10 Questions For Expositors – Andrew Davis

As I pound the roads for exercise, no preacher is more often ‘in my ear’ than Andrew Davis. Dr Davis has been the senior pastor of First Baptist Church (FBC) Durham  since 1998. He has penned a helpful booklet “An Approach to Extended Scripture Memorization” and a much needed book on holiness, titled “An Infinite Journey: Growing Towards Christ-likeness.” Dr Davis preaching is full of the Bible, full of Christ and full of application. Today Andrew Davis answers our 10 Questions for Expositors.

andy davis

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

Preaching is the most significant form of regular teaching of the word of God in the life of the congregation, though it is not the only one.  The ministry of the word of God is food for the flock, feeding their faith… for “Faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17) and is also nourished by hearing the word.  In Ephesians 4:7-16, Paul implies that the ministry of the word of God primes the pump for everything in the church—by the word the members of Christ’s body are prepared to do the works of service by which the whole Body is built up and reaches full maturity in Christ.  Preaching is the most powerful form of this ministry of the word, since it combines “light and heat” (i.e. truth + passion) and since everyone in the church experiences it at the same time.  Sunday school classes generally have less “heat” (passion) and tend to be discussion oriented and not so well attended.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

Very early in my Christian life, I was encouraged concerning my gift of teaching by some key leaders who were discipling me.  They saw in me the ability to articulate Christian doctrine well.  Little by little, I had more opportunities to lead Bible studies.  Then, after seminary, I had the opportunity occasionally to preach at the church we were planting in Topsfield, Massachusetts, near Gordon-Conwell Seminary (where I got my MDiv).  I got good feedback from the elders and the body.  I also went on two short-term mission trips in consecutive summers during which I had additional opportunities to preach.  In the course of time, I was chosen to be the Pastor of that small church in Topsfield, and then began preaching weekly.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

It’s really hard to answer that question, since I have invested a ton of time in extended memorization of Scripture, and generally tend to preach on books I have had memorized for years.  Therefore, when the time comes to preach on, let’s say, the Book of Hebrews, I’ve been reviewing it in memorized form on and off for almost ten years.  Therefore, the argument of the whole book, and the meaning of specific verses has been on my mind for a long time before I preach.  This is like money in the bank when it comes to sermon prep… all I need to do is spend some time reading commentaries to be sure I’m not eccentric in my views, translate the passage from the original (with help from BibleWorks software) to be sure the translation I memorized didn’t get the text wrong, write a clear expository outline, and finish with good applications.  That all takes about 10 hours a week.  But I have spent literally countless hours before that storing up the verses in my heart.  That gives me a tremendous leg up every week.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?

I think it is important to weigh major and minor themes in the text, and give prominence to the major themes, and lesser development to the minor themes.  I do not say that we should develop “one major theme or idea” from a text, but neither should we overwhelm people with too much information.  A popular definition of expository preaching is “the main idea of the text is the main idea of the sermon.” This is generally true, but minor themes can also emerge and receive some handling in due course.  For example, a passage may mention angels but not be about angels primarily.  There is nothing wrong with an aside in which you explain that this passage shows that angels do not fully understand what is happening in scripture or redemptive history, and that is why they long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12).  This aside can help fill in some vital details on the invisible spiritual world and help them understand the ministry of angels better.  But angels are not the main point of the passage.  The crystallizing of the main themes comes with much thinking, study, and prayer.  You are seeking what Calvin calls “lucid brevity”—clear and short.  Preachers must study their words and make the most of the ones we use.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

Someone said preaching is “truth through personality”.  In other words, we are hearing the truth of the scriptures filtered through a man’s personality and walk with Christ.  So. The preacher should be himself in the pulpit, and not try to affect someone else’s style.  That said, he should seek “light and heat” as said above, and be sure that he displays the appropriate emotions and passion as he preachers.  On issues like the use of humor, different men have different convictions.  I try not to use humor often, and rarely intentionally do I go into the pulpit with a humorous story.  Preachers should use a style that maximally serves the text and the church.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I use an expanded outline… short of a manuscript, but very detailed.  It is rather long.  I also preach through the message entirely every Sunday in the early morning at home, so that I am extremely familiar with it and am therefore not bound to the paper.  I can make good eye contact, and know how to manage the time well.  Different men have different approaches on “notes/no notes”.  Each one should determine what is best for him.  For me, I feel I would sacrifice accuracy and comprehensiveness if I preached with no notes, straight from the text.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

