How can we encourage an appetite for Expository Worship? Here are a few more thoughts.
1. Get people to look at what they are singing. For example, before you sing a hymn, ask people to look at a verse – what stands out to them? Are there lines they like? Where are we getting this from in Scripture? Why not pick up on one line of a song?
For example, at Bearwood Chapel, I remember when we learnt the Sovereign Grace Song “Jesus Thank you (The Mystery of the Cross). I got some questions back about one line in the song which goes “You the perfect Holy One crushed your Son.” Should this line be in the song? Does it make God the Father sound harsh and cruel? Does it suggest that the Son is a helpless victim of “cosmic child abuse”? How will actual victims of abuse react to it? I realised that it would be helpful to have some teaching picking up on this issue. So I set aside some time at our Sunday evening communion to look at the idea of Penal Substitution.
Now, to teach on this, I could go straight into Isaiah 53:10 which says “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him” or I could start with the line in the song and ask people how they react to it. This may get a more honest reaction than going straight in with the Scripture. Once they hear something in Scripture they are almost programmed to give the right answers. But the words of the song and the Scripture they are based on are unsettling. We feel uncomfortable because we want to protect God from accusation and so we can end up placing the Father at a distance from the Cross and simply talk about what sinful men did to Jesus. We rightly acknowledge this and we rightly emphasise that Jesus as eternal God willingly went to the Cross, but we should not lose sight of the fact that the Father is active – that God’s wrath is turned away and that death is punishment for sin, not just a consequence.
2. Different congregations will react differently to expository preaching based on their experience. We still need to help encourage and develop an appetite for and desire to learn how to engage with Scripture, even with those who are used to expository preaching – maybe even more so with them. That’s why sometimes it is good to stop and ask the questions and look for an audible response. This may be risky in a church where the congregation are used to expository preaching, but not used to interaction. Our Sunday evening congregation will be used to interaction and to asking and answering questions, so I am willing sometimes to go in without a set talk and just have just one or two questions to open things up. I will, of course, have done lots of work on the text and have my notes available. In fact, something like this may require more preparatory work than a set talk. But if a congregation are not used to this, then be ready for a bit of silence where maybe only one or two people will dare to speak, so have your normal talk ready to continue with.
3. Build the whole service as “an exposition” – this may mean having responsibility for the whole meeting including choosing songs etc. or it may mean that you plan it as a team. For example, at our 9:30 service recently, we were looking at the passage where Jesus is accused of eating with sinners. The whole service became about “a meal with Jesus.” We had breakfast during – not before – the meeting and we sat round a table together. We introduced the theme and sang a couple of songs at the table and then we looked at the children’s talk (we’d talked this through in advance and seen a close link with the main talk). My talk was interspersed through the service. We had communion in the middle of this and then prayer and some songs. At the end of the service, I made my conclusion.
4. When you are planning what you preach, you will be thinking through about what your talk says to specific circumstances. So follow up with your pastoral care. When you are talking with someone, remind them about what was preached on recently and help them to draw the connections to their own life.
5. If others are leading the meeting, try and send them a copy of your notes in advance. Even draw them and others into your thinking. Send out an email saying “I was looking at the passage for Sunday and I had this question – what do you think?” Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a response. People may be nervous about responding, but it will still get them thinking.
6. If you have half a mind to it, why not try writing a song yourself based around the Bible passage and talk? At worst it’s a useful thought exercise and may help you get a different perspective on the teaching (maybe drawing on emotion as well as intellect): at best, you may end up writing something that can be used in corporate worship.