Archive for February, 2007


The Dovetailing of Sermon Series

February 28, 2007

For those of you who preach Sunday morning and evening (ie. two series simultenously) it can be a wonderful experience to witness the dovetailing God can produce.


I was just thinking about this in the context of Jeremiah (1-29) and Luke’s gospel, the books that we are studying morning and evening. Sometimes there are similar emphases, at other times, contrasting. Needless to say, if people attend twice they will get a more balanced diet, and sometimes a reemphasis of the message! So, for example:

Political, social and spiritual crisis (Jer)
Political, social and spiritual crisis (Luk)

Primarily a message of judgement (Jer)
Primarily a message of grace (Luk – “the year of the Lord’s favour”)

A hint of mercy (Jer)
A hint of judgement (Luk)

Emphasis on the justice of God (Jer)
Emphasis on the grace of God (Luk)

The weeping prophet (Jer)
The disciples who “eat and drink” (Luk)

The coming downfall of Jerusalem (Jer)
The coming downfall of Jerusalem (Luk)

Judgement on the pagan nations (Jer)
Welcome to the Gentiles (Luk)

The scribes who handle the law falsely (Jer)
The hypocritical Pharisees who misuse the law (Luk)

Punishment laid on the people (Jer)
Punishment laid on the Christ (Luk)

The rejection of Jeremiah (Jer)
The rejection of Jesus (Luk)

Have any of you pastors enjoyed a similar comparison?


Alistair Begg & Preaching Preparation

February 27, 2007

I probably don’t need to tell you that Alistair Begg is one of the most gifted preachers in contemporary evangelicalism. He is also a humble man, which is perhaps especially important when you are endowed with rich talents. Today’s Classic Materials is an excerpt from the excellent book he co-authors with Derek Prime, “On Being a Pastor.” I’m also mentioning this today to remind you to pray for Alistair, especially given his health situation.


“I remain fascinated by the variety of approaches that preachers take in preparing their sermons. In our preparation, as well as in our delivery we must ‘to our own selves be true.’ When I am asked to summarise my method of preparation, I mention the following points, which I learned from the late Leith Samuel….

1. Think yourself empty. As strange as it may sound, we must be careful to ensure that we do not avoid sound thinking. The temptation to respond emotionally to a passage (this is how this makes me feel) is not unique to our listeners. If we are to have ‘thinking’ congregations it is incumbant upon us to be ‘thinking’ pastors’! We do not want to be uncertain by the time our study ends, but it is surely right and proper to begin with the perspective, ‘I must know what this says, and I must learn what this means.’

2. Read yourself full.

3. Write yourself clear. Aside from the essential empowering of the Holy Spirit, if there is one single aspect of sermon preparation that I would want to emphasise, it is this. Freedom of delivery in the pulpit depends upon careful organisation in the study. We may believe that we have a grasp of the text, only to stand up and discover that somewhere between our thinking and our speaking things have gone badly awry. The missing link can usually be traced back to the absence of putting our thoughts down clearly.

4. Pray yourself hot. There is no chance of fire in the pews if there is an iceberg in the pulpit! Without prayer and communion with God during the preparation stages, the pulpit will be cold. In 1752 John Shaw reminded the incumbent pastor beginning his charge in Cambridge, Massachusetts: ‘All will be in vain, to no saving purpose, until God is pleased to give the increase. And in order to do this, God looks for prayers to come up to His ears. A praying minister is always the way to have a succesful ministry.”

5. Be yourself, but don’t preach yourself. A good teacher, like John the Baptist, clears the way, declares the way, and then gets out of the way.”

Unashamed Workman homepage


Anchor Man (part two)

February 26, 2007

Whilst continuing to read Steve’s Farrar’s Anchor Man, I very much enjoyed a brief section titled 50 ways to Coach your Children. I’ve printed off the list, put it at the back of my personal organiser and hope to monitor my progress. You’ll notice that they apply to instructing children of varying ages. Since its such a long list, I’ll give you 25 this week, 25 next.


