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.
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.