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.


10 Question For Expositors – Tim Chester

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. 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?’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.



Stop Looking For Waldo

Yesterday was a rare pleasure indeed. For two pleasant hours, Dr Sinclair Ferguson preached to me.¹

The messages by Dr Ferguson on Romans 5 and 6, were nothing short of a theological thrill.  A stimulus for the mind and a feast for the soul, I left both full of ‘matter’ and worship.

Yet as the dust settles today, one line from Dr Ferguson seems to be lodged in my mind. I am sad to say it is not some weighty truth about the nature of justification by faith or our union with Christ!   Instead what I cannot shake is a  brief  parenthesis Dr Ferguson made. One of those “throw away” comments that is anything but throw away.

Dr Ferguson referred to the danger of the “Where’s Waldo” Hermeneutic.  And he warned of its alarming frequency in modern preaching.

Before going any further, I really should check that you know who Waldo is. Waldo is that little fella in the red striped jumper, with eyes bulging behind those thick, round glasses. In the series of “Where’s Waldo” books, he appears in scenes of massive crowds.

The aim of the game is to find Waldo somewhere among the masses. It can be struggle to locate him. It can take many minutes. But you know that somewhere in the throngs of people, Waldo must be in their somewhere!

Back to Dr Ferguson. His point was that many preachers use a Where’s Waldo hermeneutic. They are studying a Gospel, say, and they’re reading a passage about Jesus, the disciples and the crowds. Their immediate instinct is not to focus on Jesus. Their immediate instinct is bridge the gap to the  congregation by finding ​them ​in the text. The congregation is Waldo, and they must be in the passage somewhere!


  • maybe our congregation is the disciples, 
  • or maybe our congregation is the crowd,
  • perhaps they are the rich young man, or doubting Thomas, or blundering Peter
  • surely they are not Judas,
  • but we’d better warn them in case they’re the Pharisees
  • But one things for certain, our congregation must be in the text.

The truth is, our congregation isn’t. Our congregation is nowhere in the Gospels, or anywhere else in the bible. They live 2000 years later. They are not in the 9th chapter of Luke!

This is not to say that we cannot at times carefully observe parallels between biblical characters and ourselves today. Or that we cannot correlate the words and actions of biblical characters to teaching material later in the New Testament. But we must change our assumption that our preaching goal is to find the congregation in the text.

Take the Gospels, for example. This is where we miss the most obvious point. The Gospels are telling us about Jesus. Any sermon which majors on how we are like Peter, or like the Pharisees, or like the crowds is probably missing the point. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are writing about Jesus.

So preacher, tell us about Jesus!

Tell us what we learn about Him!

Tell us about His character, His words, His deeds, His heart, and ultimately His sacrifice for sins and His resurrection from the grave!

Tell us about Jesus, and then tell us how to respond!

Don’t keep searching around for Waldo, when Jesus is so easy to find.



¹ Disclaimer: Dr Sinclair Ferguson was also preaching to about 100 other pastors at the Northern Ireland Ministry Assembly, 2012.

How long?

How long should a sermon be? 

Over the years as I’ve taught preaching and trained preachers there has been one question that has been asked more than any other, and by a considerable margin: How long should a sermon be?   Mind you, even as I think about that I realise that there is one place where my students have never asked the question: Africa!

Asking this question is a bit like asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’ and the answer is simple: it depends!

1. It depends on the congregation

Some congregations are used to and appreciate good solid sermons that take some time, but others are not.   I was once visiting a church in Glasgow and, trying to get a feel for the place before the service started, I asked the Minister how long he usually preached for.  The answer shook me!  “I usually try to spin it out to 15 minutes,” he said “but if you can only last for 10 that’s fine.”  I seem to remember commenting in response, whether out loud or internally I’m not sure, ‘I’m still clearing my throat at that point!’

If you are a visiting speaker, try and find out what the congregation is used to and, if it strikes you as being a very short period of time, perhaps try and extend it a little but, as a visitor, you won’t be able to push the boundaries massively and you will probably lose the attention of your listeners once their usual listening time has been exceeded.  In such cases I always try to do this, making sure I am feeding them well and thereby perhaps whetting their appetites for more substantial ‘meals’ in the future.

