Ten Questions for Expositors – Keller

April 4, 2007

I am extremely excited today about announcing a new series called “Ten Questions for Expositors.” In great faith, I have written to number of better-known preachers on both sides of the Atlantic. Each of them has been sent ten questions on the subject of preaching. Today and tomorrow I’ll leave you to chew over Tim Keller’s response. Next week, I’m delighted to have similar answers from Philip Ryken.


For those of you who don’t know, “Timothy J. Keller is an author, a speaker, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City, New York.” Find here a more complete biography.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
It is central, but not alone at the center. Pastoral ministry is as important as preaching ministry, and lay ‘every-member’ ministry is as crucial as ordained ministry. I wouldn’t make a heirarchy out of these things–they are interdependent. But pastoral ministry and lay ministry is no substitute for strong preaching.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I preached about 200 different expositions a year for the first nine years of my ministry (when I was age 24 through 33.) During that time I was considered interesting and good but I never got a lot of feedback that I was anything special. I’ve grown a lot through lots of practice.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I pastor a large church and have a large staff and so I give special prominence to preparing the sermon. I give it 15-20 hours a week. I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time, however. The main way to become a good preacher is to preach a lot, and to spend tons of time in people work–that is how you grow from becoming not just a Bible commentator but a flesh and blood preacher. When I was a pastor without a large staff I put in 6-8 hours on a sermon.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I don’t know that I’d be so rigid as to say there has to be just one Big Idea every time. That is a good discipline for preachers in general, because it helps with clarity. Most texts have too much in them for the preacher to cover in one address. You must be selective. But sometimes a preaching-size text simply has two or three major ideas that are too good to pass up.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He should combine warmth and authority/force. That is hard to do, since tempermentally we incline one way or the other. (And many, many of us show neither warmth nor force in preaching.)

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I use a very detailed outline, with many key phrases in each sub-point written out word for word.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
This seems to me too big a question to tackle here. Virtually everything a preacher ought to do has an corresponding peril-to-avoid. For examples, preaching should be Biblical, clear (for the mind), practical (for the will), vivid (for the heart,) warm, forceful, and Christo-centric. You should avoid the opposites of all these things.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
See my remarks on #3 above. It is a very great mistake to pit pastoral care and leadership against preaching preparation. It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be–someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people’s struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership is to some degree sermon prep. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Prayer also prepares the preacher, not just the sermon.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
British preachers have had a much greater impact on me than American preachers. And the American preachers who have been most influential (e.g. Jonathan Edwards) were essentially British anyway.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I haven’t done much on that front at all, and I’m not happy about that. Currently I meet to with two other younger preachers on my staff who also preach regularly. We talk specifically about their preaching and sermon prep.

More Tim Keller resources
Monergism’s links
Steve McCoy’s links (vast!)
Unashamed Homepage



  1. Thanks for this series. These are excellent questions and the answers are helpful for this younger preacher. If you continue to get responses, please keep them coming so we can see the balance and variety of habits and practices of different preachers.
    I especially appreciated the reminders to combine both authority and warmth and to make sure that I am living among the people. Although, I’m not sure that 6-8 hours of study would allow me to understand, process and formulate sermons that would do the text justice.

  2. My, you work fast! Mike should keep in mind that when I said I put in 6-8 hours I was preparing three expositions a week (Sunday am, Sunday pm, Wednesday pm) and on top of that came all other special occasions. It was impossible to spend more time than 6-8 hrs on a message when you are preaching that often. You might say no one should do that, but in smaller parishes that is often what happens. My point was that, as I look back, it was better preparation for me to preach quite often–though the sermons weren’t masterpieces–and spend time out with people than it would have been to prepare fewer and more thoroughly crafted sermons that kept me in the study and away from the messiness of pastoral care and evangelism.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to ask these questions, and, Tim, thank you for taking the time to answer them. I believe we’re having Charlie Drew down here to preach for us in a few weeks to “show us how it’s done!”

  4. I found it helpful that you related time in preparation to the size of congregation, age of the preacher, and scope of the ministry.

  5. […] the whole post at Unashamed […]

  6. Wow, thanks Tim for your insight!

    I wonder what tips you can give about the use of quotations. I’ve been preached sermons at my church where the speaker reads an excessively long quotation from a Christian book (even has it on 1 dizzying powerpoint slide) and does little to paraphrase or explain the quote in his own words instead. In essence, the sermon ‘point’ given is the quoted authors, and the quote is not used as a support of the point within the message the preacher found by exegesis.

    Any pointers on the (mis)use of quotations?

  7. great post, I’ll have to check back for more answers from other good pastors.

  8. Great series idea, Colin. I love Pastor Keller’s encouragement to be among the people:

    “…that is how you grow from becoming not just a Bible commentator but a flesh and blood preacher.”

    People are hard work! But being among them reminds us that preaching is for God’s glory and for their ‘good’.

    Again, thanks for this series.

  9. Colin,
    Thanks for this interview series. I especially appreciate question #3. I think it’s very helpful to know how well seasoned preachers go about preparing/how much time they spend preparing their sermons.

    Thanks for your thoughtful response to this interview. If you happen to re-visit these comments, I’d love to know how you schedule sermon prep into your week–what days of the week/time slots do you devote to sermon prep? Do you try and get your sermon prepared early in the week or later in the week? Do you take Monday off after preaching 4x on Sunday, or a different day off?

  10. Tim,

    I too would love to hear your thoughts on using quotes from Christian books etc in sermons. I believe they detract from the Word of God, BUT maybe I need a new perspective.