Pride, forgetting that he is nothing and Christ is everything; Sin, forgetting that God’s servants must be holy; Self-reliance, forgetting that apart from Christ and his Holy Spirit, we can do nothing; Worldly wisdom, forgetting that the Bible alone is sufficient to feed and sustain the faith of God’s people; Prayerlessness, forgetting that God’s word faithfully sown can be quickly snatched away by the world/flesh/devil, and God alone can bring the harvest.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

The idea of balance in pastoral ministry is a big challenge.  I lean on the example of Christ, who never seemed hurried and who dealt honorably and fully with everyone who came to him, and who only had three years to do his ministry, and yet finished all the works the Father gave him to do.  So we should evaluate our lives—hours, days, weeks, months, years—being sure we are acting wisely in what we agree to do, then trusting God to give us enough time and energy to do all the good works He has prepared in advance for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).  More practically, it’s good to listen to your wife and ask her “Am I neglecting you or the kids?” or to ask an Associate Pastor, “Is there some area of ministry I’m neglecting?”  But we are not just called to preach… we are also called on to shepherd the flock.  Plurality of Elders can help greatly with this… other elders can step up and handle many ministry situations, freeing up more time for the Senior Pastor to prepare to preach.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?  

Early in my Christian life, I was nourished by John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” sermons… he has been the most influential in my pattern of pulpit ministry… verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book exposition.  John Piper’s amazing passion and clarity has helped me too.  Piper’s “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” is an excellent book!  So also the example of Martyn Lloyd-Jones as a careful expositor.  Spurgeon’s zeal for souls in preaching has greatly affected me.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

We have a training program for students from a seminary nearby us, and we are very intentional in developing future elders/preachers… to this end, we keep shaping this program and making it better, but we have a long way to go.

Ten Questions For Expositors – Dr Harry L. Reeder

Dr Harry L. Reader III is the senior pastor of Briarswood Presbyterian Church, a 4000 member church in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of Embers to a flame; How God Can Revitalize Your Church, is a Gospel Coalition Council Member, and teaches in various theological seminaries.  Today we are delighted that Dr Reader has taken the time to answer our Ten Questions For Expositors.

 1.  Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

The ministry of prayer, preaching of the Word and worship leadership with proper administration of the sacraments are my number one and overarching priority in life and ministry.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

After my conversion I was asked to be the Lay Youth Director and the feedback from teenagers and adults was such that I was being challenged to consider if this was my calling in life, and then the growing joy in preaching and teaching God’s Word for the equipping of His people and communicating the Gospel to the lost became a consuming joy.

3.  How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

20 – 25 hours.

4.  Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?

Yes. I attempt to wordsmith it and then find ways to communicate it throughout the sermon.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

God’s Word should be preached with reverence, permeated by joy, expressed through amazement from the heart of the preacher to the heart of the people with utter dependence on the Holy Spirit. A preacher must avoid plagiarism and lecturing, while embracing clarity and, conviction, expressed through passion, pleading and persuasion with full reliance upon the Holy Spirit

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

One page of notes but I attempt to only use the notes if necessary for preciseness or as a reminder.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

See the above…#5 The only addition is a preacher must avoid indolence, immorality and insubordination of any valid authority especially ecclesiastical authority while maintaining his focus, joy and passion for the preeminence of Christ to the Glory of the Triune God.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

Continue to be aware of the need for prioritization, discipline and intentionality of redeeming the time to do what makes one most effective in their calling.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?    

Preaching and Preachers by Martin Lloyd-Jones.  Between Two Worlds by John Stott.  Find Biographies i.e. the Life of George Whitfield and read three to five biographies a year of great preachers/pastors.

I would suggest that pastors find five mentors whom you respect and can learn from.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

  • I teach in four Seminaries
  • I have a mentoring group of 10 men pursuing ministry
  • Developing a Pastor’s Fellows Program
  • Available for counsel and encouragement for those who seek it.

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You can listen to Dr Reeder’s sermons on the Briarswood website.

Starter For Ten

Tim Chester was our 27th edition of Ten Questions For Expositors, and one of my favorites in the series.  Thought I would list all the past interviews for you so you can check out any you’ve missed.

