Archive for January, 2008

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The Preaching Course

January 31, 2008

A week today The Preaching Course will launch in my church, led by myself and a fellow pastor Tim Bridges. I’m looking forward to seeing the growth of the men attending this introductory course in exposition, whilst at the same time, preparing to learn myself from more experienced expositors like Derek Prime, John Brand and Peter Grainger who will be making a ‘guest appearance.’

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While The Preaching Course itself cannot be transferred onto a blog like this for all sorts of reasons, nevertheless I hope to let some of it ‘overspill’ onto Unashamed Workman. So from next week – concurrent the launch of the course – I’ll be posting various things on the subject of “Discerning a Call to Preach.”

Expect further weeks to be given to such subjects as “researching the text”, “outlining the sermon”, “illustrating” and so on. All being well, we may also have the audio from the main teaching sessions to put online as well.

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Reflections On Preaching, Preaching, Preaching

January 31, 2008

After my enjoyable trip to the North of Scotland, let me share a few reflections on preaching five times in one weekend. No doubt many of you will have had to preach multiple times in a short time period. For me it was a sharp learning curve. Here are a few things I learned, however:

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1) Preaching multiple times in a short space of time is a great blessing. Truly. For one thing, you get to proclaim the gospel of Christ again and again – sometimes two or three times in the one day. Its like Sunday sermons back to back to back. What a joy! Furthermore, you have the opportunity of preaching to the same people and developing certain themes to a greater degree.

2) Preaching multiple times is hard work and demands pacing oneself. On a normal weekend of preaching, we usually have one or two sermons to prepare ourselves for. All week we slowly prepare, focusing on that narrow passage or passages. It culminates in that pulsating burst of energy and the Sunday sermon when ‘we give our all.’ Preaching multiple times, however, radically alters the dynamic. My own discovery was that I couldn’t give my ALL in the opening sermon – otherwise there’d be ‘nothing’ left for the other four preaches. As such, perhaps subconsciously, I found myself holding back 10% every time and only on the last sermon did I go full out. Whether the congregation could tell the difference I do not know. But practically it seemed essential for me to apportion my energy.

3) Preaching multiple times creates momentum and the preacher should try and ‘catch the wave.’ As well as the pacing that I mentioned in the prior point, I found that the preaching series itself gathered momentum. This was natural for two reasons. First, I was a visiting preacher and viritually unknown to most present; therefore I naturally built up rapport as the weekend progressed. Additionally, the series itself in Jeremiah had a certain cumulative effect, as the congregation began to build up a picture of the historical context and theological themes throughout the prophecy. For these reasons my last sermon of the five seemed to be the most edifying of all for the congregation.

Any thoughts on preaching multiple sermons in quick succession?

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Back from Buckie

January 30, 2008

It really was a great privilege and joy to preach at Buckie North Church this last weekend for their winter version of Keswick. Thank you for praying as I preached four times on the book of Jeremiah and once on Luke 18.

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Reflecting on the weekend, a trio of encouragements come to mind. First, seeing a ‘healthy ecumenism’ in that part of Northern Scotland – one that is centred around Christ and His gospel and which overlooks denominational persuation. Second, the warm sense of community and a hospitality that in many respects evidenced the love of Christ. Third, a genuine hunger among many to hear God’s living Word was thrilling to see (not least by one who is a preacher!).

Continue to pray for the nation of Scotland. Lord, may there be a renewed desire across this land to hear and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as a renewed desire to preach it!

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A Brain-Orientated Preacher?

January 29, 2008

Today’s Classic Materials is a quote from Geoff Thomas, pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales

“One of the great perils that face preachers . . .is the constant danger of lapsing into a purely cerebral form of proclamation, which falls exclusively upon the intellect. Men become obsessed with doctrine and end up as brain-oriented preachers. There is consequently a fearful impoverishment in their hearers emotionally, devotionally, and practically. Such pastors are men of books and not men of people; they know the doctrines, but they know nothing of the emotional side of religion. They set little store upon experience or upon constant fellowship and interaction with almighty God. It is one thing to explain the truth of Christianity to men and women; it is another thing to feel the overwhelming power of the sheer loveliness and enthrallment of Jesus Christ and communicate that dynamically to the whole person who listens so that there is a change of such dimensions that he loves Him with all his heart and soul and mind and strength.”

Geoffrey Thomas, “Powerful Preaching,” chapter 14 in The Preacher and Preaching, edited by Samuel T. Logan. Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986, p. 369 (HT: Expositors Quote for the Week)

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Heading for the Highlands

January 24, 2008

Tomorrow morning my wife and I set off for a weekend trip to the North of Scotland. Buckie to be exact. Pray for me as I preach five times: four ocassions from Jeremiah (chapters 1, 20, 44, and 52) and once (Sunday morning) on the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18.

