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.

Bold, Daring Audacity Vs The Pretty Boy Preachers

Dr Steven J. Lawson spoke yesterday to a group of Irish pastors. His subject was “The Gospel Focus Of Charles Spurgeon.” Some of the content was encouraging. Much of it was tremendously challenging. However my ‘personal takeaway’ was Dr Lawson’s discussion of Spurgeon’s bold audacity in the pulpit.

Spurgeon feared no man. Constrained only by the bounds of God’s Word, Spurgeon said what he liked, when he liked, how he liked. The problem with Spurgeon was not that men misunderstood his meaning. The problem was that men understood him completely. Spurgeon’s style was plain, direct, outspoken and urgent. Spurgeon wasn’t trying to be popular. He was trying to bring the ​truth​ to your soul.

In relation to this, Steven Lawson shared two quotes with us.  I believe he had borrowed these from Adrian Rodgers. The first quote was,

The pastor should always enter the pulpit with his resignation letter in his pocket.

The other was:

The problem with preachers today is that no-one wants to kill them anymore.

By my observation, this is often true. Many preachers just want to be ‘nice.’ They cherish being winsome above being earnest. They desire popularity above faithfulness. They tremble more at the thought of offending their congregation, than they fear the thought of offending their God.

In the words of Dr Lawson: there are just too many “pretty boy preachers.”

Pray, God, that I wouldn’t be one of them.

Lost in Translation?

I had never preached with a translator before. But during my time in Portugal last month, I had the  experience of preaching four times through a translator. What did I learn from this new experience?

The best translator is a fellow preacher

When choosing a translator, it would be tempting to simply opt for the best linguist one could find. That would be a mistake. Certainly, adeptness with languages is important, but my time in the Iberian peninsula showed me the immense value of having a translator whose ‘day job’ is preaching. Rogerio Ramos didn’t simply translate my words; he preached my sermon!

Sermon preview is vital

A few days before preaching together I gave Rogerio my sermon notes. Rogerio was able to query any words he was unsure of; he was also able to advise me where my ideas wouldn’t “come across” in a Portuguese context. This meant I could make adjustments to my sermon if necessary. It also meant that Rogerio was better prepared for the forthcoming translation.

Use short but complete sentences

This was new to me. I discovered that there are two pitfalls to be avoided in constructing sentences for translation. One danger is lengthy sentences. The problem with this is obvious. When sentences are overly-long, the translator has difficulty remembering all that you have said. But there can also be a difficulty when one’s sentences are short but incomplete. When I preach only half a sentence then pause, I may not be helping the translator. Preaching a complete idea makes it easier for your partner to translate the sentence. The best practice is to preach in complete sentences but keep them short.

Keep the pace up

Translation can become slow and ponderous. It is vital that both preacher and translator keep the pace up. I was ready to come in immediately after Rogerio had completed his translation. Together we managed to establish a certain “rhythm” to our collaborative preaching. Surprisingly, the overall length of the sermon was not much longer than I would normally preach.

Depend more on God than oratory

You realise how truly powerless your own oratory is when you cannot speak a local language. You are entirely dependent on the translator. You are even more dependent on God.  Preaching with translation raised significant and helpful questions for me. Do I overrate the importance of eloquence in preaching? Do I have confidence in the bare Word of God? Do I believe that the Scriptures are sufficient to make a saving and sanctifying impact across linguistic and cultural borders?

Contemplations From Corinth’s Pulpit

Lately, I’ve been thinking about preaching from the standpoint of 1st Corinthians 1:18 – 2:5. Here are nine reflections from a passage that is plunder for our thinking about preaching:

1.  Gospel preachers are not the only one’s preaching. Paul understood that the voice of the preacher was competing with the voices of the “wise men”, “philosophers” and “scholars” (1:20).  In our day, newspaper columnists, soap script-writers, and scientists, to name a few, are shaping the public consciousness as much as the evangelist.

2. In Christian preaching, substance is far more important than style. Popular Corinthian philosophers were masters of eloquence and emotional manipulation. Unfortunately, the Corinthians Christians were bedazzled by such rhetorical flourish (1:17). Paul, on the other hand, was  more absorbed with the content of his message. What matters, says the Apostle, is not polished presentation but “the message of the cross” (1:18).