Tim Chester

Tim Keller

Matt Chandler (pt 1) and (pt 2)

Josh Moody

Conrad Mbewe

Thabiti Anyabwile

Vaughan Roberts

Liam Goligher

Voddie Baucham

Philip Ryken

Steven Lawson

Brian Croft

Frank Retief

Christopher Ash

Robin Weekes

John Shearer

Julian Hardyman

Liam Garvie

Melvin Tinker

10 Question For Expositors – Tim Chester

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Dr Tim Chester is a pastor of The Crowded House in Sheffield and director of Porterbrook Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including The Message of Prayer (IVP), The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness (IVP), You Can Change (IVP/Crossway), From Creation to New Creation (The Good Book Company), Delighting in the Trinity (The Good Book Company), The Ordinary Hero: Living the Cross and Resurrection (IVP), A Meal with Jesus (Crossway/IVP), and co-author of Total Church and Everyday Church (IVP/Crossway). He is married with two daughters.

Today, Tim Chester answers our Ten Questions For Expositors.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

I believe it’s vital for every church to be word-centred. From creation onwards throughout the Bible story we see God giving life through his word and ruling through his word. And from Eden onwards, when God’s word is doubted or ignored, death and chaos follow.

The difficulty with the question is that we have various definitions of preaching doing the rounds. Your ten questions, for example, use ‘preaching’ and ‘sermons’ interchangeably. I believe preaching in the New Testament is to proclaim the gospel, urging people to faith and repentance, with the aim of capturing their hearts for Christ. The New Testament describes a variety of forms in which this can take place including sermons, debates  and conversations.

I say this not to devalue sermons  (which I love), but to ‘revalue’ other forms of word ministry. The measure of whether a church is word-centred is not simply whether there’s a good sermon each Sunday morning. The measure of being word-centred is that the word is being learnt, lived and loved throughout the life of the church. Our aim should not be to have good Bible teaching churches, but to have good Bible doing churches (James 1:22)!

Please don’t mistake what I’m saying. I realise there are plenty of postmoderns and postevangelicals who want to replace the sermon with some relativistic engagement with the Bible. I don’t want that! My concern in fact is to be more word-centred. I don’t want less than the sermon. I want more than the sermon.

https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?ui=2&ik=4e632b01dd&view=att&th=13b0342c3e5a5912&attid=0.1.5&disp=inline&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P_LpRd4jnjMa7JTWnIuN3rr&sadet=1352972980116&sads=jUMsCzzo6KrSLIljCAoxfZ8f1vUIn our situation the Sunday sermon sets the agenda for the church each week and we then follow this up in our gospel communities where we work out together how to apply that word to our lives, our life together and the world around us. We also put a big emphasis on creating a culture in which people ‘gospel’ one another (that is, preach the gospel to one another) in the context of everyday life.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

It started with leading Bible studies when I was a student. I actually preached my first sermon in a Pentecostal church. It was 55 minutes on the theme of redemption. I’m sure it was very boring! I really learnt to preach when I was church planting in Staines with a man called John Miller. He taught me to preach to make an impact rather than simply lecture people.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

It probably takes me about a day to get the bulk of sermon preparation done.

But that’s not the whole picture. I always prepare a series as whole up front. I want to ensure I have the big picture of the book we’ll be working through (or a good understanding of the subject if the series is topical). That big picture evolves as the series progresses because the details of each passage finesse your understanding of the book as a whole. But you need some sense of the overall picture before you can begin to make sense of the detail. It’s this iterative cycle that makes preaching through a book so exciting.

Four or five weeks before I’m preaching I’ll look at the passage for about an hour. The aim is to get the questions, issues and application bubbling around in my mind over the coming weeks.

I do the bulk of the preparation usually about a week in advance. That’s partly because I need to get a draft off to the people who are preparing the Sunday gathering and the people preparing for our children’s groups.

I was once told by a builder that plasterers spend a lot of time apparently doing nothing, just sizing up a wall. And then they leap into a whirl of activity and plaster the wall quite quickly. Increasingly, I think, this describes how I prepare my sermons. I can spend a lot of time apparently doing nothing (or just throwing a ball around the study). What I’m actually doing is meditating on the text. And then an idea will grab me and I’ll rush over to my computer and the heart of the sermon can be done quite quickly. A lot of editing follows, but the main ideas are done. It didn’t used to be like this. As a younger preacher (and I think this is a good model for new preachers) I followed a template much more. So sermons were built up piece by piece.

I always leave the final edit to the Sunday morning. I change wording during this edit, but its primary purpose is to take out any material that’s not absolutely necessary. I leave it until Sunday morning so the material is fresh in my mind when I deliver it a couple of hours later.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?

