Archive for June, 2007


A Sane Approach to Biblical Commentaries

June 30, 2007

Our Featured Toolbox this Saturday is one of the sanest short articles I’ve read on the use of commentaries in sermon prep. Steven Mathewson’s post on the PreachingToday blog, offers five dangers in relation to commentaries:

1) Using commentaries exclusively, or too quickly in the process;
2) Using too many commentaries
3) Using substandard commentaries
4) Using Commentaries to the neglect of prayer and meditation and
5) Not using commentaries at all.


I love his honest comment that while many speak of the dangers of commentaries being overused, “I know few, if any, pastors who spend too much time in commentaries.” Read the whole post here.

Other Toolbox This Week
* Packer on Lloyd Jones
* 7 Steps to Sermon Prep
* Gospel Coalition Website Launched
* Learning from Cancer – Begg Audio
* Paul’s Imperatives to Pastors
* Church – What about Me Songs?
* Review: The Complete Gathered Gold – John Blanchard
* New Nine Marks Newsletter: The Gospel
* A New Bible Translation (Unfortunately)
* Music When You Study?
* Review: Everlasting Dominion – a Theology of the OT
* Evangelical Faithfulness in Academia
* Nazarenes Rethink Entire Sanctification
* Teaching Laymen to Preach Expositionally
* Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing


Three Times Blessed

June 28, 2007

I am three-times blessed! Following on from Glen (almost 4) and Rebekah (2), today my wife safely gave birth to our third child. Praise the Lord. Grace Sarah Margaret Adams weighed in at a healthy 10 pounds 3 ounces. On days like today, whilst I realize that preaching is vitally important, I also know that it isn’t ALL important.








Ten Questions For Expositors – Mbewe

June 27, 2007

By popular demand, Ten Questions for Expositors is back. This time we have the great pleasure of interviewing Conrad Mbewe, pastor-teacher Katwaba Baptist Church, Zambia. If you haven’t yet heard this brother preach, do take the opportunity. Then be amazed that he takes two to three hours to prepare his sermons!