3.  Preachers should be wary of gaining a response by mere human eloquence; far less by emotional manipulation. While often found ‘arguing’ and ‘persuading’ unbelievers, Paul did not rely on rhetorical techniques to see people converted. Especially in a place like Corinth, Paul wasn’t afraid to adopt plain language as he preached the straightforward message of the cross. “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words” (2:4). How should this shape our approach in modern homiletics?

4.  No preacher worth their gospel-salt will shy away from preaching the ‘crude’ subject of the crucified Christ. The humiliation and horror of crucifixion will never be a welcome subject in polite company. But Paul and his fellow evangelists “preached Christ crucified” (1:23).

5.  Unbelievers will always demand other things from the preacher instead of the gospel. We mustn’t cave in to their demands. “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (1:22-23).

6.  Eternal destinies hang in the balance every time we preach. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1:18).

7.  The gospel is powerful to save all who believe it.  The gospel, and nothing else! Don Carson sums up Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 1:18b:  “The gospel is not simply good advice, nor is it good news about God’s power. The gospel is God’s power to all who will believe.”

8.  The gospel message is not limited to the people we think are most competent to receive it. Too easily we can target our preaching towards the people we believe are likely to embrace it. People in a certain age bracket, or from a certain demographic background, are viewed as liklier recipients of the gospel of grace. But Paul contradicts such notions: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were of noble birth” (1: 26)

9. Preaching that changes lives relies on the powerful working of the Spirit. True preaching comes “…with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but God’s power” (2: 4, 5).

Why Do We Ignore Wisdom?

When did you last hear a sermon from the “wisdom genre”? 

Just recently I put that question to a bright, ecclectic group of Christian students. The response was a row of bemused and blank faces. One guy eventually offered that his pastor ‘had once preached a series on Ecclesiastes.’  The rest had never heard a sermon on Ecclesiastes, Job or Proverbs.

That’s right: not one sermon.

Such things are anecdotal, I know. Yet I strongly suspect that wisdom is an under-preached genre. At least in the circles where I move, pastors seem to fear that their congregations could not ‘survive’ a series on a wisdom book. In all  fairness, there is some justification for their trepidation!

​Peculiar Challenges

We don’t need ‘the wisdom of Solomon’ to identify some challenges which wisdom literature presents the preacher.

First, there’s the ​style ​of it.  The wisdom genre is dominated by Hebrew poetry. For some of us, Hebrew poetry is completely ‘uncharted waters’. For others of us, though we have studied it for years, it can still seem ”unfamiliar territory’. Whether its coping with the constant use of parallelism, or working out how to preach pithy sayings (Proverbs!) or long theologically inaccurate discourses (Job!), this brand of literature is tough to interpret and tougher to preach.  We fear becoming ship-wrecked on the rocks of the unusual style of this literature.

A second challenge is the ​subjects ​addressed by wisdom literature. The themes that wisdom literature raises are not typical when compared with wider Scripture. For instance, wisdom is rooted in theology but it is not primarily theological instruction. Similarly, wisdom has an ethical dimension, but it is not pure ethical instruction. Wisdom deals with how to live skillful, godly lives in the fear of the Lord. It deals with topics like the choices we make, the friends we choose, and the way we work. It addresses how to make life work, and how to cope when our life seems to unravel.

A final challenge has do with how the ​storyline ​of the bible connects with wisdom literature. In other words, how do we preach wisdom redemptively? Is it possible to preach a Christ-exalting sermon from Proverbs? And if so, how do we do that responsibly? This is an important question and it demands serious thought. It may be our struggle to answer this question, that above all, causes us to shy away from wisdom.


(I am currently preaching a series on Proverbs, and trying to learn how to do it better. Tomorrow: Why bother with wisdom?)



You or We?

There are two kinds of preachers; those who predominantly use the second person pronoun in their preaching and those who usually use the first person plural pronoun. There are those who say, “You need to trust God in the difficulties of life,” and there are others who say, “We need to trust God in the difficulties of life.” Okay, I admit, there are some who say, “You and I need to trust God in the difficulties of life.” (Actually, there are too many who say, “You and me need to trust God in the difficulties of life”!)

So which is it? When speaking personally, should we use 2nd person pronouns or 1st person pronouns? Is it “you” or “we”?

