6 Keys to Expository Preaching
by Guest Author

December 9, 2021

Bold Preaching

6 Keys to Expository Preaching

By Guest Author

December 9, 2021

Expository preaching can be traced back to the days of the Church Fathers, it continued through men like Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in Geneva. To the outsider, biblical exposition can appear as a daunting task. However, for any man who is called to preach, the power of the Holy Spirit, and some direction, can prepare and deliver expository messages. Here are six keys that I’ve found to help me as I prepare.

Select a Text

Selecting a text to preach may seem like a challenge and you may ask, “Where do I begin?” The Bible testifies about itself that it is a book breathed out by the Holy Spirit as men of old were inspired to write (Psalm 12:6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 3:15-16), so any text you select can be sufficient for preaching. One of the things preaching through a book of the Bible makes easy is selecting the text: it’s always the next one. 

Observe the Text

Here you will assume the role of detective to investigate your text. You will want to look at every word and phrase of your selection. Examine your text as a piece of biblical literature. Determine which part of speech each word is—such as a noun, pronoun, verb, adverb or adjective. How do the words then make phrases that combine to make sentences? Which theological words, such as grace, mercy, or prayer does the author use in communicating biblical truth? Use a notebook, pad or program to write down your observations.

Study the Text

In this next step, you continue your role as detective. What do you need to know about your text to adequately explain it to your audience? What are some of the intricacies about the text you would like to know? The observations you have already made in step two can assist you here. 

This step cannot be completed without the help of Bible study resources. These include Bible handbooks, study Bibles, Greek or Hebrew dictionaries, maps, biblical theology books and commentaries. Commentaries generally fall within one of three categories: devotional, sermonic, and technical. Good Bible study resources can be found online and are of no charge to the user. These include sites like Blue Letter Bible, Bible Gateway and Bible Study Resources. 

Next, ask who is the author of your text and who is in your text? For example, if you are studying Luke 9:23-27, you will realize that Luke is the human author but Jesus is speaking. Discover everything you can about the book of the Bible where your text is found.

Find the context of your passage. Many have said, “A text taken out of context is a pretext.” What is the structure of the chapter you are studying? You will want to learn if your text is part of a larger argument or explanation the author is making. It may be part of a larger theme or discussion within this particular book of the Bible. If you are studying the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, you cannot teach it apart from realizing who Jesus’ audience was (Luke 11:1-3), and how it relates to the two parables Jesus shared before (Luke 11:4-10).

Find the meaning of theological words you might not know or be familiar with. Never take it for granted that your audience will know the meaning of any words you may think are simple, such as grace, mercy or faith. No detail is too minor at this point.

Formulate the Main Idea of the Text and the Main Idea of the Sermon

Throughout your study, you should be able to learn the big idea or main idea of your text. If possible, you should try and distill the main idea of the text into one word. For instance, if you were studying Psalm 23 the subject could be shepherd. The subject of Matthew 6:25-34 could be worry. Determine what the writer is saying about the big idea; this is the complement of the text. For Psalm 23, the complement could be God, or lead

You are ready to write out the main idea of your text. The main idea needs to be a past tense, theological statement in a sentence including the original author and audience. It should be concise, and if possible no more than 10-12 words. For Psalm 23, the main idea of the text could be, “David told Israel that God was his shepherd.” 

The main idea of the text now needs to be written in a similar way to become the main idea of the sermon. It should be a present tense, theological statement in a sentence that includes your audience. This main idea of the text needs to be formulated in light of the work of Christ for contemporary Christians. The main idea for a sermon on Psalm 23 could be, “Jesus is the great shepherd for all those who know Him.” It should be succinct and memorable enough for you to memorize them relatively easy. 

Prepare a Sermon Manuscript

This may be a step you want to skip because it can be arduous, but it is essential for effective sermon delivery. The main idea of the text and the main idea of the sermon should be near the very beginning of your manuscript. You may want to include an illustration at the beginning and ending of the manuscript. These illustrations should clearly illustrate the main idea of the sermon. 

You should craft your sermon into divisions or points, but technically the sermon has only one main point or idea. These divisions are based on the natural form of the text and should not be forced. Each division should include at least an explanation and application of the text. Illustrations can be included under each division also.

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This manuscript will prepare you to deliver the sermon. A five-page, single-spaced manuscript usually equates to 30-40 minutes of preaching. Read the manuscript several times before you preach to help you internalize the message. Take as few notes into the pulpit as possible so you maintain good eye contact with your audience. 

Deliver the Sermon 

In the minutes and hours before the preaching event you should be praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to overshadow you as you preach. You should be internalizing the message by use of the manuscript. You should be rested and prepared to stand behind the sacred desk. Body language such as eye contact, hand motions or walking from behind the pulpit should always accentuate the sermon and never take away from it. It should be the same for the volume, rate, pitch and tone of your voice. Be the best you that God ever created as you preach!


Phil Wages is a long-time pastor in Georgia, most recently of the First Baptist Church of Winterville. He earned a doctorate in expository preaching from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s married to Marsha and they have two sons.

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