John Van Eyk is a Canadian, ministering in the Highlands of Scotland. Pastor of Tain/Fearn Associated Presbyterian church, John is married to Lucy. Together they have six children. For the opportunity of hearing some of his edifying preaching, listen here.
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Since in the preaching of the Word of God Christ is preaching (Romans 10:14-15; Ephesians 2:17) and his sheep hear his voice (John 10:16) I believe that preaching is hugely significant in the life of the Church. Through preaching faithfully done the elect are brought to Christ and are corrected, rebuked, and encouraged for their progress and joy in the faith so that their joy in Christ Jesus will overflow. This is what I believe and I long that I would take the great task of preaching with all the seriousness that it warrants.
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I’m not sure that I have! If you knew me as a wee boy you might have heard me preach to the sitting room furniture. I periodically had a sense that I was destined for the ministry even before I trusted in Christ. When I became a Christian in my first year of college, I prepared to go to seminary trusting that since God was my Father he would orchestrate things for me to become a minister if that was his plan for me. I had been encouraged by many along the way to pursue the ministry and when I started preaching Christians appeared to be helped by my sermons. Upon completion of my seminary training I was called by a local congregation and have been preaching regularly since, ever grateful for and humbled by the privilege of preaching Christ from all of Scripture.
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I used to say 10-12 hours but I’m not sure that I am able to quantify the preparation time. Reading that is done in theology, for example, might not have a direct connection to the sermon I’m preparing but as I mature and am shaped by all the Scriptures my understanding of any one passage is sure to be helped. All praying, reading, ruminating, pastoral care, and life experiences are funnelled into each sermon one prepares.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I attempt to preach any chosen passage in a coherent manner so one could probably trace a main theme through it. I tend to be more concerned about the flow of the sermon than the ‘big idea’; I do not want to force people to endure a disjointed and jarring discourse with little inner cohesion. The reason I am not so focussed on one major theme or idea is because I think that the congregation is helped by any one sermon in a variety of ways as the Holy Spirit brings the Word home to individual Christians. I don’t think Christian maturity is achieved by an accumulation of what I deem to be the big idea of my sermons. I think that what I might say this Lord’s Day, perhaps not even a significant point, might make something a member of my congregation heard or read nine months ago finally click. As the people of God sit under the ministry of the Word week in and week out they will be shaped by the Scriptures so that over time their instinctive response to the plethora of situations they face will be godly. If there is one note that I long people to hear each Lord’s day, from a variety of passages and perspectives and in a variety of ways, it is a rich Christ for poor sinners, both converted and unconverted sinners. That can’t be heard enough.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I was greatly helped a number of years ago by conversations I had with Geoffrey Thomas and Ian Hamilton. Geoffrey Thomas told me that it took some years for a minister to find himself. Ian Hamilton encouraged me not to try to be anyone other than myself and to be the best John van Eyk John van Eyk could be. I think it is important to listen to other preachers and learn from them for your own improvement but it is equally important to recognise and rejoice in the variety of giftings the Lord Jesus has blessed his Church with and, again, strive, by God’s grace, to be the best you you can be.
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
Though my practice is evolving, I find it helpful to write out a fairly full manuscript. Writing the sermon aids me in terms of structure, flow, and word choice and helps me include things I have learned through my study. Before I preach I distil the sermon to an outline which I take with me to the pulpit.
7. What are the greatest perils that preachers must avoid?
I suppose this differs with each preacher. There is such a vast number of perils that we must always remember our need to be kept by the Lord. There is discouragement, superficial satisfaction, impatience, laziness, preaching what you don’t experience, spiritual coldness, and professionalism. The lure of prominence may be a struggle for some, a persistent discontentment with where you are ministering and the thought that you are so gifted you really need a wider sphere of ministry. In short, the pursuit of greatness. When I am tempted by this I often think back to a comment by Sinclair Ferguson at a conference some years ago where he, among others, was asked where all the great preachers were today. His response, which received a standing ovation, was something like this: “It is not great preachers that the Church needs or that God has been pleased to use exclusively throughout history. Though there have been outstanding figures in the history of the Church the Church needs faithful men whose names might never be known outside the walls of their own church who week in and week out explain and apply the Word of God.” That was tremendously encouraging.
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities).
Two things help me try to keep the balance. First, the fact that we minister not simply by our lips but by our lives (1 Timothy 4:16) means that I dare not neglect my wife and family. Second, the recognition that while my main work is preaching the Word nothing done in the name of Christ for his brothers and sisters is insignificant. This truth both keeps me in my study for study and sermon preparation and out of my study without begrudging the time spent away from my books.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers, The Preacher and Preaching, edited by Samuel T. Logan, Jr, particularly Edmund P Clowney’s contribution, ‘Preaching Christ From All the Scriptures’, The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges, and, Spirit Empowered Preaching, by Arturo Azurdia.
I often say that I don’t know where I would be as a Christian and a minister without Sinclair Ferguson. I was introduced to his teaching through his book Children of the Living God. I have listened to his three lectures on The Marrow Controversy numerous times along with countless sermons, read his books, and learned under him at Westminster. I have been gripped numerous times by his emphasis on the sheer graciousness of God in Christ. I owe a great debt to him.
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
When I ministered in Canada my congregation had an intern for an eight week stint in the summer. We would read books together, go on pastoral visitations, critique each other’s sermons, share meals, and numerous conversations on all aspects of the ministry. I am now involved in a fledgling organisation called The 2 Timothy 4 Trust which aims to increase the number of churches with excellent preaching in Scotland.