1. Coach them how to pray.
2. Coach them that the most important book in all the world is the Bible – and that they should read it every day.
3. Coach them in how to buy a car by taking them with you the next time you buy one.
4. Coach them how to use the library.
5. Coach them in how to stand up to a bully and defend themselves.
6. Coach your sons that men protect women.
7. Coach them about money – at least 10 percent to God, 10 percent to savings, live off the rest (and while they are living under your roof, they can take 10 percent for spending money and bank the other 70 percent).
8. Coach them to never make a major purchase without thinking about if for at least 24 hours.
9. Coach them to dribble with their left hand.
10. Coach them ahead of time how to handle pornography.
11. Coach your daughters that there are two kinds of beauty – outside and inside – and that inside is more important to you and God.
12. Coach them to respect and obey authority – parents, teachers, police officers etc.
13. Coach them to be kind to kids at school whom other kids make fun of.
14. Coach them not to cheat on homework or tests.
15. Coach them to immediately return the money when they have been given too much change.
16. Coach them to do a job right – the first time.
17. Coach them to open a door for their mother.
18. Coach them to share their victories, joys, sorrows, defeats and hurt with you. You do that, by the way, by listening.
19. Coach them to do what’s right when no one else is around, because Jesus is always around. And Jesus will reward them because they have character.
20. Coach them not to lie – before they get into the habit.
21. Coach them that some things are more important than sports- like Sunday worship.
22. Coach them to change their oil every 3000 miles – and get your daughter a cell phone when she starts driving (trust me on this…you’ll have a a better quality of life).
23. Coach them to say no to movies that their friends, even their Christian friends, say yes to.
24. Coach your son to be a gentleman.
25. Coach your daughter to be a lady.


Workman’s Toolbox

February 24, 2007


* A new blog on preaching: Preaching that Matters (HT: Transforming Sermons)
* Michael Quicke offers 10 ways to keep your preaching fresh (HT: Creationist Project)
* Preachers, “What’s the main point?” (HT: Transforming Sermons)
* Expository Thoughts touch on a subject that fascinates me: New Testament Texts Citing the Old Testament.
* The new edition of Preaching Now is available. Check out the ten deadly sins of preaching.
* If you’ve never read it, a review of one of the great books on preaching: Preaching & Preachers by Lloyd Jones.
* John Piper on the importance of Expository Preaching.

* I found this a very challenging post: “The Necessity of Cell Groups of Two or Three Interacting Daily.”
* The A-Team review James Sire’s book “Why Good Arguments Often Fail”
* Evangelical Outpost are on number 34 of their series: know your evangelicals. Here’s a brief introduction to William Wilberforce.
* Lead worshipppers might be interesting in these online courses. (HT: Mark Roberts)
* Are there apostles in the church today?
* Tim Challies gives his final reflections on the recent Resolved Conference.
* Justin Taylor points us to some
leadership lessons from Matthew 23.


The Manuscript Maze (part four)

February 23, 2007

Our fourth and final week of the Manuscript Maze brings us not so much to a conclusion, as simply to the third main method people use. At the end of the day, it would seem foolish to prescribe a once for all method since Scripture doesn’t do so. What is left for us to consider then, is a reduced manuscript.


What then are the pros and cons of this method?

1. It allows some support to the preacher who may not have the memory capacity to remember much of the sermon detail. There is always a fall back if the preacher struggles.
2. It aids the preacher to carefully word particular points in the sermon, should he feel the need to do so.
3. It still provides the preacher with a great degree of freedom, and it is less likely he will ‘read his sermon’ or be tied to his notes.

1. This method may still take a large an amount of preparation time, especially if a full manuscript is developed, then reduced to a shorter outline.
2. Arguably, it may not be as ‘free’ as extemporaneous preaching, or as ‘careful’ as a fully developed outline.
3. If a full manuscript has never been developed, then the same weakness may be leveled as against the extemporaneous approach: the language of delivery may not be so thought through or clear.

