Conversation with Paul Lamey
Paul Lamey is one of our seven TES campus pastors, having served as pastor of preaching and leadership development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002. Below is a brief conversation we had with Paul about training for pastoral ministry.
Why are you committed to expository preaching?
I guess there are many reasons for my commitment to expository preaching but I will simply offer two. For one, it is the only consistent philosophy of preaching that allows the text of Scripture to speak for itself. Expository preaching is not so much a method or form of preaching; rather it is a philosophical commitment to Scripture that undergirds the total trajectory of preaching from text to sermon. Paul’s central admonition about preaching in 2 Timothy 4:2 must at least mean this or it means nothing. Implied in Paul’s “methodology” is a commitment to rigorous study and careful articulation that meets the people with the text as a caring shepherd. He calls the preacher to carry out his work in and out of season (i.e., all the time), reproving, rebuking, and exhorting, with great patience and instruction.
A second reason was classically summarized by John Stott: “Preaching is indispensable to Christianity.” Think about that for a moment. Without preaching there is no Christianity. To be sure, God could have chosen some other way of getting His message out to the nations but He chose preaching. God uses earthen vessels to proclaim His Word so that the unmistakable accent of grace will glorify God and not the preacher. Preaching is what the Spirit uses to prick the darkened hearts of the lost, bringing them to life in Christ. Once added to the church, the child of God is nourished on the Word of God and equipped for ministry through preaching. The sermon does what nothing else in our culture can accomplish. I agree with Kevin Vanhoozer here: “The sermon is the best frontal assault on imaginations held captive by secular stories that promise other ways to the good life.”
What do you believe are the benefits for a pastor if he has a thorough understanding of Hebrew and Greek? What do you think are the potential limitations without a grasp of the original languages?
The fundamental benefit to the languages is the sharpening of the preacher’s understanding of the authorial intent of the text in front of him. Anything that will refine the preacher’s grasp of the text and place him as close as humanly possible to the original writer’s manuscript is something that every preacher should long for.
My own study of the languages took on weightier import when I began to see them as a catalyst for greater worship of the Triune God. I remember this striking me from an unexpected place. I was reading a book of correspondence between the two literary giants, Shelby Foote and Walker Percy. In 1956, Foote was deep in research for what would become his massive three-volume tome on the Civil War. Foote wrote to Percy, “The further I go in my studies, the more amazed I am.” Foote was referencing his research on the Civil War. He was excited about researching death records and battlefield maps! How much more should I feel a greater God-focused amazement when before His Word in the original languages? The languages should lead us to say, “The further I go in my studies, the more amazed I am…at all that God has done, is doing, and will do!”
Luther said much the same to the students gathered around his kitchen table: “Without the original languages we could not have received the gospel. Languages are the scabbard that contains the sword of the Spirit. They are the casket which contains the priceless jewels of antique thought. They are the vessel that holds the wine. If the languages had not made me positive as to the true meaning of the Word, I might have still remained a chained monk, engaged in quietly preaching Romish errors in the obscurity of a cloister.”
Why do you think so many pastors struggle to take the truths they learn in the exegetical process and craft them into a compelling expository sermon? Why is it so difficult to go from text to sermon, from exegesis to exposition?
I think there are a number of possible angles to this question but allow me to talk about one that I believe is close to the top. The research and discovery phase of the sermon process must cross the bridge of the ancient world and speak clearly to the people in today’s congregation. The great preachers of recent history have been powerfully effective because they continually speak with clarity, simplicity, and the heart of a shepherd (e.g., Calvin, Ryle, MacArthur). In other words, sermon prep is not finished until the discoveries made in the study are carefully brought alive by the preacher’s exposition. I think many preachers struggle with this because they do not go the extra mile and figure out the best way to communicate formidable truths and complex insights from the Word. There are no short-cuts to faithful exposition.
If you could compel young pastors to embrace one conviction prior to entering a life of ministry, what would that be?
Stay as long as you can and make it your aim to finish your ministry with the same congregation. I realize there are numerous scenarios where this is not possible, but aim for longevity and faithfulness where God places you. The effects this will have on your preaching, shepherding, and spiritual maturity are impossible to quantify here, but the effects are real and increasingly rare in our day amongst pastors. The guardrails along the path of longevity are two-fold: “watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim 4:16). This will save your ministry and preserve those under your spiritual care.
What is the greatest threat to a person’s hermeneutical approach to Scripture?
Threats abound because of liberal approaches to Scripture and the postmodern hermeneutics of suspicion that masquerade as humility. However, one of the greater threats to a person’s understanding of hermeneutics is forcing one’s preconceived ideas on the meaning of the text rather than letting the Spirit-inspired authorial intent shape the direction of the sermon.
This happens when we refuse to let our study fill holes or correct inaccuracies in our theology. It also happens when we try to make a text say something that is beyond the point of the passage. So the greatest threat comes when our hermeneutic is detached from the grammar and syntax of the text. When this happens, meaning goes out the door and God is essentially “dethroned” and replaced with personal agendas and cleverness. The outcome is theological confusion in the church, yielding spiritually impoverished lives. These threats, I believe, can become mitigated by prayerful and thoughtful study, continuously submitting to the text at every turn. The result can be a hermeneutic that exalts Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.