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.

 

 

C. J. Mahaney on criticism

Following Tim Bridges’ excellent article on responding to criticism after preaching here is a free ebook concerning criticism in general from C. J. Mahaney:

http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/blogs/cj-mahaney/post/2011/04/28/The-Pastor-and-Personal-Criticism-PDF-free-ebooks.aspx

Some great advice I was once given on responding to criticism was rarely to say anything immediately.  Sometimes we will have the words to say and the heart to receive it rightly.  Often we won’t.   Therefore, the most helpful thing can be a “Thanks, I’ll think about it and get back to you.”  If the criticism is valid I need time to reflect on its truth and respond appropriately.  If it is not valid then my off-the-cuff response is rarely going to be wise or godly!

 

Stephen Um’s Excellent Piece

Stephen Um has written an outstanding blog post (Sermon Prep: A Week In One Life) in which he explains the pastor’s work to your average church member. Its the kind of thing that you could direct your congregation to read. But there’s also thought provoking paragraphs for preachers too. For example:

You must keep preaching the gospel to your own heart so that you do not get your identity from preaching. You cannot rise or fall on evaluations of your performance. If you feel good when people complement your sermons but feel terrible when you think you’ve dropped the ball, preaching itself may be functioning as an idol.

Read it all.

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.

 

Bryan Chapell – Advanced Lectures On Preaching

Bryan Chapell’s excellent seminary course on preaching has been freely available on the internet for some time. But I’ve noticed there are now a few added lectures. These lectures are an appendix to the preaching course, and in them Chapell discusses more advanced topics. There’s quite a bit of “Earlier you have heard it said, but now I say…” which makes it most interesting! You do need to login (for free) in order to hear the lectures.

  • Lesson  25 – Hearing The Application of Redemptive Principles
  • Lesson 26 – Exploring New Forms
  • Lesson 27 – Exploring New Listeners
  • Lesson 28 – Exploring New Applications