Previous posts
* the Manuscript Maze (part one)
* the Manuscript Maze (part two)
* the Manuscript Maze (part three)
* the Manuscript Maze (part four)


The Centrality of God in the Life of a Pastor

February 22, 2007


It may be next week before I post the next edition of Workman Watch. If you want a head start, you can listen to it here or watch it here. Until then, let me draw your attention to three superb pieces of newly released audio from John Piper. It comes from the 2006 Pheonix Pastor’s Conference.

* The Centrality of God in the Feeling of a Pastor
* The Centrality of God in the Thinking of a Pastor
* The Centrality of God in the Preaching of a Pastor

HT: Desiring God Blog


How you Prepare to Preach (3rd edition)

February 21, 2007

Continuing our series, How you Prepare to Preach, I point you today to how David Wayne (aka Jollyblogger) completes the task. This was posted on his blog a year and a half ago, and is reproduced in full below. Before you read it, I especially want to commend his clear as MUD acronym!


Doug at CoffeeSwirls recently asked me for some thoughts on sermon prep and delivery and I thought I would share them with you.

First of all I’ll admit that I have gotten a bit sloppy and don’t really follow the textbook approaches as much as I used to. I think this is a normal thing once you have been preaching for awhile, and in fact, it’s probably normal for anything we do. When you are first learning how to do something you have to be very careful to get the mechanics just right. But after you have been using the mechanics for awhile they become second nature and you don’t have to consciously be thinking about them all the time.

I point this out because my practice at this time may not be all that helpful to someone who is just starting out. Further, my practice at this time is probably not what it ought to be in the future. I’ve developed a certain comfort level in preaching over the last couple of years that can be dangerous. There are some things I’ll need to do in the future to improve my preaching.

But having said that, here’s a few things on how I go about preparing and delivering sermons.

The first and most important thing I do is simply to read and soak in the text. Nothing can replace that. I just read it and re-read it and re-read it some more until I have an idea of what the text is saying. There is no set number of times or minutes that I will read a text, I just feel the need to keep reading it over and over again until I get a feel for what it is trying to communicate.

The first few times I read it I’ll read it just to try to understand it, but then I will switch to reading it in order to develop a preaching outline. I’m still one of those “three points and a proverb” type preachers, although the three points sometimes become five or seven points and sometimes its just one or two points. But the point is that I am in to “points.” I realize that narrative preaching is all the rage now and in narrative preaching the focus is not so much on outlining the passage as telling the story of the passage. That is not what I am comfortable with, but I have heard it done very well and am wanting to learn how to do it. I do think this practice of outlining and giving points is a pedagogical device that is not necessarily required in Scripture. Scripture wasn’t given to us in bullet points and with an outline – it is far more narrative. So that is an area I am willing to learn. It’s just that, right now, I have a comfort zone which involves giving a detailed and highly structured sermon outline.

On a tangent, it is worth pointing out that just as preachers have patterns of preparation and delivery, congregations have patterns of listening. If a congregation has been trained to expect the “three points and a proverb” type of sermon it will be as hard for them to adjust to listening to narrative preaching or some other style as it is for the preacher to make the switch. For that reason, the shepherd needs to be sensitive to his sheep. The sheep develop “grooves” into which truth is poured and when we cut across those grooves with new grooves it may put them off balance a bit. Groovy huh?

Getting back on track though I would point out that, whether you use the highly structured and outlined approach as I do, or a more narrative approach, the object is to communicate the meaning of the text. This is the whole point of expository preaching. Expository preaching “exposes” the text to the listener. A narrative type of sermon can be expository if it communicates the meaning of the text. A topical sermon can be expository as long as it is based on a text, or set of texts and the meaning flows out of the text, rather than being read into it.

So, after reading the text several times I will have a pretty good idea of what I think the text is communicating and what kind of outline I want to use. At this point I roughly follow the advice of Andy Stanley. I heard a message he did on the preparation and delivery of sermons where he said we need to be “Clear as M.U.D.” A sermon that is clear as mud is:

M – memorable
U – Understandable
D – Doable

As to being memorable, Andy says he tries to locate the big idea and he comes up with one particular sentence or phrase that he wants the people to remember and take home. In that sense, he advocates the one point sermon. He says that one main point is about all that people can handle. I don’t do a good job in coming up with a sentence that is memorable but I do structure my introduction and closing around one big idea. I think that is one of the most important things to say to beginning preachers. I had this problem, and lots of beginning preachers have the problem of giving three or four sermons in one. Stick to one main idea, and let all of the points and subpoints support that one main idea.