I Get the You

I understand why some argue that preaching should be predominantly in the second person pronoun. They emphasise that preaching comes from another world. It is the voice of heaven penetrating earth. The minister is not sharing; he is declaring. He is an ambassador, a herald, speaking on behalf of Christ. In fact, when the minister preaches the Word of God, Christ himself preaches.

That being the case, in a sense, the Christian minister is not part of the congregation as a minister though he is part of the congregation as a Christian. The minister wears two sets of clothes; he is a minister who is speaking on behalf of Christ and he is a Christian who is being addressed by Christ through his own preaching. I think the minister of my youth believed this. At least that would explain why he would occasionally interject his sermons with, “And remember, Minister, you are also preaching to yourself.”

This means that when he is calling the congregation to holy living, echoing the Apostle Paul, he declares “You must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips” (Colossians 3:7-8a). Mind you, while he does that, he must remember that he is one of the “you” God is addressing.

Second person pronoun preaching has a lot going for it. It follows the predominant pattern of New Testament epistles and it highlights the authoritative nature of Christian preaching.

 I Get the We

I don’t think we should use second person pronouns exclusively. Or should I say, “You shouldn’t use second person pronouns exclusively”?

The main reason I say this is because the New Testament epistles don’t. In Ephesians 2:3 Paul says we were by nature children of wrath. In Titus 2:12 he mentions that the grace of God trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. And the writer to the Hebrews, in his brief exhortation, swings between the second and third person pronouns, sometimes in successive verses (Hebrews 3:12-14).

First person plural usage helps the congregation to remember that the minister is himself subject to weakness (Hebrews 5:2). And because of that, though the minister comes with the authority of the Word of God, as an ambassador of Christ, he himself is under that authority. The Word read and preached addresses and challenges him too. He is not a guru who has mastered Christian living and has risen above the struggles and temptations of his followers; he is a fellow sinner privileged to strengthen his brothers and sisters through the ministry of God’s Word. The congregation doesn’t sit at the feet of the minister; the minister and congregation sit at the feet of Christ the Prophet who ministers to them by his Word and Spirit.

Personally Speaking, Use Both

I wouldn’t want to quantify the amount one should use the first or second personal pronouns. It seems to me that the preacher will find the balance as he is conscious of two things: he himself is a sinner desperately needing the grace of God in Christ and to be strengthened through the Word preached, and, that he speaks as the mouth of God, as one of his ambassadors.

I just finished Herman Selderhuis’ book, John Calvin: a pilgrim’s life, and was struck by how this dual emphasis shaped Calvin the preacher. Selderhuis writes: “Calvin thought that when he spoke as a preacher, it was God himself who spoke”. He supports his assertion with Calvin’s comment, “For of myself I have nothing to say, but I speak as if the mouth of the Teacher.” On the other hand, Selderhuis gleans that Calvin had enough self-knowledge to realize that he himself had to be subject to the Word as well from these words from Calvin: “When I climb into the pulpit, it is not simply to instruct others. I do not exclude myself, since I myself must remain a student as well, and the words that come from my mouth are to serve me as much as others. If not, woe to me!”

In boldly declaring God’s Word may we who are ministers be acutely aware of the need for that Word ourselves.


“Who do you think he is?” (a further Christmas text)

Following on from Colin Adams’ excellent article on what to preach at Christmas, let me suggest a further passage of Scripture, and some ideas on how to preach it. “The Genealogy of Jesus” with which Matthew begins his gospel (Matthew 1:1-17) is rarely used at Christmas. “What’s the point of a list of names?” the uninitiated might ask. And “How can I pronounce all those Hebrew names?” (the only time my reading of Scripture was followed by spontaneous applause was after reading through Luke’s genealogy!)

Matthew’s purpose

Of course Matthew, writing his Gospel for a Jewish audience, gives us his reason for beginning with the genealogy in his opening statement: to demonstrate the pedigree of Jesus Christ: “the son of David” (in the royal line), “the son of Abraham” (in the patriarchal line). And the genealogy at least demonstrates that Jesus is a  real human person with named antecedents – not some mythical figure. There is a story of a team with Wycliffe Bible Translators who completed the Gospel of Luke for the first time in a language – except for the genealogy. There was minimal interest in the story from the people group in question until the missionaries finally decided (believing that all Scripture is God’s breathed”) to translate the genealogy – a fairly simple matter of adapting the names using the sound-system of the language. The response when it was read out was astounding and the key to the reception of the gospel in that community.  In a group that prized their ancestors (and could name them many generations back) they realised that this Jesus Christ was a real person – unlike the mythological figures who featured in their own religion.