I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic about having one major theme. There’s a danger that we try to squeeze everyone into one mould. Different preachers have different styles. That said, I think one of the most common mistakes of new preachers is trying to squeeze too much into their sermons. I suspect this metaphor is now out of date, but I still think about the ‘cutting room floor’. In the old days movie editors used to literally cut out sections of tape and glue the other pieces back together to create the final movie. It meant most of the footage ended up on the cutting room floor. Preachers need a similar process in which they cut out anything that doesn’t need to be there. That means a lot of good stuff on the cutting room floor! The key issue is this. The aim of a sermon is not to impart as much information as you can to the hearers. The aim of the sermon is to capture their affections for Christ and that aim should shape everything in the sermon.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

I think empathy, passion and authority (or conviction) are all important.

It’s important to empathise with the congregation. Life is hard. Following Christ can be hard. The word of God can sound weird. If you never acknowledge this then your hearers will wonder what planet you’re on. We need to show how the text connects with real life. I learnt this from David Powlison who often spends a long time describing a problem. As a result, when he brings the word to bear on that issue, it comes with real power.

I also think you need to show passion. I don’t mean some kind of affected emotionalism. But you need to show people that the word has impacted your heart. I often tell new preachers that you should meditate on the passage until it moves your heart (whether that is joy, fear, sorrow, conviction or excitement). Your aim then is to preach it so the passage evokes a similar response in your hearers.

We want our preaching to come with authority. Clearly that comes primarily from the word itself and from the Spirit. But I think we should preach with conviction. I’m not sharing my opinions or my reflections with you. I’m declaring a word from God.

I realised a few years ago that often when I stood up to preach I thought my sermon was about to be one of the best sermons in the history of the church! Yet when I read through old sermons a few months later it was agony to think that I’d inflicted this rubbish on my poor congregation. I decided this combination of attitudes is actually quite healthy as long as you hold both together. I realised my enthusiasm for my sermon was actually enthusiasm for the passage. The word of God had gripped me and I was excited about sharing its message with the congregation. That allowed me to preach with conviction. But remembering my retrospective assessment of my sermons would prevent me ever growing too proud!

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I use full text with key words highlighted in bold. I print my text on A5 so it sits in my Bible as I preach. Over the last couple of years I’ve weaned myself of a lectern. I now prefer to stand with my Bible in one hand with my notes inside. I think this helps me have a more conversational feel with the congregation.

7. What are the greatest perils that a preacher must avoid?

There are some technical issues (like trying to cover too much, not including application or making the process of understanding the Bible seem so esoteric that people think its beyond them). Obviously it’s also vital to always preach the gospel and always preach Christ. We must never leave people feeling condemned because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

But the greatest dangers are with our own hearts. One danger is finding identity in preaching. We can preach justification by faith even as we practice justification by preaching! A good sign that something is wrong is when your mood is affected by how your preaching went the day before or when criticism makes you despondent.

Another big danger is neglecting the important of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit who speaks God’s word into people’s hearts and uses it to bring conviction, life, love, change and so on. So we need to preach in conscious dependence on the Spirit. I’ve started using the language of the Spirit speaking through the word and through the sermon to highlight this for myself and for my congregation.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (e.g. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

I share the preaching with a small team so I preach about once every two weeks. At the moment that feels about right. Part of me would love to preach more, but I think that once every two weeks gives me time to prepare properly for each sermon. If I’m doing the bulk of a series then I try to get ahead in my preparation. I’ll often have a basic draft of each sermon done before the series starts especially if it’s a topical series.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching? 

In my younger days I basically followed the template in John Chapman’s Setting Hearts on Fire until I gradually found my own style. Tim Keller’s lectures on Preaching to the Heart (Ockenga Institute) were a great help. And David Powlison’s book Seeing with New Eyes really helped make links between truth and life. I can remember thinking, ‘This book isn’t on preaching, but it’s going to transform how I preach.’

