I’m delighted today to interview Vaughan Roberts. Vaughan is the Rector of St Ebbes Church in Oxford, a growing evangelical, church planting congregation with an Anglican heritage. As well as a respected bible teacher in the UK, Vaughan has blessed the church with his writings, authoring such books as Turning Points, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story Line of the Bible, True Worship, and his latest offering Battles Christians Face.
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Preaching is central. Christ gathers his church and rules it through his word. The preaching of his word must therefore be the focal point of our congregational gatherings if Christ is to be at the centre. That should in turn equip all God’s people for their ‘works of ministry’ so that the church is built up (Ephesians 4:12). Faithful preaching should act as a catalyst which leads to all church members serving one another and reaching the world.
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I never really wanted to do anything but be a pastor-teacher after I was converted in my later teens but, being very shy at the time, I couldn’t imagine that anyone else would think I could do it. Helping at camps for teenagers gave me opportunities to give short bible talks. That led to more invitations and encouragement from people I respected that I did have some embryonic preaching gifts.
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
About 12 hours. Early sermons in a new series on a less familiar book can take a few hours longer.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
It’s certainly important that the sermon should have an aim. It needs to have a clear sense of direction and of what it intends to communicate. That is not a single point that’s chosen arbitrarily from a number of different points that could be made from the passage; it should rather be driven by the thrust of the text itself. I try to follow Charles Simeon’s goal: ‘my endeavour is to bring out of scripture what is there and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head: never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the spirit in the passage I’m expounding’.
In the back of my mind I tend to ask questions such as: ‘why is the passage here? What does the writer intend to communicate through it? What is the question it’s answering? How would the writer summarise that answer in just a few words?’ That helps to ensure the message I prepare is shaped by scripture and not imposed upon it.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
If preaching is ‘truth mediated through personality’, the preacher should be himself – seeking to use his personality and gifts, not to draw attention to himself, but to be God’s messenger. The preachers God uses vary greatly in style because they are very different as people. It’s a big mistake to try to be someone we’re not.
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
Fairly full notes (except for evangelistic talks when I tend to use much less).
7. What are the greatest perils that a preacher must avoid?
They will vary from person to person and from time to time. At the moment my biggest danger is taking on too much and drifting into a spiritually dull ‘professionalism’ as a preacher. I need to preserve the freshness of my own walk with Christ if my preaching is to remain fresh.
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
I try to stick to a routine as much as possible – certain mornings for preparation; afternoons and evenings for meetings with individuals/committees etc. I prepare sermons at home and have a separate office for administration and meetings at church which helps.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
John Stott’s ‘I believe in preaching’ was the first book I read on the subject and I still go back to it. John Stott, Dick Lucas, Roy Clements and Jonathan Fletcher were influential models when I first began preaching.
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
We have a number of apprentices on our staff team who are considering the possibility of gospel ministry in the future. I also run a ‘Simeons’ preaching course at church. I invite younger men who may have potential as preachers to join me for six sessions a year (over two years). We fix them up with opportunities to preach in a local church and I will talk through their sermon with them before and after.
I’m hoping to have more 10 Questions in the near future, pending busy preachers getting back to me!