The understandable part is the explanation of the big idea. This is where the points, or the body of the sermon come from. This is where the explanation, or exegesis come in. In Andy’s mind these points should not be separate ideas, but supports for the big idea in the “memorable” part. Again, I’m a bit sloppy on this, but the points of my sermon are usually used in service to the big idea.

As to “doable” I don’t really like the word, but it’s the best word for the M.U.D. acronym. I know that many preachers give something doable in the sense that there are actions or steps of obedience to be followed as a result. I understand this and it is valid, but I don’t like the idea of “doable” simply because the Christian faith is not about what I must do for God, it is about what He has done for me. Still, the idea of “doable” simply means that a sermon should have practical application and I agree with this. The practical application of a sermon might be that I repent of “doing,” or it could be something I do, like reconciling with someone or something like that. The point of the “D” in MUD is that the sermon should call for lifechange, not just fill our heads with knowledge.

So, being clear as M.U.D. is in the back of my mind as I prepare my sermons, but I don’t pursue this in a mechanistic fashion. After reading and getting a good outline in my head I will start writing. I begin with an introduction that lays out the main point of the sermon.

Then I go to writing the body, the supporting points. It is at this point that I will get into the exegesis of the passage. I try to read the passage in several versions to see if there are any difference in translation. Where I find a difference in translation that will be my cue to pull out the language resources and commentaries to get a better flavor of why one translation went one way and another went the other.

I also am careful in the way I use commentaries. I use them as references and what I mean by that is that I don’t let the commentary dictate the course of a sermon. Of course, sometimes I am writing a sermon and I read something in a commentary that makes me see that I have misunderstood something. Then I will have to make changes. But, a long time ago I heard someone say that a message prepared in the mind reaches minds, but a message prepared in the life reaches lives. For that reason I try to shape my message along the lines of how God is speaking to me through the text and how it is shaping my life. So, I use commentaries to sharpen my sermon, rather than as the basis for the sermon. I’m not downplaing their usefulness, I’m just saying that there is a temptation to give a wonderfully academic presentation that covers all of the linguistic highlights, historical background and theological implications that we have found in the commentaries. That’s all well and good in the seminary or Bible college classroom, but a sermon has a different goal, and that is lifechange.

So, as I do all of this stuff, I basically write out the sermon word for word. I don’t do the old research paper notecard approach that we learned in school. You remember that don’t you? You go to the library, do your reading, put it all on notecards then come home and use your notes to build your paper. I basically start writing the paper/sermon. As I am writing it I am constantly jumping back and forth between the sermon and the text and commentaries and other stuff. It’s almost a stream of consciousness process, just with more structure.

And, the practical application, or “doable” part of the sermon, is woven throughout the sermon. The intro and conclusion will usually state and restate the big idea, but there is practical application laced throughout the body of the sermon, going side by side with the explanation of the text.

I write the sermon out word for word and print it and take into the pulpit with me, but I don’t read it as written. My sermon notes are there for me as a kind of crutch. The exercise of writing the sermon word for word goes a long way toward helping me memorize it. After writing it I will usually read it over a few times to burn it in. It also gets burned in more on Sunday morning before the service. Almost every Sunday I get to the church and re-read my sermon and find something I don’t really like about it. So, I’m revising up till the minute I get ready to preach. Hopefully other preachers aren’t as neurotic as I am about this. But this little neurosis of mine and these last minute revisions help burn the sermon into my mind that much more. I can then go to the pulpit and use the sermon notes as a crutch to help me stay on track if I get lost.

