The Real Exposition of Scripture: The Entire Service, not just a Sermon

It is often claimed that the missional church might be loosing the high standard of expository preaching.  And often we don’t exactly help to clarify this when we rail against individualized, overly rationalistic, disembodied information dumps which masquerade as the worst of expository preaching (love ya Dave).  And when we claim that interpretation is a communal activity not reducible to a grammatical-historical method, many think we, the missional church, have given up on the Word of God.  Well…we haven’t.  In fact, we do the real expository preaching!

In our worship gathering the question is not if exposition happens, but where exactly it happens.  Someone new to our gathering, steeped in the traditions of expository preaching, commented to one of our co-pastors that while biblical exposition didn’t happen in the sermon (as classically understood), it instead happens throughout the entire service. I think this is absolutely correct.  Let me explain by walking us through last week’s worship gathering.

Our preaching text was Romans 8.1-8, 12-13, celebrating that for those in Christ there is therefore now no condemnation.  The rest of the lectionary was Isaiah 43.16-21, Psalm 126, and John 7.53 – 8.11 [the woman caught in adultery].

The Life on the Vine Liturgy (03/21/10):

  • Before the service, at 9am, we have a teaching class which lays out the basic framework of the morning text to be preached.
  • In the service, after the time of silence and invocation we sang the call to worship, Wake Up, (which we recently wrote based in the text of Roman 13), calling us to attend to the work of Christ.
  • Then comes the Scripture readings, read from the four walls of the sanctuary symbolizing that we are being surrounded by the words of God, ending with a reading from the Gospel of John and how Christ did not condemn the woman caught in adultery. .
  • Between the readings and the sermon is what we call the Liturgion (a litany and motion icon), which in this case was a guided meditation on the painting, “Christ and the Adulterous” by Jan Brueghel, focused on Christ’s non-condemning spirit.  The questions asked were: why is Jesus the lowest in the painting?  Who is at the center of the painting?  What is the significance of that?  Why is the crowd fading into darkness?  Notice that man who dropped the stone…notice that he is the second lowest.  What does his posture resemble?  Notice the shape of the woman’s hands.  What does all this tell us about Jesus?
  • Only after all this comes the sermon (which for us is only one aspect of the dual apex of the service), which we conceive as a focused time of displaying the gospel of Christ and drawing everyone into the Kingdom of God.  In the sermon there of course will be information conveyed and reference made to grammar and genre.  But the true reference of exposition is always Christ himself and his saving work towards which all our preaching must speak.  This week’s sermon focused on living in the hope that while we are guilty, in Christ we are not condemned.
  • After the sermon is a time of response through congregational prayer and two worship songs (Grace Flows Down, Wondrous Cross).
  • Then comes the second apex of our service, the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Lord’s Table, which is itself a fully participatory exposition of the non-condemning hospitality of Christ, and a fully participatory congregational response in faith and hope.
  • During this time of coming to the Table we celebrate the non-condemning love of Christ in three songs: You are My King, Kyrie Eleison (a song we wrote on Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension), and Let us Love and Sing and Wonder.
  • Finally, in the Benediction, we are sent out as the non-condemned people of God, the Body of Christ, offered for the life of the world.

Of course, reading this pails compared to experiencing it.  But for us, at Life on the Vine, exposition happens throughout the entire service, not just in the sermon.  And it is done is a fully biblical, artistic, and immersive situation.  Instead of a 30 minute exposition of the grammar, structure, and meaning of Romans 8, we have a 75 minutes exposition engaging the heart, soul, mind, and spirit, rather than just the mind.

So let it not be said that this missional church doesn’t care about biblical exposition, but rather that we care so much that we make and entire service out of it!

So, then, where does biblical exposition happen for you in your context?  Is it similar or different?

11 Replies to “The Real Exposition of Scripture: The Entire Service, not just a Sermon”

  1. Ryan,

    thanks for the comment. it sounds really great what you are doing over there.

    yes, we have been heavily influence by Robert Webber, so it seems we are on the same page there. I'll have to check out Chapell's book on worship. sounds interesting.

  2. Love it!

    I am an associate pastor at River Valley Church in Mishawaka, IN (near South Bend). We are a relatively large church (750 adults on Sundays) with an interesting mix of parishioners: about 100 college students (mostly from Notre Dame and Bethel), lots of young families, half and half business/trades, lots of de-churched, increasing number of new believers, across the board in socio-econimic status, and an increasing diversity of race. Our mission is “to impact the world as we follow Jesus together,” and I would consider us a missional church.

    Our liturgy looks something like this:
    – Opening Song of Adoration
    – Corporate or Extemporaneous prayer of confession/assurance
    – Song of Assurance or Preparation
    – Passing of Peace
    – Testimony or Missions Moment
    – Sermon
    – Response Song
    – Communion
    – 2-3 Response Songs
    – Commissioning Announcements
    – Benediction

    It is in my goals for this year to begin regular, enthusiastic reading of Scripture. We’ll start with finding gifted readers who can read the message text and/or a Psalm. But eventually I’d like to worship from the lectionary.

    It has been a crazy process over the past couple years turning the ship around from a typical Contemporary Church model (5 praise and worship songs – announcements – sermon), and we have definitely lost some people along the way, but we have been seeing more Holy Spirit connectedness happening in our body than ever before. We have also felt huge relief in our simple commitment to leading people in God’s story.

    Three authors, two and a half years of post-seminary, full-time vocational ministry, and lots of critical thought, team dialogue, over-implementation and harnessing have led myself and our church to a holistic practice of exposition.

    Robert Webber, obviously if you know me, was the first to steer me in this direction. Under his tutorship I began to understand that our exposition is always and only Christ. He was huge on the narrative side of things: In worship wee proclaim, enact, and sing the story of God’s saving events in Christ through Gathering, Word, Table, and Dismissal.

    The next influential author was Michael Pasquarello III, particularly in his book Christian Preaching: A Trinitarian Theology of Proclamation. “Christian Preaching,” according to him, “is a form of primary theology–knowledge and love of the Triune God–which the church confesses in its faith, enacts in its worship, and embodies in its common life” (p. 64). Also a holistic approach to exposition, committed to lectionary readings, and narrative preaching (I think).

    And the third was Bryan Chapell. Interestingly, Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching, the modern standard for expository preaching in the evangelical church, which has perhaps led to a reductionist view of exposition, is only part of a more holistic exposition that he lays out in his Christ-Centered Worship. In it he points out the biblical and historic architecture of worship, which is narrative: adoration, confession, absolution, thanksgiving, preparation, instruction, thanksgiving (eucharist), fellowship, and sending.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. There is a really nice introductory video to Christ-Centered Worship, which I posted here: http://www.reformworship.com/2009/08/christ-cente

    Here is an excerpt I transcribed:

    “In too many churches, I think, worship is just the prelude to the sermon. The implication being that we’ll get past all the preliminaries, and then we’ll get to the meat of the service, which is the sermon. Now, what I want people to understand is, that opening stuff, that’s just as important. In fact, it’s communicating the gospel just as the sermon does, and when we rightly understand that, we’ll have priorities that are biblical, as well as our own personal preferences to guide us into what biblical worship should be.”

    What really sticks out to me is Chapell's belief that the entire service is "communicating the gospel," not just the sermon. After reading his book, he clearly believes the entire service ought to be understood as a biblical exposition.

  4. Preach it brotha! I like the answer to the regular problem of juggling between "exposition" (especially in sermon preparation) and using the sermon as an aspect, the proclamation of truth! Truly a community of exposition!

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