1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
As far as I can see from the Word of God, preaching must be central to the life of the church. This can be seen from the way the church started in the New Testament. As soon as the first church was gathered together in Acts 2, the Bible records that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Clearly, then, the preaching of the apostles took the first place. We notice the same thing when Paul writes to Timothy, a young pastor leading the church in Ephesus. He says to him, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). And even as he comes to the end of his life, Paul gives this young pastor the following charge: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Surely, when you compare this to the emphasis today on singing, as opposed to hearing the Word of God being preached, we have certainly left the biblical emphasis and we need to get back to it – for the sake of the health of our churches.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
Initially, soon after I became a Christian in 1979, I just had a burden to share Christ in personal witnessing contexts with individuals. I did not realise that this burden would one day find expression in preaching to entire crowds. At that time I was a student at a local university in Zambia. From time to time, I would be asked to prepare the Bible study lesson and teach our Growth Group in our hall of residence. These were small groups of Christian students who got together once a week to study the Bible. I found that I could handle the text and draw out appropriate lessons. In due season, around 1982, one of the elders at church asked me to join him in leading the Bible study group that comprised the young adults in the church, especially those who were in college and university. In this period, I sharpened my skills further. Before I graduated in 1984, however, I was chosen as chairman of the university Christian fellowship, and that meant preaching at least once a semester. This was for the last two years of my undergraduate days. I found great fulfilment not only in teaching the Word of God but also preaching it. It was clear from the feedback that I was getting, that God had gifted me in this way. This was quite apart from a sense of call that I experienced in a very definite way at a very subjective level sometime in 1980. So, by the time I graduated from the university, my gifts in preaching were confirmed, and I was just waiting for the Lord to open a door into full time pastoral studies or full time pastoral work. In 1987, the Lord opened the latter door and I became a church pastor.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
It takes anything between two to three hours, depending on how familiar I am with the subject or the text. Because I usually preach in a consecutive expository fashion in my own pulpit, most of the initial spade work would have been done much earlier. Hence, that is not included in this time. Also, I rarely ever write out my sermons in full. My final sermon outline is hardly ever more than one page long. So, again, you have to cut out the average writing time that most pastors go through. That is why I do not spend as much time in sermon preparation as most of my fellow preachers.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
It is very important. I go before God’s people with “a word from the Lord” and it is important to me that they go home after listening to my preaching with that word – or theme or idea. I ensure that my introduction waters their appetite for that one “word” and that my conclusion nails it in with some immediate application. They have not come to simply be informed about some points of doctrine. They have come to be told (or I have come to tell them) what God wants them to do in the light of his message to them. How do I arrive at that dominant thought, when mine is a textual sermon? The answer lies in a lot of meditation. I meditate and meditate and meditate. On a more technical level, I look at the text in its context. I also look at the key word(s) in the text. As I pray about all this, it soon becomes clear to me what the dominant thought in the text is. Also, depending on the composition of my congregation, I may opt to deal with the dominant thought differently. I do not change the theme; I just change its emphasis so that it suits my hearers. The rest of my work is to show how the rest of the passage brings out the dominant thought. It is in following the natural contours of the Scriptures that I seek to crystallise the theme in the minds of my hearers.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I would say, of prime importance, that a preacher must be himself. This is what makes for a preacher’s style. You notice it from the writings of the apostles. You cannot miss when it is Paul writing – or Peter or James or John. They all have their own specific style. Avoid imitation like a plague. You end up being a David trying to fight in Saul’s armour. You will fail. That is not to say that you cannot learn from other preachers. We all must seek to improve our preaching by listening to those preachers who have the greatest impact on their hearers. We must ask the question, “How do they manage to attain and maintain the attention of their hearers to the very end of their sermons?” Take the principle that you see from that and then apply it to your style so that in the end you are still yourself.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I have already touched on this. I normally carry with me one side of an A4 sized paper when I enter the pulpit to preach. On this matter, I think that everyone must use what they are most comfortable with. It is difficult to draw from the Scriptures any rule as to the amount of notes you should carry into the pulpit. I think that whatever the quantity of notes, a preacher must maintain a maximum level of eye-contact with his hearers. My notes are simply “sign posts” along the way. Sometimes I read them. Sometimes I do not even look at them because the road is very familiar. Sometimes I just peep there to make sure that I have taken the right turns thus far. I find that when I am very dependent on my notes, then the message is not flowing thematically, logically or chronologically. So, I work on it further until I can sense that once I have opened up a point, the sub-points naturally flow one after the other. Hence my dependence on my notes is minimal.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
Familiarity and prayerlessness. I have preached for (only) twenty years and I sense the temptation to handle the work of preaching as “just one of those things”. Yet I am aware that these two vices will cost me the presence of God in preaching and I will soon become a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. May I add the temptation to use the Bible to say what you already started out wanting to say? This is especially the case when you have a personal agenda to fulfil in the lives of a few troublesome church members. Once your hearers begin to think that you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say, you are robbing them of the respect they ought to have for God’s Word. So, for the sake of posterity, be faithful to the text!

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
At one time the elders in my church noticed that the quality of my preaching was becoming unpredictable – one time it was good, and the next time it was bad. They asked me what the problem was and I told them that I needed an office assistant to take care of most of the administrative needs in the life of the church. I was given someone to handle this, and since then we have never looked back. Every week, we meet with my office assistant to look at what needs to be done that week and then we share the load. I only take on that which I know I really must handle. Another thing is that I make the early hours of the morning, before the family wakes up and the phone starts ringing, as the time for study and devotions. Thus by the time the house is bustling with humans and those disturbing phone calls start, I am simply musing over what I have learnt and prepared. I also function within an eldership that is involved in pastoral care. Hence, although our church has over 300 members, I do not feel the strain of that number. The elders share in the work of pastoral care.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
The sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon come immediately to mind. In the early years of my Christian life, I used to preach some of them out to an empty church building. Well, it was not completely empty because I had a few of my friends sitting in the pews, but it was not a worship service either. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Evangelistic Sermons and his Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons (both published by the Banner of Truth Trust) are great examples of evangelistic preaching. One can add to this his expositions in Romans and Ephesians. Those sermons are worth their weight in gold! You will notice, therefore, that I have learnt more from books that contain sermons rather than books that teach how to preach.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
The first is to be the best example I can be to them so that they can model their preaching after a worthy example. I do not want them to become little “Conrads” but I sincerely hope that they will take what they see in me and build on it according to their own styles and giftedness. The second is to give any men in the church who exhibit the rudiments of the preaching or teaching gifts opportunities to minister in the context of the church’s full life. This may mean they can prepare for and lead Bible studies, or they may preach in one of the many auxiliary meetings of the church, or they may preach in one of the church-planting situations that we have on our hands. I then listen to their sermons and give them the necessary feedback so that they deal with their areas of weakness. Those that are able are also encouraged to join our part-time preachers’ college. In that context, we give them a full-orbed introduction to what it takes to be a preacher of the gospel as a full-time vocation. Even those who are not able to join the college are encouraged to read books on preaching as soon as they share with me that they are sensing a call to the preaching ministry.