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(photo by Mr Pattersonsir; Creative Commons License)

Who knows, I may even meet a reader or two of this blog when I get up there?

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10 Questions – Steve Lawson

January 23, 2008

Using a familiar format, my friend John Brand puts the ten questions to Steve Lawson. Well worth a look.

Lawson – Ten Questions part one

Lawson – Ten Questions part two

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‘The Legate of The Skies’

January 22, 2008

Taking a break from some pulpit-prep this evening, I came across Ray Ortlund’s quote today on “The Pulpit.” Thanks Ray (and William Cowper!) for some inspiration just when I need it:

“The pulpit therefore — and I name it, filled
With solemn awe, that bids me well beware
With what intent I touch that holy thing –
The pulpit, when the satirist has at last,
Strutting and vapouring in an empty school,
Spent all his force, and made no proselyte –
I say the pulpit, in the sober use
Of its legitimate, peculiar powers,
Must stand acknowledged, while the world shall stand,
The most important and effectual guard,
Support, and ornament of virtue’s cause.
There stands the messenger of truth; there stands
The legate of the skies; his theme divine,
His office sacred, his credentials clear.
By him, the violated Law speaks out
Its thunders, and by him, in strains as sweet
As angels use, the Gospel whispers peace.
He ‘stablishes the strong, restores the weak,
Reclaims the wanderer, binds the broken heart,
And, armed himself in panoply complete
Of heavenly temper, furnishes with arms
Bright as his own and trains, by every rule
Of holy discipline, to glorious war,
The sacramental host of God’s elect.”

(William Cowper, “The Task”)

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Book Review – “Preach The Word”

January 21, 2008

Last week I had the priviledge of reviewing Preach the Word: Essays in Expository Preaching In Honor of R Kent Hughes. For all the other reviews, check out the Discerning Reader website.

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In short: A treasure trove of essays on expository preaching that deals with the subject from a variety of angles.

Pastor R. Kent Hughes – recently retired pastor of College Church, Wheaton – is well known for his long standing commitment to expository preaching. So it seemed fitting that to celebrate his legacy a book should be produced in his honour on his favourite subject: preaching!

The wonderful festschrift that has emerged should make a worthy addition to any pastor’s bookshelf: Preach the Word – Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R Kent Hughes. Edited by Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson, the spotlight on the theme of biblical exposition, alongside their obvious affection for Hughes, gives this volume a more unified feel than many other ‘pick and mix’ compilations you come across.

The quality of essays is truly excellent across the board, something which obviously hinges on the quality of contributors. With the likes of David Jackman, Don Carson, J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, Peter Jensen and John MacArthur – to name a few – it is no surprise to find that all the essays are thoughtful, biblical, and written with the steady hand of experienced men. Leading the pack, choice essays include Leyland Ryken’s “The Bible as Literature and Expository Preaching”, Don Carson’s study of “The 21st Century Pulpit” and “Few are Not Enough: Training a Generation of Men in Expository Preaching.”
The sheer variety of essays examines preaching from a whole range of perspectives. Preaching is considered in Scripture itself and also in history. Hermeneutical principles and practices which underline preaching are analyzed. Finally, contemporary challenges to preaching – including the enormous challenge of training a new generation of expositors – is approached. Both novice and mature preachers, as well as those who train preachers, will benefit from essays of interest within such a broad scope.

Are there any weaknesses in this compilation? Only the usual problems in a book of this type (no developing argument; changing styles throughout etc), and it should be said that this is no introductory book on preaching. Nevertheless, Preach the Word has come together as a remarkable unity and has the feel of a single volume, which is a great credit to the editors, authors and R. Kent Hughes himself, who ceaseless promotes the preaching of God’s Word.

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Pastoral Discernment From a Lay Perspective

January 18, 2008

Along with many of you, I’ve very much enjoyed Tim Challies recent blog tour on the theme of discernment. However, I found today’s especially helpful as a pastor.