The attention span of a group of unchurched people at an evangelistic event will probably be considerably shorter than that of the congregation of the local, well taught, Bible Fellowship.  I used to preach regularly in a church where 50 minutes was the usual sermon length and some folk felt cheated if it was less.  What a joy for a preacher!

2.It depends on the content

Some types of sermons and some passages of Scripture really demand that you take more time over them.  Some passages need some more background and context setting than others, for example.   Again, there may be a difference in an evangelistic address and a ‘meaty’ exposition.

3. It depends on the context

Some occasions and meetings are such that they require shorter messages and it would be inappropriate and unhelpful to abuse that by preaching for an extended period of time.   Again, this needs to be assessed and understood in advance.  An additional factor that comes into play here is one that surprised me in my early days in pastoral ministry.   If you are in a settled pastoral and preaching ministry, and preaching systematically through books and sections of the Bible – which is, after all, by far the best way to maintain a regular preaching ministry – you will not, each week, need to take much time to set the passage under consideration in its biblical context because that ought to be familiar to your listeners.  You will probably want a brief word of reminder as to how the present passage is connected with the previous one but you will not need to dwell over long on that.  However, if you are preaching somewhere else, or indeed in your own church, on a ‘one off’ event or passage, you may need to allow a little bit of extra time to set the passage in its biblical, and even historical context, before delving into the meat of the text itself.

4. It depends on the communicator

The truth is that there are some preachers who, to listen to for more than 10 or 15 minutes, would exercise the patience of a saint, while others can be listened to for longer periods of time with hardly any sense of the passing of time.   Some by their monotonous use of their voice or the dry content of their message ought to be brief while others have much good to say and say it well.   It is said that the first time Jonathan Edwards’ preached his sermon lasted for two hours but that his listeners listened so intently that they were unaware of how long he had taken.

In conclusion, and based on my own personal experience, it probably has to be said that in the average western evangelical church 30 minutes seems to be the maximum attention span of congregations while those blessed with a particularly good preaching ministry can cope with and profit from 40-50 minutes of faithful exposition.

One of the marks of times of spiritual quickening, but also of spiritual maturity among God’s people, is the greatly increased appetite for God’s Word and the ability to sit and listen for longer.  O for such days to be our experience as well!

Finally, here is some advice from the Prince of Preachers:

“In order to maintain attention, avoid being too long. An old preacher used to say to a young man who preached an hour, — “My dear friend, I do not care what else you preach about, but I wish you would always preach about forty minutes.” We ought seldom to go much beyond that — forty minutes, or say, three-quarters of an hour. If a fellow cannot say all he has to say in that time, when will he say it? But somebody said he liked “to do justice to his subject.” Well, but ought he not to do justice to his people, or, at least, have a little mercy upon them, and not keep them too long? The subject will not complain of you, but the people will…Brevity is a virtue within the reach of all of us; do not let us lose the opportunity of gaining the credit which it brings. If you ask me how you may shorten your sermons, I should say, study them better. Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit. We are generally longest when we have least to say. A man with a great deal of well-prepared matter will probably not exceed forty minutes; when he has less to say he will go on for fifty minutes, and when he has absolutely nothing he will need an hour to say it in. Attend to these minor things and they will help to retain attention.”[1]

[1] Spurgeon, C H     Lectures to My Students     Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2008     pp155-156

Preacher School

God has consistently blessed our church with a steady stream of young men interested in teaching and perhaps pastoring down the road. Knowing that these guys need some experience in order to test the call, we often free up a season in our pulpit to have a bunch of them preach through a series that we design. This year, we felt our church needed a refresher on some of the, “one-anothers” in the New Testament – commands like, Love one another, Encourage one another, etc.

We began by sending out an email to the entire church family inviting any male members to tell us of their interest in what we called, “Preacher School.” We also approached a few brothers privately and encouraged them to sign up. After we had a list of names, we then assigned texts and preaching dates.

