Bro. Harrelson, give us a brief description of yourself and your ministry.
Currently, I am the pastor of the church that I grew up in. I have been married for almost 33 years and have three children, two sons and a daughter who are all involved in ministry. I was bi-vocational for much of my early years in ministry working as an RN in various areas. I graduated from Texas Bible College in 1989 and then went on to a conservative seminary and graduated with a bachelor’s in Theology and a Master of Ministry with a focus on expository preaching.
I currently serve as a presbyter on the Alabama District Board, and I am responsible for our district licensing seminar and teach at one of our state campuses for Purpose Institute. In the past, I served as the District Sunday School Secretary, Senior Bible Quizmaster, and as a Regional Executive Presbyter for the UPCI as well.
Define exegetical preaching – how does it differ from the average sermon we hear from our pulpits?
It differs from the average sermon by moving away from a topical style, the so-called “thought” preaching, the testimonial sermon, and those that do injustice to the context of the passage.
Why is this kind of preaching so important?
My strong belief in this kind of preaching is shaped by the commands that we are given in Scripture to simply preach the Word. This is of utmost importance particularly in a day that we are being overwhelmed by biblical illiteracy. This kind of preaching helps a church see the overall scope of the flow of the Bible. I use the analogy of taking an Anatomy and Physiology class in college. The professor works through the human body in systems. He may start with the bones and then go to the muscles and follow through the rest of the body by each system. He will not spend the first class on the brain, the next class on the GI system, and the third class on the cardiovascular system. If Anatomy and Physiology were taught in that manner, no one would ever understand the way the body functions; however, by systematically working through each system, the students can see how individual parts work and then how they work in conjunction with other systems. Preaching that is shotgun style makes it very difficult for people to pick up on how God really is going about His work in the world.
Explain the process you go through in developing an exegetical sermon.
To briefly describe the process, I observe paragraph markings to help me see the context. I also believe in the 20/20 rule, which means that the 20 verses preceding and the 20 verses following the text helps to set the context. At the end of the day, a faithful expositor is going to read the text, explain the text, and apply the text.
In a nutshell, I read the text and pick out the subject, verb and other parts of speech. I then start trying to get an outline of the passage in two ways, either by developing it myself or using an outline Bible such as Willmington’s Guide to the Bible. Once the outline has been developed, the message will preach itself. Finally, it is important for the preacher to make sure that he has applications to everyday life, which are important for those who hear the Word.
Why do you feel some preachers shy away from this kind of preaching?
I believe that one of the reasons is because they have never seen the power of this style of preaching. Granted, it is hard work to preach this way because you have to be immersed in the Scriptures constantly. But perhaps the other reason that preachers shy away from this kind of preaching is because of the lack of discipline in their personal lives to do this kind of work.
What has this kind of preaching done for you personally as a preacher?
The greatest thing it has done for me is to show me great reverence for God and His Word. This kind of preaching has taught me how to pray the Scriptures in a literal way, as well. Lastly, I would say that it keeps me learning new material from the Bible.
Are there any dangers or negatives to this type of preaching? Anything one should be careful NOT to do?
First, don’t let expository preaching become a “data dump.” This happens when you are like a dump truck and back up to the pulpit and dump out all that you have dug out in the study the previous week on the congregation. Be careful that you do not overload your preaching with exegetical material that does not matter. Secondly, don’t allow expository preaching to become a lecture; there must be some fire in the pulpit!
If someone wanted to do more expository preaching, do you have any good books to recommend to help them get started?
Rediscovering Expository Preaching by John MacArthur and Expository Preaching by Harold Bryson. Anointed Expository Preaching by Stephen Olford, Preaching That Changes Lives by Michael Fabarez, Between Two Worlds by John Stott, Preaching and Preachers by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Planning Your Preaching by Stephen Rummage, and Preaching with Bold Assurance by Hershael York are just a few of very helpful volumes on preaching.
If pastors or ministers have questions about this topic, do you mind if they contact you?
I would be more than happy to help! I have a blog that contains book recommendations and some writing on a variety of ministry/preaching-related matters. Some helpful things can be found there (https://barnabas14blog.blogspot.com/). I can also be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, I have a large shared Dropbox folder that is full of Bible studies, sermon notes, and sermon series that demonstrate the way that I preach through a variety of texts. You are more than welcome to have access to them if you will send me an email. As a point of information, I do not sell my notes per se but I never decline Amazon gift cards to help me continue to build a library.