“Today the tour moves to Church Matters, the blog of 9Marks Ministries. They asked the following two questions: Tim, from your perspective as a layperson, what steps would you like to see more pastors taking to grow in discernment? And, Are there specific areas of church life and pastoring in which you find yourself wishing pastors would exercise greater discernment? Read my answers here” (quote from Challies.com)

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Other Workman’s Toolbox
On Children’s Sermons
Remarkable Preaching
Preaching Today Book of the Year
Trueman on the Person and Work of Christ
On Calvin’s Preaching
Beware of Default Illustrations
The A-list of Preaching
My 11 Favourite Biographies
Pure Church – Reading List on Evangelism
A Caution to Preachers
Calvin Planted Mega-Churches

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Ten Questions For Expositors – Derek Thomas

January 16, 2008

“Originally from Wales, Dr. Derek Thomas is the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi. After pastoring for 17 years in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Dr Thomas returned to the USA in 1996 where, in addition to his work at the seminary, he serves as the Minister of Teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.” (from First Presbyterian Church, Jackson Website)

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Today Dr Thomas kindly and thoughtfully responds to our ten questions for expositors. For some of Derek’s ministry, try here.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I can do no better than to cite those famous words of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the beginning of his book, Preaching and Preachers: “The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.” I thoroughly concur with that assessment, both of the importance of preaching and its importance to the life and vitality of the church.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
As a student at Aberystwyth University, I was encouraged on several occasions to speak on behalf of the Christian Union at a retirement home. Then, I recall Geoff Thomas asking me to speak on a Sunday afternoon in a church a few miles outside Aberystwyth. There were three people present, one of whom was the organist who sat behind me! These were the dawning of my sense of exhilaration (and fear!) about being called spend the rest of my life as a preacher. That was thirty-five years ago and I’ve been preaching ever since.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
Do I really have to answer this question? I suppose it depends on the passage. I’ve never been one to spend all week preparing sermons. Frankly, I have never understood that. Many sermons are over-cooked and lack the feeling of spontaneity. Since I’ve engaged in consecutive expository preaching pretty much the entire time and therefore the upcoming text is known on Monday morning, it is “on my mind” all week. In one sense then, sermons are “cooked” for many days but I’ve always been better when under pressure and the energy of “Saturday night fever” has more than once been a terrifying, yet rewarding experience. I suppose if I were honest, I spend two to three hours of serious, intensive study, mainly in crafting, but the application might come to me as I’m walking the dog, mulling over what this or that might mean to the dear people to whom I preach. I’ve only once changed my sermon walking up the steps to the pulpit, having conclude that what I had hatched was a “stinker”; but I have often wished that I had had the courage to do it more than once given the resulting sermon! Having said that, I tell my students (I teach a course on preaching—if that’s possible, which I often doubt) to start first thing on Monday morning!

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
Ah yes—what Haddon Robinson calls “the BIG Idea”. Yes, this is very important to me. I want folk to apply the Sunday lunch question to the children: what was the sermon about this morning? Is it possible to answer that question in any coherent form? Few congregations can handle a complex set of ideas that have little or no “connective tissue.” Some can! And that’s why we can never be dogmatic about sermonic form. It is so much about culture and congregational maturity. But all the great homileticians agree that a sermon may have many ideas but they should all emerge out of a principal or “big” idea. That’s not new, of course. You can find that in Aristotle or Cicero. I think it helps people focus after the sermon is over.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
Hmm. Boy, these are hard questions! Style—that’s such a subjective thing, isn’t it. It depends on whether we mean the form of the sermon or the individual mannerism of the preacher. I find preachers who read their sermon, using lots of notes, very tedious. I want eye-contact. I equally find dispassionate sermons boring. I often think of something I once read in Robert Murray McCheyne: that a congregation will forgive you almost anything so long as they are sure that you love them. I want that to come across in a sermon, no matter how “simple” it may be. I want genuineness or in today’s jargon, “authenticity”.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
A lot less than I used to use! I have tried using my laptop for sermon preparation but taking anything printed is deadly for me. I usually have a sheet of paper about six inches by four inches on which I scribble an outline and some basic notes with my favorite fountain pen. Sometimes I write on both sides, but not always. I try not to have long quotes—if I can’t remember it or ad lib it, it will probably flop in delivery. I frequently preach with no notes at all when I’m preaching a sermon I’ve preached before in a different location. I wish I could do this on every occasion and strive to be as note free as possible.

7. What are the greatest perils that a preacher must avoid?
My closest friends will be whispering “Derek, remember what happened at Alistair Begg’s!” in my ear, but that’s far too embarrassing to record here! To answer your question—there are so many things that come to mind. I’ve heard preachers become angry in the pulpit about everything, reflecting I think their own state of mind more than anything else. But, to be brief, the greatest peril that I face is professionalism. I have been preaching for over thirty-five years and know the mechanics of preaching. It can all become “just another sermon” to be forgotten as quickly as it was delivered. I hate that. I want to experience the thrill that God would use a worm like me to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ. Every time!