Previously on 10 Questions
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham
* Liam Goligher
* Vaughan Roberts
* Thabiti Anyabwile
* Colin Adams


Preaching that Kills

June 26, 2007

Today’s quote is extracted from EM Bounds’ wonderful little book “The Power of Prayer.” Warning – this may be challenging!


THE preaching that kills may be, and often is, orthodox — dogmatically, inviolably orthodox. We love orthodoxy. It is good. It is the best. It is the clean, clear-cut teaching of God’s Word, the trophies won by truth in its conflict with error, the levees which faith has raised against the desolating floods of honest or reckless misbelief or unbelief; but orthodoxy, clear and hard as crystal, suspicious and militant, may be but the letter well-shaped, well-named, and well-learned, the letter which kills. Nothing is so dead as a dead orthodoxy, too dead to speculate, too dead to think, to study, or to pray.

The preaching that kills may have insight and grasp of principles, may be scholarly and critical in taste, may have every minutia of the derivation and grammar of the letter, may be able to trim the letter into its perfect pattern, and illume it as Plato and Cicero may be illumined, may study it as a lawyer studies his text-books to form his brief or to defend his case, and yet be like a frost, a killing frost. Letter-preaching may be eloquent, enameled with poetry and rhetoric, sprinkled with prayer spiced with sensation, illumined by genius and yet these be but the massive or chaste, costly mountings, the rare and beautiful flowers which coffin the corpse. The preaching which kills may be without scholarship, unmarked by any freshness of thought or feeling, clothed in tasteless generalities or vapid specialties, with style irregular, slovenly, savoring neither of closet nor of study, graced neither by thought, expression, or prayer. Under such preaching how wide and utter the desolation! how profound the spiritual death!

This letter-preaching deals with the surface and shadow of things, and not the things themselves. It does not penetrate the inner part. It has no deep insight into, no strong grasp of, the hidden life of God’s Word. It is true to the outside, but the outside is the hull which must be broken and penetrated for the kernel. The letter may be dressed so as to attract and be fashionable, but the attraction is not toward God nor is the fashion for heaven. The failure is in the preacher. God has not made him. He has never been in the hands of God like clay in the hands of the potter. He has been busy about the sermon, its thought and finish, its drawing and impressive forces; but the deep things of God have never been sought, studied, fathomed, experienced by him. He has never stood before “the throne high and lifted up,” never heard the seraphim song, never seen the vision nor felt the rush of that awful holiness, and cried out in utter abandon and despair under the sense of weakness and guilt, and had his life renewed, his heart touched, purged, inflamed by the live coal from God’s altar. His ministry may draw people to him, to the Church, to the form and ceremony; but no true drawings to God, no sweet, holy, divine communion induced. The Church has been frescoed but not edified, pleased but not sanctified. Life is suppressed; a chill is on the summer air; the soil is baked. The city of our God becomes the city of the dead; the Church a graveyard, not an embattled army. Praise and prayer are stifled; worship is dead. The preacher and the preaching have helped sin, not holiness; peopled hell, not heaven.

Preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer the preacher creates death, and not life. The preacher who is feeble in prayer is feeble in life-giving forces. The preacher who has retired prayer as a conspicuous and largely prevailing element in his own character has shorn his preaching of its distinctive life-giving power. Professional praying there is and will be, but professional praying helps the preaching to its deadly work. Professional praying chills and kills both preaching and praying. Much of the lax devotion and lazy, irreverent attitudes in congregational praying are attributable to professional praying in the pulpit. Long, discursive, dry, and inane are the prayers in many pulpits. Without unction or heart, they fall like a killing frost on all the graces of worship. Death-dealing prayers they are. Every vestige of devotion has perished under their breath. The deader they are the longer they grow. A plea for short praying, live praying, real heart praying, praying by the Holy Spirit — direct, specific, ardent, simple, unctuous in the pulpit — is in order. A school to teach preachers how to pray, as God counts praying, would be more beneficial to true piety, true worship, and true preaching than all theological schools.

