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  • Writer's pictureDexter Bersonda

The Necessity of Experiential Preaching




One of the regular, and sad, experiences I went through in my two decades in a charismatic church was the utter lack of expository preaching. Every Sunday we would hear sermons centered on personal experiences, stories, jokes, motivational speeches and inspirational pep-talks with a little bit of scripture added casually without any regard to their context or intent.  There were even preaching that forsook the scripture entirely. The premise is that through their preaching the Holy Spirit will take care of speaking to each person individually so the bible is unnecessary. Many years were wasted hearing (and delivering) sermons that didn’t help us get any deeper in our study of God’s word.

 

Fast-forward to today, one of the buzzwords gaining popularity is “expository” preaching. By God’s grace, many churches and preachers are paying attention to proper exegesis. Many have seen the value and benefits of going through the text sequentially and then drawing out and delivering their intended meaning within their multifaceted context.  However, one problem I have been encountering (within our own church and in others as well) is the lack of contextualization or application in preaching. This happens when the preacher gives most of his attention to the exegetical portion of the sermon. The result is that the preacher ends up giving an information dump. These sermons can be more accurately described as a lecture instead of an expository preaching. The congregation gains new knowledge into the text but are left wondering what to do with these information, what the implications are in their lives, and how to apply or respond to them. Some preachers see application as a bit of an add-on at the end of the sermon, in the form of a few suggestions or practical thoughts.  Others simply believe that they just have to deliver what the text says and the Holy Spirit will take care of the part of applying the truths to the lives of the listeners.

 

This, however, is a defective view of expository preaching. In his book, The Heart is the Target, Murray Capill states that: “It is not adequate to view preaching as explanation plus some application. Explanation and application are two fundamental tasks of preaching, but the relationship of the two is vital.  Application must not be a subsequent addition to exposition but the end goal of exposition. Biblical exposition itself must be applicatory in thrust.”

 

Joel Beeke quotes JI Packer, in Puritan Reformed Theology: “J. I. Packer once said that preaching consists of two elements: teaching plus application. Where those two elements are missing, something less than preaching occurs.” Beeke then cites three important prerequisites for applicatory preaching. Upon closer examination though, all three can be packed into the first one: “To be sound applicatory preachers, we must first have personal, experiential knowledge of the doctrines we preach.” It is very important then that preachers have gone through significant experiences in their lives that they can draw from when delivering experiential sermons.

 

This is one of the reasons why Albert Martin identified a man’s christian experience as one of the divine requirements for pastoral ministry (Pastoral Theology vol 1).  He cites the four areas of this christian experience: (1) love for Christ; (2) faith in the great unseen realities; (3) acquaintance with the dynamics of sin and grace; and (4) humility and self-distrust. Martin says: “Those who aspire to be overseers must not be babes who are ignorant of the fundamental struggles of the Christian life and of the provisions of grace available to us in Christ by His Spirit. “

 

Simply put, a man who has not experienced a deep love and practical walk with Christ, or someone who does not mind sin nor wage war to mortify it, is a man who is not qualified for pastoral ministry. How will a man who ignores sin in his own life shepherd a flock whose one major concern is the sin in their lives? How will a man preach on holy living and against sin if he has not actively battled sin in his own life? Such men may be able to preach exegetical sermons, but they will be ineffective in applying those sermons to the lives of their hearers. Joel Beeke goes on: “As under-shepherds of Christ, we feed the flock with the nourishment our Shepherd gives us. If we would have our congregants know how to live, we ourselves must walk in the footsteps of our Master.”

 

What then should preachers do in order to deliver experiential sermons? Here are a few tips.

 

  1. Keep on growing in our walk with Christ in our Christian life. Let us continue to saturate ourselves with the Word and prayer. Here are some readings that may help in this area:

    1. The Pastor and the Scriptures (https://www.reformedpinoy.org/post/the-pastor-and-the-scriptures)

    2. If you can, read the sermon by John Elias, “The Experimental Knowledge of Christ”. This is available as a book from Puritan Project Philippines.

    3. Go over to DesiringGod.org and look through the book Desiring God and read through their articles on Christian hedonism.

  2. Continue to battle and mortify sin in our life. One of the greatest treatises on battling sin is John Owen’s Mortification of Sin together with his exposition of Psalms 130, available either as a stand-alone book or on volume 6 of the Works of John Owen. There are many other books that deal with growing in holiness and godliness. Among them are Kevin de Young’s Hole in our Holiness, and Beeke & Barrett’s A Radical Comprehensive Call to Holiness.

  3. Keep on focusing on the eternal and not on the temporary. We should keep living as pilgrims in this world with our minds constantly set on eternity.  A preacher whose mind is constantly occupied by earthly things won’t be able to preach their congregation to have a taste for the eternal. For further reading on this, I recommended DesiringGod.org articles on having a pilgrim mentality. Also look at Chapter 52 of Beeke & Jones’ A Puritan Theology, Doctrine for Life, to see how puritan theology was shaped by a pilgrim mentality.

  4. Preach experiential sermons intentionally and pointedly. I recommend these for further reading:

    1. The Heart is the Target, Murray Capill

    2. Practical Application in Preaching, chapter 27 of Puritan Reformed Theology by Joel Beeke

 

I hope that this short article will encourage and help preachers in experiential preaching. Everyday the flock that God has entrusted to us under-shepherds live in a world filled with temptation, worldliness, and sin. Giving them lectures on Sunday mornings won’t be enough to get them through. We need to be faithful in our calling and make sure they are actually nourished and well fed with the Word through our preaching.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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