There is a growing problem within American evangelical churches. Our churches are becoming increasingly biblically illiterate. Bible literacy refers to the capacity for individuals to personally read and properly understand the Word of God in order to both obey and convey its teachings to others.

A 2015 article by Ed Stetzer on Smallgroups.com addresses the “Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches”:

A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.

The numbers provided by Stetzer are reflective of adult churchgoers. But the statistics certainly have noticeable effects on younger church members. The glaring lack of Bible reading naturally leads to a decreased understanding of Biblical doctrines. It also leads to an inability to convey the key tenets of the Christian faith to later generations.

The above statistics do not likely come as a surprise to anyone currently leading or serving within student ministry contexts. Student ministries are comprised of members from various backgrounds and raised in homes of varying levels of Bible literacy.

The key question each student leader must ask:

How can I cultivate a culture of Bible literacy among my students?

As a student pastor, my level of influence over students is hindered by time constraints.  Students’ time and attention are prioritized around schoolwork, extracurriculars, part-time jobs, family time, etc. Somewhere in that mix, I attempt to capture their hearts and minds through sharing the invitations and challenges presented in the Gospel of Christ.  Since my influence is limited, I must make the best use of my moments of preaching and teaching. Expository preaching, as opposed to topical preaching, has been the most effective means of fostering a culture of Bible literacy.

Expository preaching can be defined as “that preaching which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” To simplify, expositional preaching focuses on a passage of Scripture and explains the point. Topical preaching explains a point then attaches that point to a passage of Scripture.

It is common in student ministry to preach/teach topically because it seemingly allows for more fun and freedom of discussion. Topical messages can be very effective in student ministry, depending on the intent of the message. But, by only teaching topically, is it possible that we shape our students’ mindset to view holy Scripture as SECONDARY rather than PRIMARY in their daily life choices?

Listed below are just a few reasons to consider utilizing expository preaching/teaching in your student ministry setting:

  1. Expository Preaching Promotes Bible Literacy

Since Bible literacy the objective of this article, then it makes sense to also be the primary reason in utilizing expository preaching. By explaining a Biblical text (as the original author intended) and then providing practical application, you encourage students to view Scripture as not only relevant but necessary to their lives. You demonstrate that reading and understanding Scripture is worth the effort for those who seek to truly honor the will of God in their lives.

  1. Expository Preaching Prepares Students to Own and Defend Their Faith

Modern culture is opposed to those who seek to live their faith as Scripture commands. It is imperative to equip students to stand strong in their faith as they exit adolescence and enter adulthood. Our greatest task as student leaders is to prepare students for their next stage of life. Cultivating bible literacy among our students readies them to answer the questions they will face from their college friends or coworkers in the years to come. And if they are unable to answer, then their exposure to expository teaching has allowed them to know how and where to seek an answer in scripture.

  1. Expository Preaching Prepares the Pastor’s Heart

Not only is expositional teaching beneficial for the hearer, but it is infinitely more beneficial for the leader/speaker. In order to teach the point of a passage, the speaker must have investigated the purpose of the passage. The speaker must invest time in knowing the context and setting. He or she must intentionally seek to share the author’s intent rather than the speaker’s own personal views. This allows the Word of God to convict and transform the heart of the speaker before doing the exact same work on the hearts of the hearers.

The Challenge

There are many more reasons to utilize expository preaching/teaching in your student ministry. Overall, the challenge for student leaders is to cause students to depend less upon the leader and trust the leadership of the Holy Spirit more.  What better way to do so than to use the actual words that were penned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit himself.  To preach thusly requires more effort and more time. It exposes the speaker to harsher scrutiny. It forces the speaker to wrestle with difficult issues and “gray areas” where life meets culture. But it also allows the preacher/teacher to speak with authority not because he claims it, but because God’s Son has been given “all authority…in heaven and on earth”.

God bless you as you continue in the work of loving God, loving people, and leading students to be and make disciples.

Cleve Mallory serves as the student pastor at Eastmont Baptist Church, Montgomery.

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