Firm Foundations (part 1)

January 17, 2007

I have the great priviledge (which not everyone enjoys) of being part of a team ministry. Not only so, but as a fledgling preacher I have the blessing of sitting under the ministry of an experienced and gifted expositor.

Peter Grainger has been the Senior Pastor of Charlotte Baptist Chapel since 1992, faithfully preaching in a pulpit which has been previously occupied by the likes of Gerald Griffiths, Sidlow Baxter, Alan Redpath, Alistair Begg and Derek Prime.

Several years ago Peter released a book called Firm Foundations. The book “includes sermon outlines for over 150 sermons, introductions on preaching a whole book, a verse, a topical series, a psalm, Old and New Testament; and recommended books for further study. It is designed to help old and new pastors alike, and could also be used in personal bible study.”

In the excerpt below Peter Grainger explains how he prepares to preach. This is posted with his permission. To listen to Rev Grainger’s sermons, follow this link (more recent sermons can be downloaded). His latest sermon on Jeremiah 29 is typical of his high-standard fare.

Preparing to Preach
One of the questions I am most frequently asked about my role as a Pastor is, ‘How long does it take you to prepare a sermon?’ Most people are surprised by my answer, ‘At least ten hours and often as long as fifteen or even twenty hours.’ The assumption seems to be that, as with any other task, the person who performs it regularly will be able to complete it quickly – and certainly much more speedily than the ocassional ‘amateur.’

However, while the trained preacher may have a facility with the Biblical text and languages and a familiarity with the Biblical resources that others lack, none the less the task of sermon preparation is very demanding, and time consuming. The main reason for this is that preaching is unlike any other responsibility of presenting God’s Word to a congregation – and to the same congregation every Sunday (often morning and evening) for many years.

Such a task, if carried out faithfully and undertaken seriously, can never be a mere mechanical process, but is something living and vital which occupies my thinking and praying (and even sleeping!) moments throughout the week – and not just the ten to twenty hours of study.

Choosing the subject
The first task of the preacher is deciding which Biblical passage and particular subject to preach on. While the practice of preaching on unrelated topics every week and was favoured by famous preaching such as CH Spurgeon, the expository preaching method of preaching through a Biblical book or theme has much to commend it – especially in a long term ministry in the same church.

However, while the topic and passage for each sermon are planned beforehand, considerable thought and prayer is needed before deciding on a series and its relevance to a particular congregation. There is nothing worse than wondering, in week four of a two year series on 1 John, whether you have made a wrong choice!

The wise pastor knows his congregation and their needs and history, so he chooses his series prayerfully and carefully, often in discussion with other leaders in the church. So, for example, I began my ministry in Charlotte Chapel with a series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 1-3 as a diagnostic check-list of the kind of church we were and what the Spirit was saying to this particular church at this specific point in history.

How long should a series last? This depends partly on the topic or book that is chosen but is also determined by other factors. While many have tried to imitate the practice of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who spend several years on one New Testament Epistle, I believe that the level of Biblical literacy is so poor these days, that newcomers to the Christian faith need a broader exposure to a whole range of Scripture over a shorter period (added to which very few of us have the ability of the Doctor to sustain such long in-depth series).

It has been our practice in Charlotte Chapel to adopt a particular theme and verse for each year which is usually addressed on Sunday mornings. So, for example, our theme for 1997 was “Building on the Rock” – a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount with the key verse of Matthew 7:24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

This series of thirty-four messages took the whole year (allowing for special Sundays and seasons) but most series are much shorter – for example, the series on John the Baptist, “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness”, which was only six sermons.

We also try to provide a balanced diet for the congregation, often having a series from the Old Testament in the morning and one from the New Testament in the evening, or an evening evangelistic series aimed at seekers, alternating with a morning teaching series directed towards Christians.

Next week, we follow up with part two where Peter covers further practicalities of how he prepares specific messages.


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