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?ui=2&ik=4e632b01dd&view=att&th=13b0342c3e5a5912&attid=0.1.7&disp=inline&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P_LpRd4jnjMa7JTWnIuN3rr&sadet=1352972890301&sads=0ZwxlEtLOYQtMc9mNocIQ5ir3ggWe’ve done a variety of things over the years. We used to have a ‘teachers group’ in which teachers and potential teachers would study a passage together a couple of weeks in advance. This helped to model good hermeneutics as well proving a fruitful way of engaging with the text. I’ll go through a sermon with a new preacher before they preach it. We also give feedback afterwards though I’m wary of doing this in a systematic way because I need to submit myself to the word as it’s preached rather than critiquing the methodology of the preacher. We’re planning to provide regular training and to this end one of my tasks for next year is to write a workbook on Gospel-Centred Preaching for the Gospel-Centred series we’re doing with the Good Book Company. We also put our leaders through Porterbrook Learning and Porterbrook Seminary.

 

 

10 Questions For Expositors – Brian Croft

Brian Croft is the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He has served in pastoral ministry for 15 years, and has pastored Auburndale for 8 years.

Brian is the author of a great blog for pastors as well as a number of books, including Visit the Sick, and Test, Train, Affirm and Send Into The Ministry. We look forward to reading Brian’s answers to our 10 Questions For Expositors!

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

It must be central.  The preached word in the corporate gathering must be that from which everything else flows.  It is how God breathes life into a church and builds a healthy one.  However, preaching in itself doesn’t accomplish this, but the faithful exposition of God’s Word in preaching does.  The regular preaching diet of the church and the kind of preaching that exists, will direct the rest of the church life.


2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

In my early twenties, God gave me an unquenchable love for the Word of God.  As I devoured the Scriptures, God began to give me a desire to want to teach it.  As I began to teach it, God affirmed that gift, which led to a desire to preach.  Gifts to preach must come out of a love for the Word of God, not skillful oratory.  Once I realized the power behind preaching came from the text’s impact upon the preacher and the Spirit’s work through that, I realized God had called me to this work.  That gift was then affirmed by others (external call).


3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

10 -15 hours for a 45 minute sermon.


4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?

Yes.  My sermon preparation works much like an upside down funnel.  My title and purpose statement reflect the one main idea I want to convey.  Then, I develop my outline of main points and sub points.  Before I write my sermon, I make sure there is continuity in my skeleton, before adding the meat.  I want my hearers to know what the one main idea was in my sermon and that that one main idea is the main purpose of the text I preached.


5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

The most important aspect for the preacher to own is the exact opposite of what he should avoid.  What is most important is that the preacher be himself in the pulpit, and avoid trying to be those who have influenced his preaching.  I say this, because so many try to be someone else they think preaches well, but miss the importance of being who God has made them to be in the pulpit.  Be yourself, not your preaching hero.  If you are not who you are in the pulpit, you are a phony, even if you mimic John Piper well as you do it.


6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I write a full word for word manuscript and take into the pulpit with me.  However, I have so marked it up with highlighters; it is as if I am preaching a detailed outline.  I also try to memorize as much of it as I can so not to appear tied to it and freed to go off it if led to do so.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

Being someone else.  Relying on your own strength to preach.  Being impressed with yourself.  Stepping into the pulpit with no fear of the Lord…to name a few.


8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

I set certain time aside on certain days to study and prepare to preach that cannot be filled with other things.  I find the other important responsibilities try to squeeze out my prep time and I have to block them out.  I have even been known to leave the office and hide at a coffee shop to write my sermon to prevent that time from being consumed with other, important matters.


9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?

Christ-centered preaching (Chapel), An Ernest Ministry (James), Between Two Worlds (Stott), John Piper, Alister Begg, Mark Dever, Bill Hughes, Thabiti Anyabwile are some of my favorite preachers to hear.

 10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

Give them opportunities to preach and then for them to receive loving feedback by those in their local church who love them.  Evaluate them based on where they are in their process to test their gifts (3rd sermon or 35th).  Speak honestly with them.  I involved them in my sermon preparation and allow them to learn as they hear me preach and wrestle with the text.

 

​* You can listen to some of Brian Croft’s sermons here.

10 Questions For Expositors – Frank Retief

Frank Retief is currently the Rector Emeritus of St James’ Church, Kenilworth, South Africa.  He has for many years been an expositor and national conference speaker, and also written several books, including “Divorce” and Tragedy to Triumph: A Christian Response to Trials and Suffering.*

You can find Frank Retief’s sermons here.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

In the centre.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

I think too much time is taken to discover gifts.  It can be a very self-centred thing.  I never bothered to discover mine and the older I get the more convinced I have become that I have no special gift.  Rather a jack-of-all-trades.  In any event other people should speak to this question – not me.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

This depends on my subject or passage and how familiar I am with it.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?

