Derek Prime was the senior pastor of Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh from 1969 – 1986. He is known more widely both for his preaching and writing, and closer to home for his gracious and wise pastoral heart. In case you haven’t read it, “On Being A Pastor” which he co-wrote with his previous assistant Alistair Begg is a must have.
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I would place it unequivocally as number one priority because it is the primary means of bringing people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and then building them up in Him.
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
Soon after my conversion in my early teens it was my turn to speak in a small young people’s group in the church fellowship to which I belonged. It so ‘happened’ that the pastor was present that evening and at the conclusion of the meeting he spoke to me in such a way that the secret thoughts and convictions I had had about wanting to serve God as a pastor/teacher were encouraged and confirmed. My Bible Class teacher soon after took me with him when he conducted services as a lay-preacher, encouraging me first to take part in some small way and then to preach. From that introduction an increasing number of invitations came to me to speak and preach.
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I find it difficult to answer this in terms of even an average amount. Much depends on time available and the familiarity I have with the passage. When I have the time, I would aim to spend a morning ideally of three and a half hours looking at the text/passage in its context and jotting down possible approaches. Then the next morning I would choose the simplest and most straightforward and type the sermon out in full.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I would not wish to be dogmatic about this because the text or passage should determine whether there is one or more major theme or idea. It is important, however, to remember that our hearers do not have the benefit of our study time and if there is a major theme or idea in the text/passage then the sermon should accurately reflect this.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I think I would say simplicity. Only yesterday I finished reading a biography of J. C. Ryle entitled That Man of Granite with the Heart of a Child by Eric Russell. He tells of how an old lady went out of her way to hear Bishop Ryle preach. After the service she told a friend that she had been very disappointed. “I never heard a Bishop,” she said, “I thought I’d hear something great. He’s nowt. He’s no Bishop. I could understand every word.” When Ryle heard the story, he said it was the greatest compliment he had ever had paid to his preaching. The better we understand what we saying the simpler we should be. It is no credit to us if people remark on how clever we are.
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I use full notes, although I highlight with a marker the principal phrase or word in each paragraph and that is usually sufficient to quicken my memory and to give me freedom to preach without slavish dependence on them.
7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
Failure to relate every Scripture to the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Cross in God’s revelation
Pride – unconsciously perhaps seeing preaching as a means of gaining praise for oneself rather than seeking the praise and honour of God and His Son
Failing to feed the flock – forgetting the Lord Jesus’ words, ‘Feed my lambs…Feed my sheep.’
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (e.g. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)?
There is no easy answer but the emphasis must be upon self-discipline. For example, reserving mornings for study and preparation, the determination of priorities in pastoral care and not allowing pastoral care to be separated from the task of preaching in that our calling is to be pastors and teachers.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
One of the early books I read on preaching – if not the first – was James Black’s The Mystery of Preaching and it probably made the greatest impression upon me. James Stewart’s two books on the subject were a help also. The two exemplars when I began my ministry were John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, very different in style and both conspicuous for their evangelical witness and faithfulness to the Scriptures.
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I probably would not have phrased the question like this! Any influence I have had in this area has been through God’s providence. In both churches of which I was pastor I had a series of preaching and teaching classes to encourage and to discover spiritual gift. Having been encouraged myself by two men in particular when I was young, I have felt bound to try and repay my debt by encouraging potential pastor/teachers and those in their early years of ministry. The initiative has not always been with me but over the last eighteen years or more I have met on both a regular and occasional basis with a number of men. Finally, as I reflect on it, the privilege of having pastor’s assistants in both churches – probably a total of fourteen men – provided the greatest unconscious opportunity to encourage future preachers.