Surprising people!

But there is even more in Matthew’s genealogy. Kenneth Bailey, whose book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Cultural Studies in the Gospels” (SPCK, 2008) is a must for every preacher (especially at Christmas), points out that Matthew, written for Jews, includes four women in his genealogy and asks why:

Matthew 1 contains a genealogy of Jesus that few bother to read. But a second glance reveals some meaningful surprises. Amazingly, along with the men, Matthew includes the names of four women. Middle Eastern genealogies are expected to be lists of men.  Sirach began his list by saying, “Let us now praise famous men’ (Sirach 44-50) and Luke 3:23-38 is a list of seventy-six men without the inclusion of a single female. Along with a list of forty men, why does Matthew include four women?

And not just any old women! The four listed are all of dubious reputation or background:

  • Tamar (verse 3) See Genesis 38:1-30 – pretended to be a prostitute to entice her father-in-law and got pregnant and was almost killed  by him!
  • Rahab (verse 5) See Joshua 2, 6:24-25 – a Canaanite prostitute
  • Ruth (verse 4) See the Book of Ruth – a member of the Moabite nation, excluded from worship in Israel.
  • Bathsheba (verse 6) See 2 Samuel 11:1 – 12:25 – and Matthew won’t even write her name but refers to her as “the wife of Uriah” (a Hittite!)

Yet Matthew deliberately includes them in his genealogy. Why? Bailey answers his question:

“With such a list, Matthew gives us a clue about the kinds of people that the Messiah came to save. He was to be a Saviour for women and men who were both saints and sinners, Jews and Gentiles. This genealogy is truly comprehensive. Many can look at the stories of these women and men and find some reflection of themselves.”

Matthew’s Gospel continues…

Little wonder then that Matthew’s Christmas story features foreigners who come to worship Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12) and concludes with the Great Commission given by Jesus to his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations (people-groups)” (Matthew 28:18-20)


Any preacher should be able to work out the contemporary relevance of this genealogy. One of the most popular shows on British television with 8 million viewers is “Who do you think you are?” in which well-known people trace their ancestry – with many surprising discoveries.

Some people find out that they have royal blood – others that their great-great-great-grandfather was transported to Australia for stealing a sheep! And many are moved to tears – as was even Jeremy Paxman, the BBC’s “rottwelier” interviewer when he learned of the tragic background of one of his forebears.  Yet Matthew is not embarrassed to include people of dubious reputation people in the genealogy of Jesus – indeed he deliberately (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) includes them. Who do you think he (Jesus) is? Matthew tells you, beginning with the ancestry of Jesus Christ.

“Who do you think you are?”

Here is Christmas gospel/good news for everyone: no matter what your pedigree or background, no matter who you think you are. You can be included in God’s family through faith in Jesus. Here are some useful connecting Scriptures:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  (Galatians 3:26-29)

 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:11)

 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  (John 1:11-13) –

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons, through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Gospel opportunity!

Surprise your congregation (who are expecting wise men after shepherds last year!). More importantly, connect with the  visitors who only attend church at Christmas and offer the gospel of hope to rootless people who are “without hope and without God in the world”.

For further ideas,  see the videoed seminar “Preaching Christ at Christmas” on http://2tim4.org/index.php/2009/11/preaching-christ-at-christmas/  and contact me if you would like any of the PowerPoint presentations at peter@2tim4.org


Workman’s Toolbox

Here is a great video from Rico Tice that explains the Christmas message.

This is such a powerful article! Geoff Thomas shares seven things that are essential to any pastor’s ministry (Preaching – The Method).

1. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by unfeigned belief in the truthfulness of the Bible.

2. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by enduring tough times.

3. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by toil.

4. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

5. The work of the ministry can only be achieved in the defence of the gospel.

6. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by discriminatory preaching.

7. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by applicatory preaching.