One main idea , several supporting ideas.  It is hard to tell how one crystallises it.  Each individual does it differently.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

It is impossible to comment on style.  All have different personalities.  Avoid the projection of self and keep the Gospel central.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

A full outline but not a written script.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

All the perils all Christians face but to a greater degree.  A subtle peril is projection of self.  The greatest peril is to forget there is a judgement coming and a Hell.  This puts urgency into the preacher’s very bones.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)?

It’s a fight that never ends.  But the preacher must just fight that fight.  Ministry is a complicated calling.  The safest way is to determine a routine and stick to it.  Your ability to keep that routine will depend on your determination and the calibre of the other staff around you if you have them.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?

Lloyd Jones, Stott, Charles Bridges are classics.  Many other books too numerous to name.  But to really benefit one should read biographies of great preachers.  It’s their zeal we should emulate, not their preaching styles.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

(This question was unanswered)

___________________

* It is worth noting that Frank Retief’s congregation was subject to a terrible attack in 1993, when 11 church attenders were killed.

10 Questions For Expositors – Christopher Ash

Christopher AshChristopher Ash is the new David Jackman.  Seven years ago he took on the mantle from the latter as Director of PT Cornhill (a training course with the primary aim of training preachers).

As you would expect for a man in his role Christopher is an excellent preacher in his own right. His expositions are clear and his applications are cutting.*  If you haven’t read his book, The Priority of Preaching, you really have missed a trick.

Today we interview Christopher Ash about his preaching. His thoughtful answers are some of the most detailed and helpful we’ve received.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

I feel so strongly about this that I’ve written a short book on it (The Priority of Preaching). If I give a short answer you won’t read the book…

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

I’m not sure that I did, but I guess other people might have done. The first time I gave a talk at a summer camp, the man who started the camps asked me afterwards if I had toothache. I was very nervous! Gradually it seems my talks got less bad, and then I was asked to preach from time to time in church. It was very hard work, but people encouraged me to keep at it and in due course to get some training and go into pastoral ministry. So in the end I did.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

In one sense, each sermon takes me all my life, since all my understanding of the bible and such knowledge as I have of God and human nature feed into each sermon. But in a more immediate sense, it depends on how familiar I am with the bible book or passage. If it’s an unfamiliar text, I might spend three to six hours working at the text and then a further three to six hours thinking about structure and application, and then writing the sermon. I find I need to start early, as mulling over it slowly, while going to sleep, while on a bus or going for a walk, often leads to insights that I never got when sitting at my desk. So it’s more like ten or so hours spread over at least a week.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?

Robin Weekes has answered this for me. It’s not that a passage necessarily has only one main or driving idea (although many do), but that a sermon that tries to pick up and convey too many of the motifs in a passage ends up conveying very little to normal hearers, who are bemused and uncertain what the preacher has been saying. Even if my ‘theme sentence’ is provisional (as it always is) I find that a provisional one (my best shot at the big idea) is better than no coherent theme at all.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

We want to speak with a genuine, unforced style, which expresses the bible’s truth through the medium of our personality. It is such a help when a preacher speaks naturally, not in a ‘churchy’ manner, not in a high-falutin’ intellectual style, but in a down-to-earth way that communicates with all sorts of people. When J.C.Ryle found himself ministering to simple country folk, he wrote that, ‘I crucified my style’, by which he meant that he simplified it and made it straightforward.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I usually have a full script but do not read it. I find preparing a full script, in sentences rather than just headlines or bullet points, disciplines me to think clearly. With notes or bullet points, I may think I have understood it; but it is only when I put it in English that I realize I haven’t yet got it clear and logical! I go through it with a highlighter and then speak more freely.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

(a) The more competent we become at exegesis, sermon construction, illustration, etc, the easier it is to produce a ‘correct’ sermon where the text has not impacted my own heart. This is a particular danger when we are under time pressure. I find that it is when I have prayed the truth into my own heart, so that my mind, my affections and my will have been gripped by it, that I can preach with conviction.

(b) It is so easy to slip back from the grace of God in the gospel of Christ, to a moralism that simply exhorts. We think that proper ‘application’ must mean telling our hearers to do something, when in fact it is wonderful application to be gripped by the wonder of the gospel of grace.

