I probably don’t need to tell you that Alistair Begg is one of the most gifted preachers in contemporary evangelicalism. He is also a humble man, which is perhaps especially important when you are endowed with rich talents. Today’s Classic Materials is an excerpt from the excellent book he co-authors with Derek Prime, “On Being a Pastor.” I’m also mentioning this today to remind you to pray for Alistair, especially given his health situation.
“I remain fascinated by the variety of approaches that preachers take in preparing their sermons. In our preparation, as well as in our delivery we must ‘to our own selves be true.’ When I am asked to summarise my method of preparation, I mention the following points, which I learned from the late Leith Samuel….
1. Think yourself empty. As strange as it may sound, we must be careful to ensure that we do not avoid sound thinking. The temptation to respond emotionally to a passage (this is how this makes me feel) is not unique to our listeners. If we are to have ‘thinking’ congregations it is incumbant upon us to be ‘thinking’ pastors’! We do not want to be uncertain by the time our study ends, but it is surely right and proper to begin with the perspective, ‘I must know what this says, and I must learn what this means.’
2. Read yourself full.
3. Write yourself clear. Aside from the essential empowering of the Holy Spirit, if there is one single aspect of sermon preparation that I would want to emphasise, it is this. Freedom of delivery in the pulpit depends upon careful organisation in the study. We may believe that we have a grasp of the text, only to stand up and discover that somewhere between our thinking and our speaking things have gone badly awry. The missing link can usually be traced back to the absence of putting our thoughts down clearly.
4. Pray yourself hot. There is no chance of fire in the pews if there is an iceberg in the pulpit! Without prayer and communion with God during the preparation stages, the pulpit will be cold. In 1752 John Shaw reminded the incumbent pastor beginning his charge in Cambridge, Massachusetts: ‘All will be in vain, to no saving purpose, until God is pleased to give the increase. And in order to do this, God looks for prayers to come up to His ears. A praying minister is always the way to have a succesful ministry.”
5. Be yourself, but don’t preach yourself. A good teacher, like John the Baptist, clears the way, declares the way, and then gets out of the way.”