Stop! Pause! Consider! Where are we? What are we doing? Preaching to kill? Praying to kill? Praying to God! the great God, the Maker of all worlds, the Judge of all men! What reverence! what simplicity! what sincerity! what truth in the inward parts is demanded! How real we must be! How hearty! Prayer to God the noblest exercise, the loftiest effort of man, the most real thing! Shall we not discard forever accursed preaching that kills and prayer that kills, and do the real thing, the mightiest thing — prayerful praying, life-creating preaching, bring the mightiest force to bear on heaven and earth and draw on God’s exhaustless and open treasure for the need and beggary of man?


Simple, Hard, Hard Questions

June 25, 2007

Several weeks ago I was enjoying listening to the concluding talk of a short series of historical profiles. Christopher H Ross (of Conventicle fame) was drawing our attention to four common threads in the otherwise varied lives of Athanasius, Martin Luther, William Carey and Amy Carmichael. The common denominators were: immersion in Scripture, thriving prayer life, pattern of obedience and pre-occupation with Jesus Christ.


All was going well until Chris made things practical [don’t you hate it when history gets practical!] How were we getting on in these areas? To make things worse, Chris then challenged us to ask some simple but hard questions:

Do I have a love for God’s Word?
Am I willing to make the study of it, and the application of it, my life’s pursuit?
Will I cultivate intimacy with God through prayer?
Am I willing to part with all sins for His sake?
Will I obey his voice, no matter what he asks?
Do I know the Lord Jesus well?
How much of my Christian life is really centered on him?

Speak to you tomorrow once I’ve wrestled with some of these.


Christ’s Servant Among Sheep & Wolves

June 23, 2007

This Saturday’s Featured Toolbox is a link to an excellent interview conducted over at the “Against Heresies” blog. Joel Beeke, who pastors Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation and is president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, speaks to the vital issue of identifying heresy in the church today. Here are the three segments of the interview.

* Christ’s Servant Among Sheep and Wolves (part one)
* Christ’s Servant Among Sheep and Wolves (part two)
* Christ’s Servant Among Sheep and Wolves (part three)


Personally, I especially appreciated Beeke’s three suggestions for younger ministers in dealing with error:

1. Become and stay well versed in the Scriptures, in confessional Reformed theology, and in the great classics of Reformed, experiential theology.

2. Summarize the errors of various movements succinctly from the pulpit when the scriptural text you are expounding pertains to them. Enlarge upon your exposure of error, perhaps, in catechism classes (because young people are the church’s future) or weekday classes (because those who attend have, in general, greater appreciation for apologetics than does your average Sabbath attendee and because your teaching situation is less formal).

3. Remember that you cannot study every false movement in depth, nor should you. Study in depth for yourself those that directly affect your congregation. Otherwise, read the best book from an evangelical perspective that refutes a particular error. In some cases, reading one good article may suffice.

Younger ministers should beware of being so caught up with the trends, debates, and crises of the present that they neglect to reinforce their knowledge of Christian history and Christian doctrine.

Other Toolbox This Week
* Lay Level Systematic Theology Class: Bruce Ware
* Video: What is the Gospel – Don Carson
* The Mereness of the Church: Preaching (Thabiti Anyabwile)
* Using Illustrations to Preach With Power
* Ever Wanted to Do This to Your Computer?
* New – Nine Marks Blog
* Differences Between Justification and Sanctification
* 25 Things I’ve Learned About Sin – Team Pyro
* Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible To Be the Word of God: RA Torrey
* Steve Lawson: Five Talks on Augustine of Hippo
* Interesting Site: American Rhetoric
* Don’t Short Change the Conclusion
* Style or Substance: What’s the Biggest Problem With Contemporary Church Music?
* Tips for Preaching Multiple Times a Week
* Sermon Titles: Tricky Little Things
* Mwebe’s Favourite Books for Preachers
* Six Lessons We Learn From Luther: JI Packer


Children’s Pastor

June 22, 2007


I also have a little advert today. Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh, Scotland (my church fellowship) is looking for a Pastor with responsibilities for Children and Youth. We are looking high and low for an experienced invididual with a passion for children’s ministry; someone with an ability to provide shape and direction to our whole ministry. The role will involve some ministry with the children directly but even more so it will be working alongside a large number of dedicated children’s leaders, equipping them for their work of service. Our city-centre location provides a great opportunity and we have several hundred children who come in and around our church on Friday evenings (uniformed organisations) and Sundays.

So, if you know of anyone who might possibly fit the bill, or if this might be for you, please do contact me and I can send you further information. It may be that someone on the other side of the pond would be eminently suitable (in the UK, we are light years behind in terms of children’s work development).

Rev. Colin Adams
Associate Pastor
Charlotte Baptist Chapel
(UK) 0131 225 4812