Understanding the Expository Process

Discussing the biblical foundations and the definition of expository preaching, while essential, is relatively easy. The real challenge comes when one has to move from the classroom to the weekly pulpit. Unless the preacher understands clearly the expository process, he will never achieve his potential in the craft of expository preaching.

As a frame of reference for this discussion, we propose that the expository process include four standard elements: preparing the expositor, processing and principlizing the biblical text(s), pulling the expository message together, and preaching the exposition. The four phases need equal emphasis if the exposition is to be fully effective in the sight of both God and the congregation.

Preparing the Expositor1

Since God should be the source of expository messages, one who delivers such a message should enjoy intimate communion with God. This is the only way the message can be given with greatest accuracy, clarity, and passion.

At least seven areas of preparation qualify a man to stand in the pulpit and declare, “Thus saith the Lord!”:

1. The preacher must be a truly regenerated believer in Jesus Christ. He must be a part of God’s redeemed family (John 1:12–13). If a man is to deliver a personal message from the heavenly Father effectively, he must be a legitimate spiritual son or the message will inevitably be distorted.

2. The preacher must be appointed and gifted by God to the teaching/preaching ministry (Eph. 4:11–16 and 1 Tim. 3:2). Unless a man is divinely enabled to proclaim, he will be inadequate, possessing only human ability.2

3. The preacher must be inclined and trained to be a student of God’s Word. Otherwise, he cannot carry out the mandate of 2 Tim. 2:15 to “cut straight” the Word of God’s truth.

4. The preacher must be a mature believer who demonstrates a consistent godly character (1 Tim. 3:2–3).3

5. The preacher must be dependent upon God the Holy Spirit for divine insight and understanding of God’s Word (1 Cor. 2:14–15). Without the Spirit’s illumination and power, the message will be relatively impotent.4

6. The preacher must be in constant prayerful communion with God to receive the full impact of the Word (Ps. 119:18). The obvious one to consult for clarification is the original author.5

7. The preacher must first let the developing message sift through his own thinking and life before he can preach it. Ezra provides the perfect model: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).

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[MacArthur, J. (1997, c1992). Rediscovering Expository Preaching. Dallas: Word Pub.]


  1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones devotes a whole chapter to this subject in Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 100–20.
  2. James Stalker, The Preacher and His Models (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1891), 95–99; cf. also John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 37–46.
  3. Louis Goldberg, “Preaching with Power the Word ‘Correctly Handled’ to Transform Man and His World,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27, no. 1 (March 1984): 4–5. 33 Kaiser, Exegetical Theology, 236.
  4. Charles H. Spurgeon wrote, “If you do not understand a book by a departed writer you are unable to ask him his meaning, but the Spirit, who inspired Holy Scripture, lives forever, and He delights to open the Word to those who seek His instruction” (Commenting and Commentaries [New York: Sheldon and Company, 1876], 58–59).
  5. Nicholas Kurtaneck, “Are Seminaries Preparing Prospective Pastors to Preach the Word of God?” Grace Theological Journal 6, no. 2 (Fall 1985): 361–71.
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