So, that was a rambling description of what I do – I hope some of it was helpful. I’m not really recommending my way of doing it. If you are just starting out preaching, or speaking in any form, I recommend that you find a model and follow it mechanistically at the outset. I had a linguistics class in college where the professor talked about the difference between “learning” a language and “acquiring” a language. He compared it to tennis. When Andre Agassi first played tennis he had to be very mechanical about it. As the ball came to him, he had to consciously think about the proper foot placement the extension of the racket, and the mechanics of the swing. He did this in the “learning” phase. After awhile he had “acquired” the game of tennis. He no longer had to think about these things, they came to him automatically. That is what happens in learning a language and I think it is a fair analogy of learning to preach or speak. Start by following a model and do it very mechanistically until you get comfortable with the process. I recommend the “clear as M.U.D.” thing. After awhile though this will become second nature and you won’t have to think about it as clearly.

In this I was talking very generally about preparation, and there is much more that can be said about the process of exegeting the text and other things. But to start with I recommend any standard class on public speaking or preaching. As to books I like Bryan Chappell’s book Christ Centered Preaching the best. For pure mechanics of preparation and delivery I like Ken Davis’s stuff real well. He has this thing he calls “SCORRE” which has some similarities to the clear as M.U.D. thing. Anyway, enough rambling, hope some of that was helpful.

ps. keep sending me how you do sermon prep, preferably as concisely as possible. (


Three Key Words

February 20, 2007

This week’s Classic Materials is a short excerpt from “Preaching – How to Preach Biblically” by John MacArthur and the Master’s Seminary faculty. In a chapter written by MacArthur himself, he explains how biblical preaching can be explained by way of three key words. I commend his comments to you:


“Expositional preaching can be summed up in three key words: inductive, exegetical, and expositional.

Expository preaching is inductive. That means simply that we approach the text to find out what it means, to let it speak for itself. It is the opposite of the deductive method, which goes to Scripture with a preconceived idea and reads that idea into the text. A deductive approach may be valid sometimes, but extreme care must be taken to make sure the passage really supports an idea before using that approach.

Expository preaching is exegetical. The expository preacher must do his homework in the passage before he preaches it. That means following proper hermeneutical and exegetical principles and practice…An expository preacher is to be a man noted for ‘handling accurately the word of truth.’ (2 Tim 2:15)

Expository preaching is expositional. It approaches the Word of God inductively, studies it exegetically, then explains it to the people expositionally. Expositional preaching seeks to clarify what is difficult to understand in the passage. It opens up the Word and exposes the less obvious meanins and applicaitons it contains.”

(John MacArthur; Preaching; p 182)


Anchor Man? (part one)

February 19, 2007

A highly challenging book I’m reading at the moment is Anchor Man by Steve Farrar. The subtitle gives a hint as to why the book might be so engaging: “How a Father can anchor his family in Christ for the next 100 years.”

In the book’s introduction, Farrar explains that he gets this idea from Deuteronomy 6:1-2: “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgements which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God.”

Farrar goes on to explain:

“You may be thinking, I won’t have a family in one hundred years. Think again, my friend. You’ll have a family in one hundred years. You just won’t be around to know about it. But they will know about you. Although you won’t know them, the way you live your life today will directly affect them. Very few men understand this concept.

You love your wife. I love mine. You love your kids and so do I. At this point in my life, I don’t have grandchildren. I expect that one day I will. Now read this next sentence slowly: One day your children will have grandchildren. Those grandchildren of your children will be four generations removed from you. They will show up up about one hundred years from now, give or take ten or twenty years. Now let me ask you a question. When was the last time you ever thought about those kids? Maybe the better question is, have you ever thought about those kids?

God doesn’t expect us just to take care of our families today. He wants your leadership to be so noble that it will carry your family for at least a solid century.”

Well Dads, I think I can already recommend this book for your reading. Buy it here.

And you can pray for me. I’ve got a lot of work to do….
Unashamed Workman homepage


Workman’s Toolbox

February 17, 2007

Welcome to Workman’s Toolbox. Scour below some links that may be of interest to fellow preachers.


