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phillip jensen

How do you teach your church to like expositional preaching?

By Phillip Jensen

Phillip Jensen, Pastor of St. Matthias Anglican Church, Sydney, Australia
(Excerpted from an interview):

 If [seminary students are] just out of college, they’re boring.  If you’re not boring just out of college, you didn’t learn enough in college.  It’s when you’re five years out and you’re still boring that you’ve got a problem. I know my blokes coming out of college are a bit heavy; I’m more worried about them coming out of college and being a bit lite.  That’s a bigger problem, ‘cause in five years they’re dead boring.  The age is one thing.  Say they’re out a few years—there’s a few factors involved. 

If you’re trying to woo a congregation onto this, you must see it as part of the ministry you’re exercising, and it’s important that you love the people you’re speaking to and that they learn to love you.  There are certain issues in ministry that you’re going to be fighting about.  Therefore, you mustn’t fight over the ones you don’t have to fight about.  You’ve got to choose which hill you’re going to be dying on. 

I think expounding the scriptures is the hill to die on.  So I wouldn’t go for negotiation over that.  But if I were going to die on that hill, I really have to win them over on everything else I can win them over on.  And if that means that I’ve got to go and kiss babies and I’ve got to go and pet dogs (and I hate dogs—it’s not mutual—dogs love me, for breakfast, lunch and dinner—any time), but that’s their life, they’re the people God has entrusted to my care and I’ve got to care for them, really and properly.  If they know that I love them, they are much more willing to listen to my leadership when I say we’ve got to start listening to the Bible and stop playing superficial games on pop psychology, that there’s something.

When I actually do preach, I’ve got to be really good.  When you’re in a context when people are used to hearing good preaching, you don’t have to be really good, because they’re already accepting of those things, but if I’ve got to persuade people that there’s something better out there, I have to really be better.  To really be better, it may be that I have to compromise on the length of time.  There’s nothing expository—an explicatory preacher doesn’t have to preach for 50 minutes whereas a topical preacher can do it in five.  It may be that you’ve got—being married is key at this point, because your wife will tell you—you’ve got to learn how long you can genuinely preach for and hold the interest of the congregation.  You need some people in the congregation to tell you that at 35 minutes they were all fidgeting or at 20 minutes there was actually nobody listening anymore, sounds to me like you’re a 20 minute preacher and you need to make sure you succeed in 20 minutes. 

Rather than feeling like Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached for 45 minutes and therefore I must preach for 45 minutes, that that’s the magic part of the process.  I’ve got to seduce and woo people into hearing the Word of God, then I’ve got to avoid the commentaries.  Commentaries are a very useful tool, but they can be deadening on preachers.  You’ve got to spend more time in the text, more time thinking about the Bible yourself, and less time answering all the problems that the commentators have.  The commentaries are written by a group of scholars who are talking to each other, and they raise questions and answer questions, and the debate has been moving on, and it’s been running for about a hundred years or so.  It is not where the person in the pew is asking any questions, and it’s often not what the text of the Scripture is saying either.