I’m stopping posting from now till after Christmas.
I’ll be doing less of this:
…more of this:
A Christ-exalting and enjoying Christmas everybody!
730 days ago I launched a blog.
561 posts, 2193 comments and 352,350 hits later Unashamed Workman continues to be a simple blog for busy preachers.
To the glorious God whom I serve, my wife, and especially my fellow preachers and readers I owe a great debt of thanks for making the journey so enjoyable thus far.
Two more years?
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 interesting answers further.
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 hierarchy 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.
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.”