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


  1. Hey, i’m a huge alistair begg fan and i really like this post. have you listened to his pastor’s study? it’s really challenging and convicting. just thought i’d drop a note, great post.

    cameron potts

  2. Great post. All the points are right on. I particularly like the one about ‘pray yourself hot’. I have an old book that I read over and again regularly. It is entitled; Preacher and Prayer written by E.M. Bounds. His teaching on prayer is phenomenal.

  3. I’m printing this post and committing to memory its sound counsel. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    I’m the new pastor of Messiah’s Church, a small reformed congregation in Omaha, and have found myself a couple times in that horrible predicament of discovering “that somewhere between our thinking and our speaking things have gone badly awry.” But it made so much sense in my mind! How come I can’t articulate it now, especially with all these expectant, attentive faces staring at me??

    I just discovered Alistair Begg and am enjoying hearing his radio program. I wasn’t aware he was suffering health problems, but now that I know I will unhesitatingly bring him before the throne of grace.

  4. […] Alistair Begg & Preaching Preparation August 2nd, 2007 Alistair Begg & Preaching Preparation […]

  5. a marvelous, straight-talking, true-to-scripture teacher is Alistair Begg.
    He isn’t selling anything; especially the tiresome prosperity dribble.

  6. I enjoy listening to other pastors such as myself, who are not moved by secular groups to teach a watered down gospel, or to use no gospel at all. We need to hold each other up before our HOLY GOD, that HE will give us grace and endurance to remain faithful to our calling from HIM to preach the truth, and hold fast to the truth only!

  7. Like all of you, I’m a huge fan of Alistair Begg as well! In fact, I can think of NO OTHER teacher who has the collective qualities he has–so uncompromised in Truth and essentials, so balanced and reasonable in non-essentials, and so wise! My dilemma? There is only one Begg and we cannot move to Cleveland to become part of his church (of which I actually considered). Being in Long Beach California, he has been my radio pastor over the past several years, but especially in the last 2 years his teaching has been an anchor through the week as I’ve been trying to find a church home for my family. In the last two years, we have been to 2 Brethren churches for considerable amounts of time until we discovered they were both beginning to head-down different strands of the liberal emergent road. Since leaving our second Brethren church, we have gone into “church shopping” mode over the past several weeks, landing us in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (which significantly lacks passion…somewhat dead orthodoxy), an EV Free church (which seems like a prime candidate to likewise go down the emergent road after a conversation with the pastor), an independent Baptist church (KJV only and extremely isolationist and/or legalistic), a Calvary Chapel (a bit too “in-house” and undecided on the Arminianism/Calvinism question or other theology for that matter). My wife is becoming weary of all this exploring of churches, and all we keep saying is “why can’t there be more churches and/or teachers like Alistair?” Can anyone on this blog help me with our critical decision to find a church home? I know Alistair is a Baptist, but what kind among so many branches??) In other words, as a fan of Alistair, who has NEVER heard him say anything I disagree with, what kind of church might I be comfortable…in terms of doctrine and application? Thank you to anyone who can offer a suggestion!

  8. Hi Chris

    Your question is probably best answered by someone much closer to Long Beach than I am. However, I do want to respond with a coule of points.

    I had the privilege of having Alistair Begg as my pastor, from 1977 until his departure to the US in 1983. Through those years, the Lord used Alistair’s teaching to deepen my commitment to Christ, his Word and his Church. In the final year of his ministry in Hamilton, Scotland, I began to sense a call of God upon my life to Christian ministry. It took 7 years for this to chrystalise to the point where I knew in my heart that God was calling me to serve his people as a pastor and teacher. In 1990, I resigned from my work in scientific research, to prepare for pastoral ministry, in which I still serve.

    Chris, Alistair’s teaching will be a tremendous encouragement to you, particularly at this time. You will be blessed as you listen to him (as indeed members of my own congregation here in Scotland are too), but Alistair cannot be your pastor, and you cannot play a part in the life of Parkside Church from Long Beach, CA.

    I urge you to find a local church where the word of God is faithfully taught and you can play a vital part in the body of believers there. This will be no easier in LA than in any other part of the country. More people may mean more choices, but not necessarily the ones that are right for you and your wife.

    The first church which came to mind was Grace Community, in Sun Valley. John MacArthur has exercised a long and faithful ministry there. I wouldn’t agree with every position he holds (e.g., our eschatology would not be worked out the same way), but I could still happily sit under his ministry. However, this is still some way from Long Beach.

    You’ve explored a number of options, from a variety of denominations. Have you heard of Sovereign Grace Church of Pasadena (also meeting in Irvine). http://sovgracepasadena.org They are under the banner of C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace churches, and have a strong commitment to biblical preaching, in a contemporary setting. However, if a strong commitment to a cessationist understanding of ‘sign’ gifts is important to you, then they are probably not what you would be looking for.

    I noticed that you visited an OPC congregation. Have you thought about one of the PCA congregations in LA? I would think you would find them committed to sound teaching, but probably less ‘traditional’ than some OPC churches.

    Finally, there may be some good ‘sound’ Baptist churches in your vicinity. Within the SBC, there are many pastors who have come in recent years, (particularly through the influence of Southern Seminary, Louisville) to an understanding of God’s saving purposes that we would recognise as Calvinistic. However, not all the congregations in which they minister would necessarily share their views. Alternatively, there may be a ‘Reformed Baptist’ church within your area

    Chris, I’ll close here, and say that I trust you will soon find a congregation where you will be fed, and where you can serve. I’d invite you to try our church, but we’re not just on the other side of America, we’re on the other side of the Atlantic!

  9. Dear Ken,

    Thank you so much for your long and thoughtful reply! I will prayerfully take to heart all you have written here, examining each suggestion thoroughly. I, like yourself, trust in the sovereignty of our Lord, which certainly applies to my present circumstances. Given my English/Irish heritage and appreciation for what can only describe as more ‘formality’ among those in the UK, I would most definitely be more comfortable in the Scotland than I am in Southern California…not the least among my reasons being my high degree of vulnerability for skin cancer! It must have been a blessing indeed for you to sit under the teaching of Alistair, and I’ll pray that your ministry will continue to flourish for many years to come as you declare Truth in our age of compromise, liberalism, and downright heresy (in the case of the emergents).

  10. Chris, Ken is right on. The Baptist guys coming out of southern seminary are under the wing of President Al Mohler who is absolutely brilliant. If you can travel to John MacArthur’s church or CJ Mahaney’s church I would do it. MacArthur is cessationist, Mahaney is slightly more charismatic, but both are VERY doctrinally sound. Other than that, here is a list of some guys I would follow. Look them up and see if they have any sister churches in your area:
    John MacArthur
    CJ Mahaney
    Wayne Grudem
    John Piper
    James MacDonald
    I know Greg Laurie’s church Harvest in Riverside is a great church. It is Calvary, but probably more sound than the one you checked out. Just because Greg is very culturally relevant, don’t overlook his commitment to the Word.
    Also, aside from infant baptism, the presbrytarian churches can be real solid. Ligon Duncan would be a good guy to look up, and anyone connected to him. Like Ken said, try the PCA instead of the OPC.

  11. […] You can read a more detailed explanation at the blog of “Unashamed Workman,” (a site devoted to expository preaching) by clicking here. […]

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