(c) In particular, the Old Testament must be preached through the lens of Jesus Christ. It makes no sense without him.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

With great difficulty. I try to make sure I do some bible preparation early in the day if I can. Even if the day is then swamped with other responsibilities, the fact that I have started helps me begin to get to grips with the text. Sometimes I manage to get away for sustained preparation in a different place; that is a wonderful blessing. But even then I have to fight the addictive power of e-mails, reading interesting blogs (like this one), dipping in and out of social networks etc etc.

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 a tremendous stimulus to me some years ago. The essays in When God’s Voice is Heard (eds C.Green and D.Jackman) did me good, especially Jim Packer’s superb essay on the value of systematic theology for preaching. I love dipping into the sermons of John Chrysostom – so courageous and with such wonderfully vigorous illustrations! Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students – full of practical wisdom and great humour. I trained in ministry under Mark Ashton in Cambridge and learned much from him about application that challenges and gets under the radar defences of the hearers.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

I guess this is my job at PT Cornhill. I spend most of my life trying to do this and am glad to be doing so

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* Some of the best sermons I have ever heard were given by Christopher at the EMA in 2006 (on Psalm 119 – Bible Delight). You can also listen to more of Christopher Ash’s sermons here and here.

 

 

10 Questions For Expositors – Robin Weekes

The Proclamation Trust Cornhill is a training course with the primary aim of training preachers.  Robin Weekes serves alongside Christopher Ash as a full-time member of the Cornhill teaching staff in London.

Previously Robin served with Crosslinks in India, as pastor of the English-speaking South Delhi Congregation of the Delhi Bible Fellowship. We look forward to Robin answering our 10 Questions for Expositors today!

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

Preaching is – or at least should be – right at the heart of church life. That is because it is the word of God which creates the people of God, and the word of God which changes the people of God. If you want to think about this further, my colleague Christopher Ash’s The Priority of Preaching is excellent.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

The chief way that I discerned that the Lord had given me the gift of preaching was by doing it and asking the wider church if they thought I was any good! Initially this was as a student, speaking at CU events and summer camps. After graduating I worked as a parish assistant at St Anne’s Church in Limehouse, where along with preaching opportunities I had the privilege of learning to preach at the PT Cornhill Training Course. Cornhill was immensely formative both in my preaching gift being identified and developed.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

Martin Luther famously encouraged preachers to “beat your head against the text until it yields.” Some texts yield more easily than others, but I reckon on needing four mornings of 3-4 hours to prepare a sermon.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?

Here at Cornhill we encourage the students to identify a ‘theme sentence’ (or ‘big idea’) and an ‘aim sentence’ for every Bible passage they are teaching. The theme sentence is the main point of the passage. We believe that expository preaching is where the main point of the sermon is the main point of the passage. Whilst I don’t want preachers to be reductionistic or to flatten the Bible, I do think that discipline of identifying and communicating the main point is enormously helpful.

That theme then focuses the application which is what the aim sentence is all about. This is what we want people to think or feel or do as a result of this part of God’s word.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

It is vital that preachers find their own voice, and preach naturally, clearly and passionately. He should avoid trying to please men and trying to be someone else.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I still use a fairly full script, although I deliberately don’t script my illustrations so as to make sure that they sound different. Early on I employed an indented manuscript which means that it doesn’t look remotely like an essay! This helps me not to read the manuscript as if it were an essay, and to know where I am in the argument. It works for me.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

There are many that I try to avoid and encourage others to avoid including:
• Teaching a passage rather than proclaiming & encountering the person of Christ (from a passage).
• Preaching to others what has not first run through my own soul.
• Being sound but dull and therefore bypassing people’s affections.
• Preaching imperatives without indicatives.
• Ignoring the Trinity.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

Things are a little different now that I am not currently pastoring a church. Early on in ministry I got into the habit of protecting my mornings for preparation and prayer. That habit has become ingrained and I find it very useful. As far as possible, I try to leave personal work, administration and meetings to the afternoons and evenings.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?

I am greatly indebted to a number of very fine preachers who have helped and influenced me enormously including: Mark Ashton (the minister of the church I was a member of as a student), David Jackman and Dick Lucas (who taught me at Cornhill), Vaughan Roberts (the minister of the church I was a member of whilst at theological college), Jonathan Fletcher (who I worked under for four years and who was a great model as a preacher and very incisive in his feedback on my early attempts at preaching).