  11. Colin,

    Thanks for doing this interview series, and for your CT piece awhile back on Calvinism, Edwards. (I’m guessing that was you?).

    Grace and peace,

  12. Tim,
    Thanks for the clarification. I greatly appreciate your advice and encouragement to make sure I am out with the people in the messiness of pastoral care and evangelism.
    Forgive me if my initial comment sounded critical, it was not intended to be. Thanks for your ministry, your faithfulness to God’s Word, and your willingness to offer your advice and wisdom to those with less experience in ministry.

  13. Like many of you, I found Tim’s comment on the connection between pastoral care and preaching very insightful. Perhaps the most intriguing paragraph for me was: “Pastoral care and leadership is to some degree sermon prep. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Prayer also prepares the preacher, not just the sermon.”

    I’d be interested to explore this elsewhere. Does anyone know of any writers who explicitly make this sort of connection? I’m guessing Puritans?

  14. […] the Unashamed Workman blog, Pastor Tim Keller answers 10 questions about expository preaching. In the comment section, I asked Tim a follow-up question, but he’s yet to […]

  15. This is a great series already – and we’ve only seen 10% of it!

    Possible follow-up questions, or perhaps you’ve done some research in this area: I’d be interested to know how preachers like Tim Keller have been called into vocational ministry, specifically preaching. Any insight there?

  16. Tim,

    Your sermons and blog interaction has served many young preachers and young believers. Recently we has a series of get togethers with about 30 young people at a Sov Grace out in AZ-listening to the series of addresses on Sermons by Tim Keller on the Cross of Christ from 2 PCA in Memphis. We are using them as a catalyst for evangelism to post-christians in the Phoenix area.

    Thanks for all you do-we appreciate what God is doing thru you.

  17. This is an excellent interview. Beneficial to many of us, especially young preachers like me.

  18. […] or at least interested in it, thought you might wanna know about this great series started at The Unashamed Workman.  Should be pretty […]

  19. Colin,

    This was a good and helpful interview. Thank you.

    I enjoyed this quote: “For examples, preaching should be Biblical, clear (for the mind), practical (for the will), vivid (for the heart,) warm, forceful, and Christo-centric. You should avoid the opposites of all these things.”

  20. Tim Keller on Preaching

    Colin “Unashamed Workman” Adams has a great series where he’s been interviewing preaching pastors via 10 questions. He asked Tim Keller about preaching, and he got a response to all 10 questions + 1 comment!
    Q: What are the greatest p…

  21. […] a series by asking various popular preachers on their thoughts on expository preaching. Click here to read Tim Keller’s thoughts on this […]

  22. Thanks for putting this up. It truly is helpful – especially for a 1st year M.Div student preparing for ministry – to get a sense of what life and work will be like upon leaving.

    Just a couple of questions for all (and Tim if you’re still looking over these) as I’m beginning to wrestle with some of this stuff.

    How should one think about himself being a Preacher/Teacher and a Pastor in terms of differences in roles, strengths, etc.? Can one be a much more dynamic Preacher, while struggling in/on the Pastoral duty side (in terms of Energy, Effectiveness, etc.)? Does one sharpen and grow the other, or is it possible to excell in one and mediocre in the other?

  23. […] workman has started a new series of having preachers answering 10 questions the first one was Tim Keller, and it seems to be a promising […]

  24. […] from Unashamed Workman conducted an interview with Tim Keller that I thoroughly […]

  25. […] Posted April 10, 2007 Tim Keller answers ten questions on expository preaching here. […]

  26. […] of the right hand in Blog. trackback The Unashamed Workman blog has interviewed several pastors {Tim Keller, Philip Ryken, Thabiti Anyabwile} with these 10 questions, so I thought I’d start […]

  27. […] on 10 Questions * Tim Keller * Philip Ryken * Voddie Baucham * Liam Goligher * Vaughan Roberts * Thabiti Anyabwile * Peter […]

  28. […] Dr. Tim Keller […]

  29. […] on 10 Questions * Tim Keller * Philip Ryken * Voddie Baucham * Liam Goligher * Vaughan Roberts * Thabiti Anyabwile * Peter […]

  30. […] on "It’s About God"  (Willimon always makes me think) Interview with Tim Keller–"Ten Questions for Expositors."  (An opportunity to look overhear Keller […]

  31. […] on 10 Questions * Tim Keller * Philip Ryken * Voddie Baucham * Liam Goligher * Vaughan Roberts * Thabiti Anyabwile * Peter […]

  32. […] HT: Unashamed Workman  […]

  33. Thank you for the interview series. It is so refreshing to have such good information to help you reach your congregation. With that said, I think you need to study good expositors and be allowed to practice the gift God has given you. I consider Dr. Keller a wonderful preacher/teacher and I enjoy listening to him and I enjoy listening to how he presents the gospel. I purchased Dr. Keller’s sermons, listen, and study them. I believe Dr. Keller of course is right. You need practice.

  34. […] (From 10 Questions to Expositors, Keller) […]

  35. […] Over its two year life span, Unashamed Workman’s most read post – by quite some margin – is 10 questions for expositors: Tim Keller. Its short but terribly insightful. Now all we need (Tim?) is a follow up Q & A to unpack these […]

  36. […] Keller Answers ‘10 Questions for Expositors’ The Unashamed Workman has posted an interview with Tim Keller, on “10 Questions for […]

  37. […] Reclaiming Genesis May 18, 2010 I’ll soon be rolling out another set of 10 Questions For Expositors interviews. Tomorrow we’ll be  putting the questions to Melvin Tinker, who is the vicar at […]

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