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. leadership responsibilities, blogging!)
With gloves on! My time is very precious and I have to tell my students, “Do as I say and not as I do!” It requires a schedule that is kept to rigorously. Certain afternoons or mornings means “Sermon time—cannot be disturbed except for death or opera! Just kidding about the death part! And an understanding and supportive wife is absolutely essential. I am blessed beyond words to have one.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
I blogged about this recently with a friend of ours in which I mentioned the continuing effect of Geoff Thomas who was the first (consecutive) preacher I ever heard. Though I rarely hear him these days – we’re in different continents after all—I still find myself saying something, or using a particular gesture in which my wife will comment (on the way home in the car), “I see Geoff was there tonight!” It has not been books about preaching that have influenced me the most but listening to preachers. Some sermons stand out that I “hear” again and again in my mind though they were delivered decades ago. Al Martin on John 3; Sinclair Ferguson on Matthew 16; Donald MacLeod on Philippians 2. And these days, my dear friend Logon Duncan on some pretty odd Old Testament texts! We are very different in style, I think, but he constantly amazes me, being able to bring out the gospel from a text that looked as dry as dust. He has one of the best minds I know, but his preaching is straight-forward and plain—in the good puritan sense of the term.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
Apart from teaching at seminary where I encounter tomorrow generation of preachers every day, I have tried to develop the habit of being an encourager of other preachers by constantly telling them what I found of benefit in their sermons. Yes, I’ve heard some bad ones, but even the worst—if there was an attempt to point to Jesus Christ—have something in them that I want to encourage. I am encouraged here in the States about tomorrow’s preachers. There is a growing army of Calvinistic preachers whose evangelistic zeal puts me to shame. They are encouraging me more than I am encouraging them.

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John Piper – ‘Who but Preachers’?

January 15, 2008

“Christian preachers, more than all others, should know that people are starving for God. If anyone in all the world should be able to say, ‘I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory,’ it is the herald of God.

Who but preachers will look out over the wasteland of secular culture and say, ‘Behold your God!’?

Who will tell the people that God is great and greatly to be praised?

Who will paint for them the landscape of God’s grandeur?

Who will remind them with tales of wonder that God has triumphed over every foe?

Who will cry out above every crisis, ‘Your God reigns!’?

Who will labour to find words that can carry the ‘gospel of the glory of the blessed God’?”

(John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, p 108-109)

NOTE: Tomorrow, Derek Thomas will be answering 10 Questions for Expositors.

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Reasons to Get Reading, Reloaded

January 14, 2008

With all respect to blogs, I hope you don’t spend ALL your time reading them. Hopefully we preachers also make time to read some stimulating Christian books every month. Some time ago I posted on 20 Reasons to Read (Good Christian Books) and at the beginning of another year of reading I thought I would offer them again to hopefully encourage you.

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20 Reasons to Read (Good Christian Books)…

1. You will grow in your knowledge of God, yourself and the world around you
2. You will gain a better understanding of the bible, the book of books
3. You will broaden your English vocabluary, helping you to express similar truths to your congregation in fresh ways
4. You will have an improved imagination and actively engage your mind in a way that probably won’t occur when watching TV
5. You will be able to sit at the feet of some of the great Christian teachers and minds over the centuries (even if you have few ‘living’ teachers to assist you)
6. You will be forced to cease from incessant activity and think
7. You will receive a historical perspective on current problems and spot present day blindspots
8. You will have some of your questions answered and confront other questions you hadn’t even thought of
9. You will be able to practically apply Paul’s command to think upon “wholesome” things
10. You will develop a sense of how arguments are constructed and be able to weigh both strong and weak arguments
11. You will enjoy spiritual input during the week, not just on a Sunday (if not a pastor)
12. You will (if a pastor) be able to engage with other issues beyond this week’s text, thus broadening your perspective.
13. You will be able to mull over a subject. You will be able to put the book down to think, chew over a sentance or re-read a paragraph. You will be able to explore an issue at length, rather than brush over a topic too quickly
14. You will be better prepared for the task of evangelism, after reading clear presentations of the gospel by great communicators
15. You will be better prepared for the task of discipleship, having a good way to open up discussion about Christian life issues (what are you reading?)
16. You will be made aware of how Christians interpret and apply Scripture differently in various cultural contexts
17. You will gain information for your ignorance, inspiration for your weariness, and insight for complex problems
18. You will be better equipped to lead in your church, marriage and family
19. You will be stimulated, as in a good conversation, to new lines of thinking
20. You will be drawn to worship God, especially when the book centres on God not man

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