference to Jesus Christ. That is certainly not true and such a pattern of preaching leads to massive error. It butchers the authorial intent and opens the door to all sorts of enemies of the cross who will gladly use that same hermeneutic to fulfill their postmodern attempt to harm God’s Church.
As we study the nature of Scripture, one thing we learn is that the Holy Spirit moved upon 40 different human authors over a period of some 1,500 years of history to bring about the biblical canon. It is the goal of the Holy Spirit to point people to Jesus. In Luke 1:35, it is the Holy Spirit who conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary. In John 15:26, Jesus said the following, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” If the role of the Spirit of God (who is called the Spirit of Christ in Romans 8:9) is to point people to Jesus Christ from holy Scripture, why would Christian preachers have any other goal in their preaching?
In the New Testament, Peter proclaimed the Old Testament text by pointing people to Jesus. He likewise made clear and pointed application about the guilt of killing the Son of God as he applied the text to the entire crowd. In Acts 8, the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading Isaiah 53 when Philip found him on the chariot in the remote desert region as he was returning to Ethiopia. Peter began at that same text and pointed the man to Jesus. This should be our goal in preaching.
In Romans 10:17, we hear these important words from the apostle Paul. He writes, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” Evangelicals pool multiplied millions of dollars together each year in order to print Bibles into the languages of unreached peoples, plant churches around the world, and send missionaries to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. We must not be guilty of adding the gospel to the end of our sermon by way of conclusion. We must actually preach the gospel as the central part of our sermon and demonstrate how Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment and our eternal hope. If we are passionate about getting Jesus to the unreached peoples around the world and less passionate about getting Jesus to the people in our pews every week, we will be viewed as inconsistent in our gospel ministry. We never outgrow the gospel and we never out-know the gospel of Jesus.
We find these words of Jesus in Revelation 1:8, “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” While Jesus is indeed the first and the last and demonstrated by his victorious resurrection—he was, is, and is to come the sovereign Almighty God—sadly he is not preached in many sermons on the average Lord’s Day. People preach about Jesus or around the gospel without actually preaching the gospel of Jesus. He is crowded out by moralistic therapeutic deism. He is replaced by American politics. He is overlooked by preachers who are intoxicated by church growth pragmatics as opposed to firmly committed to exegeting Scripture and feeding God’s sheep.
May the testimony of your church and your pulpit be that you preach Christ.
n 2019, G3 Ministries unveiled a new area of ministry that will focus on the pulpit of the local church with the goal of producing more healthy churches for the glory of God. The G3 Expository Workshops were released at the 2020 G3 Conference and a schedule was unveiled for various regions throughout the 2020 calendar year. This all happened before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this episode of the G3 Podcast, Tom Buck and I discuss expository preaching and why it’s essential—as well as unveil some important news about a virtual expository workshop that you will want to reserve a seat for in June with Voddie Baucham.
We are living in unique days as a human race as we navigate through this global COVID-19 pandemic. The church of Jesus is likewise faced with added challenges and obstacles throughout this entire pandemic. Whereas bars and restaurants are not mandated by God to assemble—the church has received such a mandate. So, during a season of social distancing, we must recognize the challenges for God’s people—and especially the leaders of local churches.
Unless your pastor is asleep at the wheel—it’s quite possible that he has logged far more hours each week during this pandemic than normal as he seeks to overcome the challenges of membership care and the use of technology to reach out to the people of God under his care. Can you imagine Martyn Lloyd-Jones thinking through the use of technology to preach during a pandemic? Pastors, who were never able to take the COVID-19 pandemic preaching elective are being forced to overcome challenges on a weekly basis.
Throughout this last month, you’ve probably watched another church’s livestream, if for no other reason, out of curiosity. It’s quite possible that you had one of two common reactions. You were probably very impressed with the level of production or you experienced a feeling of embarrassment for the church due to the lack of quality and proper use of technology.
Most pastors do not have a professional production team who have the capabilities and equipment to pull off a proper livestream of great precision and quality for their local church. In some cases, the pastor is using his smartphone as he stands in front of a wall decorated with family pictures in his home. In many cases, the quality of the video is poor—filled with a grainy image or extremely pixilated. In other cases, depending on his upload speed and Internet connection—your pastor may be simply recording the audio of his sermon on his iPhone and uploading it to a free audio service where the link can be e-mailed to the church. Yes, it has very poor audio quality, but it’s the very best he can do at this time.
During this season of social distancing as we navigate through this pandemic, allow me to encourage you to turn off the mega-church pastor with super vivid quality HD video and a professional production team laboring to monitor his livestream bitrate. I want to encourage you to listen to your pastor’s words very clearly during this season in church history. Don’t worry about the pixilated video or the squeaky audio that can be distracting at times and hard to follow. Sit up on the edge of your seat with your Bible opened and labor diligently to hear your pastor’s words. Your pastor is laboring to take seriously his calling to feed the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-5).
Remember, the celebrity pastor or conference preacher can be a means of bridging the gap and serving as a supplement to your spiritual diet during this pandemic—but you need to hear your pastor preach during this pandemic. You need every pixel on the screen – every squeaky word—poor quality and all. You need to hear from the man God has placed in your life to care for you and your family, to shepherd your soul, to watch over and guide you spiritually, and the man God has placed over you in the context of your local church. Your pastor is preaching to you and your church—not a church down the road. So, naturally he understands your needs and the needs of your church as a whole.