* Tim Ellisworth gives some advice to preachers from a layman’s perspective. (HT: Tim Challies)
* Three recent Sproul sermons on video at the Desiring God conference.
* Christianity Today suggests the Top Ten Sins of Preaching. (HT: Steward of Secret Things)
* John Brand reviews another book: “The anatomy of preaching.”
* Paul Lamey has some helpful thoughts on sermon evaluation.
* Any post entitled: “Practicising Preaching: Lessons from the Trumpet”, has to be at least worth a look!

* A Richard Dawkins Parody. Rather funny! (HT: Bluefish)
* A great series of posts by John MacArthur: “Practical Thoughts for an Enduring Ministry” (parts one, two & three)
* The latest Nine Marks interview (a great resource) is with Josh Harris, talking about his life and ministry.
* 21 ways to comfort those who are suffering – by John Piper
* Al Mohler discusses a difficult and timely subject here in the UK: “A Pink Reformation? Sexuality, Credibility & the Church”
* Ben Witherington reviews the up and coming film, Amazing Grace. (HT: Justin Taylor) Rebbeca Writes reviews the book.
* Boundless, a blog always on my sidebar, is one I’d highly recommend on all things regarding marriage and singleness.
* Jonathan Edwards on “the true excellency of a gospel minister” (HT: Resurgence)
* Pyro is back open for business.


The Manuscript Maze (part three)

February 16, 2007

Last week we considered the chief advantages and disadvantages of full, written manuscripts. Today, we swing to the other end of the spectrum: extemporaneous preaching. This method has been favoured by some of the greatest preachers (such as Charles Spurgeon, and George Whitefield – pictured) and involves expositing God’s Word with nothing more than an open bible. As last week, let’s now evaluate some of its strengths and weaknesses.


1. It allows for maximum eye contact and enables the preacher to fully engage with his congregation. There is no danger of the preacher appearing impersonal simply because he glances to his notes from time to time. This advantage shouldn’t be underestimated, especially in a culture that values authenticity and good interpersonal skills.

2. Extemporaneous preaching forces the speaker to be natural. Since he hasn’t written out his script, there is no danger that he will ‘speak as he writes.’ His mode of expression is likely to be what is normal to him.

3. This approach may take less preparation time. Certainly it involves much less (or no) writing, which can be a most exacting process. That said, since the preacher has to have a good feel for the subject to speak freely on it, he may need just as much prep time in terms of reading, thinking and praying.

4. It allows flexibility to any changes the preacher encounters in terms of the congregation’s response. If there is evident confusion over a certain point, the extemporary preacher can immediately expand further till his audience seem to be grasping it. He may also move on more quickly to other material once he feels he has made his point plain.

1. For extemporaneous preachers who do little or no writing beforehand, there may be less clarity of thought. Clearer thinking can be an advantage of writing. It is also possible that the sermon will have less sensible order to it, since the structure may not have been ‘worked out.’

2. Expression may at times be less careful or sometimes ‘loose.’ There can, for the less gifted orator, be a greater likelihood of saying something in a less helpful way.

3. It relies on excellent powers of memory and good speaking ability. Not all of us are Charles Spurgeon when we get on our feet!

Well, these are my preliminary thoughts. Let me know if you agree, take issue, or have anything to add.


Unashamed Additions

February 15, 2007

On this week’s Workman Watch I want to draw your attention to some of the updates I’ve made to Unashamed Workman. Read on…


1. Workman on the Web – You don’t need to wait till Thursday rolls around to listen to some exemplary preaching. This link on UA’s sidebar takes you to a long list of preachers worth hearing. The page also includes links to some Classic Preaching in written form, as well as to a Rolling List of specific sermons. Also (if you’re interested!) I’ve added a link to the preaching audio from my own church. This is mainly a combination of my own preaching and that of our Senior Pastor, Peter Grainger.

2. Workman’s Reading List – This not only contains my personal recommmendations for preaching-pastors, but also links you to other lists, such as that of Master’s Seminary, Desiring God, and Nine Marks. Well worth a read before you shop.

3. Worktools – This is a section I’m slowly developing. The basic idea is to have online preaching helps (such as dictionaries, commentaries and the like) readily available to those preparing sermons. I’d especially appreciate any sites you’d recommend that would be worth adding to the list. Where do you go for assistance?