Putting the REACH back in Preach

I recently wrote my seminary graduating essay on the topic of an evangel-driven (Gospel-driven) model of ministry that can help churches steer a middle road between the ditches of dead, doctrinal orthodoxy, on the one side, and numbers-driven pragmatism on the other. The idea that the Gospel should be the driving force behind church ministry is hardly original. The idea that all preaching should proclaim “Good News” (the “evangel” in Greeek, or “the Gospel” in Christian lingo) should seem like absolute common sense. But I’m shocked at the number of churches I’ve visited in which the pastor failed either to exposit a Bible passage or to include the Gospel somehow in his exposition. So I thought I would blog about it.

It should be hard to believe, but I heard one popular local preacher (famous for his calvinistic theology and zeal for Bible exposition) of a larger Baptist church preach a Christmas message on Luke 2 in which he failed to preach the Gospel. Here’s the passage he zoomed in on—decide for yourself whether the Gospel should have been part of the exposition of the text:

” 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!””  (Luk 2:8-14 ESV)

I mean seriously, how can you NOT preach the Gospel from those verses?? Instead, that pastor exhorted his congregation to be holy because God is holy. ARGGGHHH! HE PREACHED THE LAW INSTEAD OF THE GOSPEL! In Luke 2!

Another pastor at another larger Baptist church gave a semi-expositional outline of a passage and proceeded to use his time to hammer away on an unrelated pet peeve of his—from one of the clearest Law/Gospel texts in the whole Bible (I won’t say what the text was because it would then be too easy for too many of you to guess who he was and I don’t want to embarrass him).

Another Baptist pastor gave a pretty good exposition of a New Testament text but neglected to show how it had anything to do with Good News requiring a response of faith.

Still another Baptist pastor gave an excellent exposition and application from an Old Testament text, and though he touched on the Gospel in his prayer, he neglected the Good News altogether in his sermon.

One pastor preached a solid expositional message AND showed how it connected to the Gospel AND called for a faith response, but subsequently resigned due to a serious moral failure. It breaks my heart.

In only four churches, of all those I have visited in the last 12 months, was the Gospel preached by way of the exposition of a text of Scripture in a way that required a response of faith in Christ as part of the application in the sermon. In other words, the meaning of the passage was clearly taught and hearers were shown how to understand and apply the message of that Bible text in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ. These four churches deserve honourable mention here, ranked for excellence of preaching and Holy Spirit unction (all four were excellent in terms of the exposition and inclusion of the Gospel).

  • #4 – Mission Evangelical Free Church, Mission BC www.missionfreechurch.com
  • #3 – South Delta Baptist Church, Tsawwassen BC www.southdelta.org
  • #2 – Willingdon Church, Burnaby BC www.willingdon.org
  • #1 – Crossway Community Church, Langley BC www.crossway.ca (I have heard four different men, 3 staff pastors and 1 guest speaker, preach at Crossway and every one of them knocked it out of the park!)


So. Maybe you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “Is Joe referring to me in one of those above examples?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not sure if I do a good job at both exposition and Gospel centredness in my preaching?” To be honest with you, I’m sympathetic. Exposition is really, really hard work. Evangelistic exposition is brutally difficult work, especially if you are the primary preaching pastor week in and week out.  But think of it like this, if you preach the Word of God (exposition) and preach it as if there are unsaved people in your pews (evangelistic) then pretty soon, I am convinced, the Holy Spirit will start drawing unsaved people to your church so that they will hear God’s Word, hear the Gospel and be saved. And, as Tim Keller has said many times, existing believers in your church will start wanting to invite their unsaved friends to church knowing that they will hear what they need to hear and that your careful exposition of Scripture will not be embarrassing. That is, you will do the Christian Faith justice, showing that it is grounded in the Bible so that believers and unbelievers alike will be able to see why you believe the things you believe.

If you wonder at all if you have room for improvement in the area of evangelistic exposition in your preaching in order to be able to reach unsaved people with the Gospel (putting the REACH back in preach) while building up the saints with the proclamation of the whole counsel of God, then check out these resources from 9 Marks Ministries:

And also consider adding these three books to your library:


  1. Joe,
    Excellent article about the very core of what the preaching office is about, and its sad areas of lack, eve among the best preachers. I would commend our pastor to you, Barton Priebe, at Dunbar Heights Baptist Church. Theologically sound, practically envigorating, and Christocentric. The Gospel is always preached. That is why we now go to this young, exciting Church. I pray you will add DHBC to your list next year.

  2. Hi Joe. Great article. I was just “passing through” and
    stumbled on your post. I am amazed that there are seemingly so many great Bible
    believing churches in Vancouver. How awesome! You said something in your post
    that I would like to ask you to reconsider.

    First, I would like to let you know that I agree with
    much if not most of what you have written. I too believe that the Holy Spirit may
    choose to start drawing unsaved people/saved people to churches who preach God’s
    Word. And I agree that what Tim Keller has said it right on. What I am
    concerned about though, if we are seeking to invite people to a corporate
    gathering,  is that all of a sudden, a
    Gospel believing, Gospel faithful, Gospel loving people will not become Gospel
    sharing people.

    With a church model that encourages their congregation to
    bring in friends so that they may hear the word faithfully preached, takes the “pressure”
    off of the congregation. In a very real sense, the Evangelical church begins to
    resemble the Catholic church.  Where the
    Catholic church made the priest “the man”, we, especially those of us who are
    reformed, tend to do the same thing with our pastors. In a sense they get put
    on a pedestal and they become the central figure instead of Jesus being the
    Central Figure.

    I think that maybe we need to instead, seek to share the
    Gospel in everyday life. The Gospel should permeate us and as a result, “God
    talk” will become something that we exude. People should be seeking us out
    because we, being God’s instruments for making Him known, are speaking Truth
    and people are hearing Jesus in our words and seeing Him being lived out.  They should not be seeking our pastor out. When
    they hear/see Him in our lives, then I believe it is the best time to invite
    them to church as we begin the process of planting the idea of them being part
    of a church plant in their own community.I would like to know your thoughts on this. Thank you for such a great and thought provoking post!Blessings,mike

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