We met every Wednesday night after our normal services to do three things. First, I would teach the guys one component of how to craft a sermon. Second, we would critique the sermon of the guy who preached the previous Sunday. Finally, we would listen to the sermon from the brother who was going to preach on the approaching Sunday and follow that up with all the things we found encouraging, plus one or two suggestions for improvement. This would all take about 60 minutes.

The whole process was fun, developed camaraderie amongst these brothers (everybody got applause after the sermon delivery on Wednesday nights – very UnCanadian!) and gave our men some great experiences.

Over the next few weeks I am hoping to post here the basic content of what I taught. My hope is that it will generate further discussion on just how to put a sermon together and help me refine the material for future use. But for today, I have included the “contract” we issued to our men.

Preacher School

What you get:
• Instruction in Bible study and preaching
• Personal accountability with your life as a whole
• The benefit of learning from the success and mistakes of others
• Joy of weekly Christian brotherhood and camaraderie

What you give:
• Meet with the men from 9-10PM each Wednesday night
• Prepare a full manuscript for your sermon, delivered to the pastors 10 days before you preach it to the church
• Preach that sermon to our class on the Wednesday before you preach it to the church
• Receive critique from class on sermon and presentation
• The opportunity to preach your sermon to the church on a Sunday night this summer
• Further encouragement and helpful post-sermon critique

Why you should:
• The Gospel is first proclaimed and the more men who can do that well, the better off the church will be
• You will be challenged in your faith
• You will become a better sermon-listener
• Your Bible study skills will improve

A Sunday Morning Prayer for an Ashamed Workman

Gracious God and Heavenly Father, I bow before you wishing that in this past week I had done my best to present myself before you as an unashamed workman. I wish I could confess that I have spared no effort in my calling as a Minister of the Gospel, charged with correctly handling and proclaiming the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

But I can’t because I haven’t.

I have not been sufficiently impressed with the enormous responsibility of standing before God’s people to say, “This is what the Lord’s says” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

On the one hand, I have relied on my own skills to understand your word, not seeking the Spirit’s enlightening to learn and express the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). On the other hand, I have not used all my gifts, having been lazy in the study of the Scriptures, unwilling to dig a little deeper into the text to bring out new treasures as well as old (Matthew 13:52).

In my preparation my ear was more attuned to the accolades of man than the praise that comes from the only God (John 5:44).

I have allowed many things, including legitimate pursuits, to distract me from the needed study so that I might preach Christ from all the Scriptures (Luke 24:44).

I have studied to preach, rather than studied to know you and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).

I have been mechanical and professional in my preparation, withholding my affection from (2 Corinthians 6:12) God’s dear lambs and sheep (John 21:15-17).

It’s not just that I’ve been a hearer of your word and failed to do what it says (James 1:22); I’ve studied your word and will be teaching your word and all the while I have not given determined effort to put it into practice (Matthew 23:3).

I confess to my horrible shame that, even now, I am more bothered that my inadequate preparation will reflect poorly on myself than that it will distract from your glory and the blessing of your people (Acts 12:23).

And so, gracious God, as I prepare to go into the pulpit, what shall I say?

I pray that you would forgive me for my pastoral sins through the blood (Galatians 2:20) and righteousness (Philippians 3:9) of the Lord Jesus Christ who sent me to proclaim his Word (Ephesians 4:11).

I crave renovating grace as well as forgiving grace. I ask that you would grant me your Spirit so I may not be an ashamed workman in this coming week, that I, resisting the devil and fighting the flesh, may give myself wholly to the matters of the ministry so that everyone may see my progress (1 Timothy 4:15).

Repenting of my sins and thankful for your mercy,

I plead that you would receive glory as I present my faltering efforts to you (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Enable me to preach in weakness and fear, and with much trembling (1 Corinthians 2:3).

Exalt your own name in the preaching of your word (Psalm 138:3).

Give me clarity of thought and expression (Colossians 4:4).