In Acts 20:28, when Paul was preparing to leave Ephesus to go away, he called a meeting with the elders of the church at Ephesus and charged them with their pastoral responsibilities. He said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” This is difficult to do through the lens of technology, but nevertheless, as your pastor seeks to shepherd your soul through the Word—even through the limitations of technology—do your best to engage and listen closely to his heart for you as a member of the church God has called him to lead.
Consider the fact that your pastor has been given the charge to protect you from wolves. In Titus 1:10-16, the role of the pastor is to silence those who violate the truth and trouble the church of Jesus. As your pastor seeks to care for you during this pandemic, part of his calling involves keeping you protected from the many wolves who are seeking to harm God’s sheep through the Internet. Always watch videos and read blogs with a careful eye of discernment. The Internet is not a safe place. So, listen closely to your pastor and his preaching even if he can’t compete with the level of production of another church down the road or a celebrity pastor with a large media production team. His words matter—and you need to hear from him during these days.
Remember, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). We never outgrow the grace of God and our need for the gospel. So, as we live in times of discouragement and fear—don’t allow your hearts to be overcome by fear. Fear not. Let not your hearts be troubled, have faith in God through Christ and allow your faith to be strengthened by the ongoing hearing and receiving of truth that comes through the preaching of your pastor during these difficult days.
Is your pastor seeking to preach the Scriptures through a livestream opportunity? Is he leading Zoom prayer meetings with the church family? Put in the effort to make the necessary connections with your pastors and your church family during this challenging season of social distancing.
May it be that when you are finally able to reassemble with your local church you will have a greater affection for your brothers and sisters in Christ and a greater affection and respect for your pastor as a result of being forced to disassemble for a season in order to protect the wellbeing of the church during this pandemic.
At the end of my first full year of seminary, after having moved away from our family and church family in Georgia, while sitting in our small apartment in Louisville, Kentucky on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I received an e-mail from my grandmother asking if we would like to go to Maui for a family vacation with our entire family—all expenses paid. It did not take me long to reply to that e-mail.
We arrived to an unbelievable family reunion in paradise. During that week, my dad and I would often go on morning runs together and talk. One such morning we went down this trail and took a route that was a fairly good climb up this hill. When we reached the top it was a stunning view of the ocean and shoreline of Maui. Off in the distance you could see the crater island Molokini and hundreds of feet below you could seek the jagged rock ledges that led into the pristine waters. As we stood there amazed at the beauty, we looked into the crystal clear water to see sea turtles swimming and humpback whales jumping.
As we looked below us, there was a lone man snorkeling on the remote section, and along the side of the cliff came a whale. They got really close and you could tell the diver was completely surprised by the encounter. He came up to the surface and screamed with joy and excitement. He had no idea we were anywhere around as we looked down from way above.
When it came time for us to return, we ran back down the trail and made our way back to our hotel. As we got together with our family, I continued to tell the story of what we encountered on the hill. It was a fairly difficult climb, but it was worth it. With all of the beauty and splendor, I had a hard time convincing everyone of how beautiful it was—so I finally said, “You just have to come with me and see for yourself.” The next day, we made our way to the trail and up the climb. To this very day my mother-in-law has not allowed me to forget how I convinced her to make that climb to the top.
As we got to the top as a group, it was a joy for me to experience that moment with the family. It was the closest thing to paradise on earth that I’ve seen. The beauty of the landscape, the shoreline of Maui beaches, the large cliff edges with jagged rocks that connect to the crashing waves below, the water, the sparkle of the sun across the expanse of the ocean, the birds, the turtles, the whales, and all of it was simply breathtaking. What I had experienced on the top of that hill—I was able to gather my family together and convince them to follow me up the hillside to see it for themselves.
In many ways, that’s what preaching is like each and every week. As I approached the doxology of Romans 11:33-36 this past week, at one point in the sermon I told this story about Maui and expressed to the church that I often feel this way in my study. It’s an amazing thing to climb to the top of these biblical hills and to see something far greater than the landscape of Maui—to see and experience the beauty and splendor of God. Each week I just want to grab the entire church and say, “Let’s go! Let’s climb to the top together. You will not regret it. The climb is worth it.” And then as we arrive there—I point to God and say, “Behold our God. Worship him!”
John Calvin described preaching as expository explication. It’s the Word of God carefully explained and applied to life. It’s the work of bringing to the surface the clear and true meaning of the Bible so as to be able to apply it to the life of the congregation. The Puritans would say, “Preaching is the primary ordinary means of grace.” It is the primary way in which God has chosen to make his truth known to the world and to his Church. The Scottish preacher James Stewart said the purpose of genuine preaching is “to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”  It was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who described preaching by saying:
What is preaching? Logic on fire! Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. I say again that a man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one. 
When the preacher climbs to the top of the hills each week in his study and is overwhelmed with the God he experiences through the pages of the Bible—it’s both his sobering responsibility and his joyful privilege to take the church to that point with him to see, hear, and know God in a much better way than when they arrived. William Perkins once said the heart of all preaching is “to preach one Christ, by Christ, to the praise of Christ.” 
As a member of your local church, understand the importance of listening and engaging in the sermon each week. Don’t be left behind as your pastor passionately seeks to take you to the throne of God to see him and be amazed by him each week through the pages of Scripture. The hard work of prayer, Scripture reading, and expository listening will serve your soul well and will bring about much fruit in the life of your family and local church for God’s glory. When the church learns the thrill of worshipping God through biblical preaching—the gimmicks of modern day light shows, movie clips, rock concerts, and all of the goofy trends will become boring and sad imitations of the genuine worship of God that comes through real Bible preaching.