Dr. Randy White
Once upon a time, churches met on Sunday mornings for “preaching services.” In these services, preachers preached the Word of God, often verse-by-verse. They were chiefly teachers of the Word, and the faithful attenders were the eager students. They carried their Bible, took notes, and (over time) became experts of the Scriptures.
Then, a thing called the Church Growth Movement changed all that.
The Sunday morning service changed from the “Preaching Service” to the “Worship Service,” which eventually changed to the “Worship Gathering,” and further changed to simply, “Praise and Worship.” The service became mostly filled with music, drama, and moments of introspection. The preacher became the “Lead Pastor” and the “preaching” gave way to a “speech” and, then, just a “talk or conversation.” The talk was about felt needs and everyday issues. It was filled with humor, emotionalism, and “go get ‘em tiger” conclusions. All this was done because the church thought it needed to soften its tone, lighten up, be authentic (whatever that means), and speak to the heart. Otherwise, the lost would never come to know Jesus.
What happened was that a lot of people –mostly kids and young adults on an emotional high created by the sights and sounds of the 60-minute production—made up some kind of testimony to faith. But they never became disciples, never learned much of anything from the Bible (except, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” even though they can’t tell you where that verse is), and they never really had a commitment to being transformed by the renewing of your mind or washed in the water of the Word.
I’m convinced that if Christians and churches want to be most effective at evangelism, the most important thing they can do is transform program and event-oriented congregations into Bible-teaching churches. When lost people get under the influence of the Word, they will very often come to a point of faith. The Word, after all, always does its work. It is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.
Jenna listens to the Thursday night verse-by-verse online Bible study of our ministry. She recently shared her story, and it perfectly illustrates the value of expositional, verse-by-verse Bible study in evangelism.
“I came from a non-religious family, meaning anything that was religious in my house was mocked or shunned. There were attempts throughout my life to go to churches but my mom usually shut that down quite quickly due to her own bad experiences. Throughout my life, I have been sexually abused (age 4), physically abused (age 13) and raped (age 14) which only hardened my heart against God wondering how he could allow such awful things to happen to me. This deepened my sin, I started getting into drugs and alcohol around age 15. I soon became one of the many who hated Christianity and everything they stood for. I eventually met Josh through mutual work and we began dating. It didn’t come out until about a month in that he listened to your Bible studies on Thursdays. This, of course, caused me some alarm because I was anti-Christianity. I decided to push past it and on Thursdays when he would do his Bible study I would simply take a nap in the same room.
As time went on I found myself taking a slight interest in the things you were teaching. Eventually, I even started to stay awake for Thursday night Bible studies and even studying up on anything I didn’t understand. Josh and I began to discuss some of what you were teaching, and he answered many of my questions.
Over time, I came to the conclusion that I had been wrong about Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity. Based on what you teach in your studies, I concluded that I was mistaken about my beliefs. And in March 2016 I became a Christian, partly because of you. Your teachings are so well put together that anything else didn’t make sense. So thank you for all that you do and know that your message reaches the lost.”
How to evangelize through exposition
I think Jenna’s story is more common than you might imagine. It’s not an everyday story because Jenna had an exceptionally painful past and a deep-seated belief system that was anti-Christian. But if expositional Bible teaching can “get through” to Jenna, it can get through to anyone.
Here are some suggestions for using exposition in evangelism:
Teach systematically without feeling pressure to become topical
Since you really do believe that the Bible is the sword of the Spirit, then let it be so. Don’t give in to the pressure to “go topical.” Let people know that your “topic” for the day is the text you are teaching from. Tell them you’ve done your job if they can pass a test on that passage after the lesson is complete.
Study hard and don’t dumb down
It seems like many Bible teachers have become convinced that the “average person” cannot understand in-depth, verse-by-verse Bible teaching. With this assumption, they dumb-down their lesson in order to “put the good stuff on the bottom shelf.” In reality, however, this hasn’t led to a mass of converts taking the bottom shelf sweets and then taking the effort to climb the ladder to the meat and vegetables. In fact, most unchurched people possess a high degree of mental competence and they’ve rejected the church because it was so silly, so shallow, and so lacking in substance.
Take the long look
Few lost people come into a verse-by-verse exposition and walk out having been transformed instantaneously. But what does happen is the lost person begins to think, “What he said makes sense.” “Maybe I should rethink my position.” “That was somewhat interesting, even intriguing.” Over weeks, months, and years, their minds are convinced, and they become firm and committed believers in Jesus Christ.
Honor skeptical inquiry
If you really know your material (and you should), you will not be scared of questions. It is the one who is unstudied that is unprepared and unwelcoming of skeptical responses. People like Jenna need a Bible teacher who is not put off by their skepticism and not frightened by their unbelieving questions. The Bible teacher, after all, is coming from a position of factual content of the Word, not something he’s simply made up to motivate the crowd.
I’ve seen it over and over again. Some unsuspecting individual gets dragged into a church or stumbles upon a Bible study and, before you know it, the Word of God has been planted in his mind. The Bible grabs hold and will not let go. It speaks the mind of God into his mind. It reveals the plan of God into his plans. It shows the path of God to eternal life. And, after a while, the person places his faith in Jesus Christ. He begins to study the Word on his own. Sometimes he makes an unmistakable turn toward Christ and His will, other times his journey is a little more rocky and rugged. But, every time, the Word does its work and God gets the glory!