May I preach with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power (1 Corinthians 2:4) so my hearers may receive it as the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Enable me to proclaim Christ (Colossians 1:28) so that he may have the pre-eminence in all things (Colossians 1:18).

With the Lord Jesus I cry out, “Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:28)

And I pray for your precious flock, whom you love (Revelation 20:9).

Bless them with the richness of your grace far beyond my preparations.

“I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done?” (2 Samuel 24:17) Why should they suffer for my failings

As the Lord Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and the people ate and were satisfied (John 6:11), so may Christ multiply my offering so that his people may be fed with the bread of God (John 6:33) and be satisfied.

I pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus who, having made peace through the cross, now preaches peace. Amen.

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.


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

20 Ways To Outline A Sermon

A good outline can strengthen a sermon, providing clarity, progression and climax for those who hear it. Speaking personally, however, I find outlining an extremely exacting discipline. As a result, it has been profitable for me to study men who are most adept in this area – men like Charles Spurgeon, John Stott and Warren Wiersbe.

Emerging from that study, here is a list which I have compiled and that I sometimes refer to. It helps me think creatively about my sermon structure. Please note that most of the specific examples are borrowed from some of the above preachers.

1.  Quote directly from text

‘To live is Christ’.  ‘To die is gain’

2.  Single word headings of similar length, or sound

Unity.  Diversity.  Maturity

Preparation.  Lamentation.  Celebration. Denunciation

3. Use pictures in the text

A lonely garden. A costly cup. A hypocritical kiss. A useless sword. A crowing cock

4.  Same first word(s) but differing endings

The law is not greater than the promise. The law is not contrary to the promise. The law cannot do what the promise can do

The Spirit enables us to: fulfil the law of love, overcome the flesh, produce fruit

Beware of: hypocrisy, covetousness, worrying, carelessness

5. Put application in the headings

Remember what God is to you. Remember what God does for you. Remember what God does through you.

We must love Christ supremely. We must obey him universally. We must glorify him completely.

6. Questions

Are the dead raised? When are the dead raised? Why are the dead raised?

7. Groups

The preacher. The persecutor. The believer.

8. Obligation outline  – ________must be________

Leaders must be humble in accepting their responsibilities. Followers must be careful in selecting their leaders.  Evildoers must be certain of sin’s consequences.

9.  Say what the author does in his argument (especially useful for epistles)

He defended his right to receive support. He defended his right to refuse support.

He explains his authority. He expresses his anxiety. He exposes his adversaries.

He explains their adoption. He seeks their affection. He laments their regression.

10. Say what happened to the person in the text (especially useful for narrative)

God honored him.  God humbled him. God helped him.

Teaching the Jews. Helping the Gentiles. Warning the Disciples.

11. Alliteration

A clear conscience. A compassionate heart. A conquering faith.

Grace, goodness, glory.

The servant’s identity. The servant’s authority. The servant’s sympathy.

12. . Pairs

Profitable and unprofitable servants. Wise and foolish witnesses. Obedient and disobedient servants.

13. . Contrasts

Death-Life. Tablets of stone-human hearts. Fading glory-increasing glory.

14. . How to

How to use spiritual authority. How to wage spiritual warfare.

15. Twin parallel heading

The slave – you lose your liberty. The debtor – you lost your wealth.  The runner – you lose your opportunity.

16. From this to that

From failure to success. From sickness to health. From guilt to forgiveness

17.  Follow the chronology or some other marker in the text

The 3rd hour. The 6th hour. The 9th hour.

18.  Paradoxes

The two shall be one. Adults shall be children. First shall be last.

19. Headings that are precise, but pay little attention to corresponding with one another stylistically (D.A Carson seems to often preach this way)

Paul wants this prayer to be offered with earnestness, urgency and persistence.

Paul solicits prayer for himself , in connection with his own ministry.

For Paul, prayer for his ministry envisions further ministry.

Finally, it is important to learn that some of Paul’s prayers were not answered as he would have liked.

20. Don’t have a defined outline!