Until recently John Shearer was the pastor of Musselburgh Baptist Church in Scotland. He is known to many American friends because of his visits to preach at the Basics conference in Parkside Church, Ohio. John’s preaching is marked by boldness and faithfulness, and for that reason he is well respected by fellow pastors. We look forward to Pastor Shearer’s answers today!
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I have to say that I put preaching at the centre of everything else that is done. If God has spoken and He continues to speak through that which He has spoken, then people need to hear the word of God being preached.
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I was asked to preach at a Youth Meeting. I enjoyed the experience, but more important was the fact that others encouraged me to do it again. The church recognised that there was something there that could be developed and I was given the opportunity to develop the gift slowly but surely.
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
In one sense it takes a life time to preach a sermon. But in the sense in which the question I think is asking, it normally takes anything from ten hours upwards depending on the passage and the subject to hand.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
Generally speaking there would be one overall theme as the focus of the sermon. Even although there might be two, three, four or five different aspects to that theme, I would keep the focus on how they relate to the overall theme of the sermon.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He should be himself and not try to ape someone else. If preaching is truth coming through a personality, then he will have his own unique style. He should avoid using the pulpit to get across what he wants to say rather than what God is saying. In other words, as one of the Puritans has said, it is important to get the sermon from the text and not simply find a text to fit in with the sermon.
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
As far as notes are concerned, I think this is a very personal thing. I have always used full notes and have never changed with experience or the passing of time. I am not tied to them, but it helps me to keep on track.
7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
There are many dangers the preacher faces but none greater than the danger of pride. After a while he might think that he can do it. He might think he can do it without depending on the Lord and without bathing his ministry in prayer. If he does it will be words, words and more words.
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
Some of us are more comfortable in the study than anywhere else, but there are other duties to be done. As for me, I tended to keep the mornings for the study and do the other visits etc in the afternoon. I started early in the week along this line, but if hard pressed I would take extra time at the end of the week to get the sermon prepared. I don’t think we need to be legalistic about this. We need to be flexible.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
John Stott and Martyn Lloyd Jones are the indispensable authors on the subject of preaching as far as I am concerned. Having said that there are many others that have helped in different ways. Donald Macleod, Alistair Begg, John Macarthur, Al Martin and others. I have also found reading the sermons of others to be a great help in seeing how they tackled different subjects and how they applied it and illustrated it. Warren Wiersbe, James S. Stewart, John Piper, Don Carson – the list is endless.
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I have over recent years used the midweek meeting to give young men an opportunity to speak for fifteen minutes or so. I have taken the initiative and asked them if they would be willing to have a shot. I have then listened to the comments of others who have heard them speak. If there is anything there to be developed I would encourage them to do it again and again and then eventually give them the occasional shot on a Sunday. I would give them feedback and if needs be do a critique on the sermon. This would be followed up by reading material and then asking them to do a short series, not necessarily every week, but over the year, in order to give them a taste of consecutive expository preaching, and then take it from there.