Its our great priviledge today to have Steve Cole of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship answer our 10 Questions for Expositors.
By the way, if you happen to personally know any other relatively well known expositors who have not yet filled in the 10 Questions, could you help me twist their arm – ‘in a sanctified way’ – to answers the questions and have them send them my direction? The likes of Dever, MacArthur, Piper, Begg, Lawson and Mahaney would be especially welcome! For us ‘less-gifted’ preachers in the kingdom… Colin
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Preaching is very important, in that it elevates the authority of God over the entire congregation. It sets the tone and agenda for the church. If people do not honor God’s Word, they will not grow and the church will be tossed around by every wind of doctrine. And there are plenty of strong winds blowing these days!
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
When I was in college, I tried teaching the Bible and found, much to my surprise, people seemed really to be helped by it. I never actually preached to any extent, though, before I began in the pastorate 30 years ago.
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I manuscript all of my sermons, which are available for people to pick up as they walk into church. I also post them on our web site. To do this level of teaching/preaching takes me about 15 hours per week. Some weeks it takes longer if it is a difficult text or if the sermon just doesn’t flow together. On a few rare weeks, it flows together much more quickly. But usually I have to sweat and agonize through the entire process.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?
Yes, I sat under Haddon Robinson at Dallas Seminary, and if you are familiar with his method, he teaches that every sermon must succinctly drive home one major idea. Crystallizing this idea is the hard work of preaching. But I find if I’m not clear about it, I probably don’t understand the text as well as I need to. Sometimes in the middle of preparing the sermon, I realize that I am still not clear, so I go back and rework it. The main idea governs the entire sermon outline, with all of the points supporting or explaining that one idea.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He must be authentic (i.e, not copying someone else’s style). He must not preach what he is not attempting to practice, and he must not falsely imply or convey that he is living a certain way if it is not true. In other words, if I’m struggling with my prayer life, I need to let people know that it’s a struggle, not convey that I’m a great prayer warrior.
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I take my full manuscript into the pulpit, with key words highlighted or underlined with a colored pen. But I do not read it. I glance down at each paragraph and due to having written it and editing it several times and going over it several more before the sermon, I pretty much know where I’m going. The only part I read are quotations.
7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
We must avoid neglecting our own walk with the Lord and just preaching as a performance. In other words (1 Tim. 4:16), “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching.” Your preaching must flow out of a genuine, fresh walk with Christ. And I am continually overwhelmed with a sense of my own inadequacy, both in the preparation and delivery of sermons. But that keeps me dependent on the Lord (2 Cor. 3:5).
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
It’s always a struggle, but the church knows that my preaching preparation time is important and they leave me alone (for the most part) unless there is an emergency or crisis. I am not a strong visitation pastor, in the sense of Richard Baxter. I admire the man, but I could never come close to his routine.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
Haddon Robinson’s “Biblical Preaching” consists of his classroom lectures, which were my training. I don’t follow him to a tee, but he helps you be clear about the process. I found T. H. L. Parker’s “Calvin’s Preaching” to be very helpful. As far as examples, I really enjoy John Piper’s preaching. I also have read many of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermons, as well as his book on preaching. While I don’t follow his style very closely, I have benefitted immensely from his careful analysis of Scripture.
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I don’t have any set of “steps” that I follow. I have often met with small groups of young men who are interested in the things of God, discussing various aspects of ministry. We have read books like J. I. Packer’s “A Quest for Godliness,” about the Puritans. Also, they have my weekly example of Bible exposition, and often we have discussed a recent sermon. I often share with them the struggle I’m having with a text or putting a message together, and we interact on it. Sometimes I will help them if they are preparing a sermon. Many of these young men have gone on to seminary and into ministry.