Ten Questions for a Young ExpositorJune 6, 2007
Both John Brand and Scott Hamilton recently asked me if I would personally complete the 10 Questions for Expositors. Since I have been dishing these questions out to others, it seems only fair that I answer them myself. So for what its worth…
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Preaching must be prominent because God’s Word births and nourishes spiritual life. Jesus once declared that human beings truly live through feeding on the word of God (Mat 4:4). Paul expanded on this when he spoke of how the Scriptures make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim 3:15). Furthermore, our Lord showed the ongoing importance of God’s word when he prayed that the word of truth might “sanctify” believers (John 17:17). No wonder then that Jesus’ repeated command to the apostle Peter was “feed my sheep.” (John 21:15) In addition, the same urgency remains in the post-apostolic era. It is from apostle to pastor-teacher that Paul charges Timothy: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2).
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
As a child, a lady in my church told me I was going to be a preacher. I’m not sure how she knew, except that I probably could talk for Scotland! Seriously: I received opportunities in my home fellowship around the age of 17 to preach short messages and this grew to preaching in other congregations thereafter. By the time I was 19 I was sure I had some kind of preaching gift, but I completely lacked the exegetical foundation to produce solid sermons. I went to seminary at that point!
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
Its impossible to put an accurate figure on it as I’m constantly working on my sermon either consciously or unconsciously. However, when it comes to planned study time I spend between 20 and 25 hours on each sermon. I study and write my messages between 9.00-12.30 Tuesday through Friday mornings and go over my message in a more revisionary fashion on Saturday morning and early Sunday.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I agree with others who have answered this question that it is important not to force the passage into a mold. But I usually find that most passages do have one main focus, and the question what was the author’s intention in writing the section often unveils this. In practical terms, I find that having one essential point almost always works better in terms of clarity and force. John Piper is a master of this. One of the reasons his sermons are so memorable is that he almost always has one – often quite narrow – idea that he explores from various angles and applies incessantly.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He should avoid seeking to entertain the congregation but shouldn’t go out of his way to bore them! Our prime focus should be the message but we must work to deliver it in an accessible manner. Some preachers, then, need to spend more time on getting the message right. But others, who are weaker on presentation, may need to give more time than they are doing to thinking about how they will present the material. I would also add that preachers must exude a certain amount of conviction about what they preach. There should be an evident confidence in the Word, that may of course be expressed differently from preacher to preacher. But if the person in the pulpit isn’t gripped by the authority and urgency of the message, the congregation will readily tell.
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I write out my sermon in full to clarify my own thinking and provide a fall back if I blank. I try to make my notes as discreet as possible and endeavor not to read them. One aid to this is that I highlight the key fragment (sometimes just a few words) in each paragraph, so that I can use my notes almost as bullet points. Although one can over-practice, I also find that a couple of run-throughs helps me not to rely on my notes.
7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
Pride when you’ve preached ‘the best sermon they’ve ever heard’, and despondency when the message is received with anger or apathy (the latter is worse, incidentally). I find myself fluctuating between these two dangers, sometimes fighting them respectively on back to back Sundays!
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
I guard my mornings like a treasure chest and give my afternoons to other tasks. This can be tremendously difficult, especially when you’re instinct is to check your email and get the apparently ‘urgent’ tasks out of the way. But since mornings are my freshest time, I’ve found that the practice of deferring other matters is an absolute must. Like some of the other people interviewed, I also enjoy the great benefit of working as part of a team, with some administrative staff to help.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
Bryan Chapell’s “Christ-Centered Preaching” is what I would give to any new preacher on the block. For the motive and manner of preaching, John Piper’s “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” is a modern classic. Like many others, I am also a great fan of “Lectures to my Students” (Spurgeon) and “Preaching and Preachers” (Lloyd Jones)
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing of future preachers?
I guess blogging is a first step! This year I’ve been part of a team who have put together a young leaders training course, but next year I’m hoping to start a young preacher’s group. Do pray for this endeavor.