In terms of books, Ed Clowney’s Preaching Christ in all the Scriptures has shaped my preaching. Reading widely – especially books and sermons by John Flavel – also feeds my preaching.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

I have the privilege of serving full time on the teaching staff of the PT Cornhill Training Course in London where nurturing and developing future preachers is what we are all about. I do think that the course is an excellent way of training preachers. Most students do the course part time and so are with us for 2 days a week and in a local church for 4 days a week. This gives them the opportunity to put into practice what they are being taught at Cornhill while they are learning it. It roots them in the local church and by focussing exclusively on one thing (preaching), we are able to do one thing well.

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For more information about the Cornhill summer school, check this out.

10 Questions For Expositors – John Shearer

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.

 

 

10 Questions For Expositors – Julian Hardyman

Julian Hardyman is the senior pastor of Eden Baptist Church in Cambridge, England. Prior to his appointment in 2002, he served on staff at Eden and also at Cornerstone Evangelical Church in Nottingham. Julian explains God’s Word with clarity, and applies Scripture pastorally and pointedly.

It is our great pleasure to have Julian answer our 10 Questions for Expositors.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of
church life?

Central. The church is ruled, energised, envisioned, directed, encouraged, rebuked, retuned and recalibrated through the word of God heard in preaching. The role of preaching in congregational and individual growth is second to nothing. And most of it needs to be done by the pastor (s) with pastoral responsibility for the congregation.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
  • In my 20s I turned down four invitations to preach from four different pastors out of fear
  • Then I was asked to preach in a church service by mistake. The pastor rang me by mistake but didn’t want to admit it so he asked me to preach instead of the person he had meant to ring. He then wrote the sermon for me. He heard it and said it was the best first sermon he had ever heard which wasn’t surprising as they were his words. The second one sounded like a talk on Radio 3.
  • Then I preached a bit more and started to discover my own voice and that people seemed to be helped by it.
  • Preaching labs as they were called at seminary (TEDS) were very helpful.
  • Then simply preaching week in week out for many years.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

Somewhere between 8-15 hours. It is getting quicker I think as I trust my extemporisation powers more than I used to, so I have less felt need of a detailed and polished ms than I did.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea?

Yes – I think this is vital.

If so, how do you crystallize it?

I try to make it as specific as I can while retaining logical and symmetrical relationship to all the main points. If it becomes too general it is the same theme most weeks which is dull.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what
should he avoid?

The natural expression of the preachers’ relationship with his God and his people. Anything else is ego or artifice. Neither is a good medium for the speaking God.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

Because my church is in central Cambridge I made a decision some years ago to use fairly full notes in the interests of verbal precision. There is some loss in immediacy and naturalness as a result. I am breaking more free of the ms the longer I am here. If I preach elsewhere i tend to use more sketchy notes and rely on a more extempore composition of individual sentences. My ideal would be as few notes as possible given any particular situation. It makes for much more natural communication.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

  • Assuming theological soundness and right handling of the text……..
  • Not preaching the positive aspect of the text in an inspiring way but leaving people with a heavy, condemned feel rather than a grace driven sense of liberation. In other words preaching law not grace.
  • Self-promotion: preaching is such a wonderful opportunity to go on ego trips.
  • Simply communicating information without any inspiration or ‘Jesus perfume’ (2 Corinthians 2:15).
  • Failing to communicate in our ethos that our logos (‘God is love’, ‘there is Good News’) is true.
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other
important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
  • Set aside large bits of the week for it – most of Thursday and Friday for example, with Tues or Weds am for passage translation
  • I have a month’s study leave every summer. During that I read lots of background of the book I am going to preach next, and get into the text so I have drafted the outline for the sermon series
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most
influential in your own preaching?
  • Peter Lewis from Nottingham was that pastor who got me started in preaching. What I learned from him was moving towards pastoral application to people’s relationship with God, speaking the energy of the text into that relationship existentially so that there is always the assumption that preaching takes place in a context in which God is real, and at work in folk’s lives. No one does that like Peter, not even the current conference darlings.
  • Chappell’s Christ-centred preaching helped me a lot on outlining (which I think is very important).
  • Stott on Double listening is very important I think.
  • Ray Ortlund is a wonderful example of reasoning with people pastorally about the text rather than just declaring it didactically
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future
preachers?
 We run preaching classes or groups for younger folk. We give them the chance to do talks in different settings, then preach in local village churches (a less intimidating setting than central Cambridge), then in Eden. We give feedback and encouragement. We look to help them develop and grown.