1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Preaching defines, drives and feeds the life of the church. “Expository exultation” establishes our vision of who God is and that feeds our delight in Him. The more we delight in Him and not the world, generally the more we live for Him moment by moment. My observation has been that churches spiritually thrive where there is a man faithfully digging deep into the Word and delivering that Truth as best as he can week by week. On the other side, I have seen many churches (even full ones) slide into spiritual decline as the preaching of the Word of God is ignored or forgotten.
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I was naturally quiet and avoided crowds as a young man, but I felt my soul come alive when I studied the Word. I found it nearly impossible to study Scripture privately and not start talking to someone about what I had seen there. That seemed to lead to different teaching opportunities in small groups.
Strangely, I had always thought I would be a pastor – long before my conversion. But my vision of pastoral ministry was a reflection of the bizarre activities of the liberal church circles I ran in as a boy. Once I began to teach and study the Word, I laboured hard over whether I was called to the ministry. Spurgeon’s chapter in Lectures to My Students broke this camel’s back – I could not imagine being content doing anything else other than loving God’s people through the preaching of His Word. I began to pursue opportunities to preach and the Lord’s people confirmed me in it. (That was two paragraphs!)
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
When I first entered the ministry I would spend a minimum of 15-20 hours of preparation for one sermon. Now that has been refined into something closer to 10-12; depending on the text and a host of other factors.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I find most of my sermons drive to one major point, but this has more to do with the structure of the text itself than being constrained to any one homiletic model. Rightly understood, most texts have a singular, over-arching point. If I can, I try to distill that major point into one sentence – usually something in the sermon-writing process that I cannot do until the very end. That thought/point then determines much of the introduction to the sermon and functions as the skeleton to the sermon body.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I had one of those epiphany moments in this regard while eating lunch with Geoff Thomas of Alfred Place Baptist Church, Wales. In asking him about preaching (something I think every preacher should do with other preachers!) he noted that it had taken him many years to “find his own voice.” If you have heard Geoff preach, you know that his voice is very unique to him – I could listen to him preach all day long! But I think this is perhaps the greatest battle every preacher faces. Learning to be yourself, to say things in your own words, to genuinely “connect” with your hearers – no doubt this is part of what makes men from John MacArthur to Mark Driscoll so endearing to so many. The preacher is genuine and he seems to give you himself as he gives you the Word. In the category of things to avoid, besides the obvious “don’t jingle loose change in your pockets,” or “don’t read your manuscript” I would add: Don’t be content with “sleepers.” I cannot understand a preacher that tolerates disinterest in the Word of God. It is the Truth! We ought to do all that we humanly can to make that Truth alive to sinner and saint alike!
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I carry a handwritten manuscript into the pulpit. I find by using the pen and not the keyboard that I can shape things on the page to reflect their place in the sermon. I experimented with a typed manuscript (full and partial) last year for six months. I thought it took away from my freedom so I reverted to the old-school method! I strive for liberty in the pulpit and there is something about handwritten notes that makes this easier to attain.
7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
All the horrible heart sins of pride, envy, bitterness and jealousy. Those can birth themselves in many different ways depending on the man and the areas in which he is prone to sin. I find envy an area I have to battle more and more. I may hear of the Lord growing a work of a man who’s preaching does little for me, or who’s theology is suspect in some large ways and it bugs me. Such pride! I am praying for more of Paul’s heart as seen in Philippians 1:18 “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” I think most of us preachers are prone to think far too much of ourselves. Then again, maybe it is just me.
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
“Fight to balance” rather answers the question, doesn’t it? It really is a fight. On a practical level, I give priority to study. That is what I am called to do and that is what my little flock expects out of me week by week. I need to be in the Word for most of Tuesday and then I can come at it through the week again as it simmers in the back of my brain. I write the actual sermons on Friday which allows another full day for thoughts to percolate before sermon delivery. We also have many able and gifted men in our church leadership, so our deacons and my co-elder all take up many different duties.
Finally, I try to learn my limitations and the limitations of my family. If I was single I would more than likely work 22 hours a day – but that is not good for a marriage or children and I am so incredibly grateful God blessed me with both! With four kids at home still, I am happy to invest much time into their lives now.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
• George Whitefield for calling sinners to repentance from sin and faith in Jesus, and for the freedom to “colourize” the Truth with illustration and story.
• Dr. Lloyd-Jones for modeling how a text must press on the hearer’s conscience.
• John MacArthur for book-by-book exposition and the willingness to keep at it when everyone else seems to jump over to more “pragmatic” means.
• C.J. Mahaney for careful and thoughtful application of the text.
• Alex Montoya for preaching with passion.
• Michael Haykin for wedding historical fact to living truth.
• And my favorite living preacher, Bob Hueni; also my father-in-law. A man who never had the blessing of seminary training but stayed true to the text, preached it with passion, lived it in his life, read it daily, illustrated it creatively, prayed it privately, exhorted with it publicly and gazed from it with piercing eyes from the pulpit right down into your soul. Years and other duties keep him from preaching from the pulpit now – but he still preaches with his life daily.
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I teach pastoral theology at Toronto Baptist Seminary which means I am always around young preachers. Many of my students attend my church and I meet with them weekly in a small group aimed to work on their sanctification and preaching skills. Each man takes a turn to teach us for 5 minutes and then we all say what we liked about it… and maybe one or two suggestions for improvement. I have always had little groups like this running. Stuart Olyott once said that there is little point in this kind of group unless you allow them to critique you as well, so I try to invite their ideas about my preaching, too. (That tends to help on that envy and pride thing I was talking about earlier!) I also keep an eye on the future men in our church. We try to identify possible future preachers early and give them age-appropriate opportunities to try that possible gift.