1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Based on the understanding that the proclamation of the word of God is the ordained means by which God gathers his church and grants unbelievers life (Ezek 37; 1 Pet 1:23), and the means by which He grows his church and grants believers sanctification, I believe preaching, and expository preaching at that, should be considered by pastor and flock alike, absolutely central in the grand scheme of church life. God has spoken, and we should be a listening people. What better way to exhort all to magnify Christ crucified and be conformed to his image and likeness than by preaching the Scriptures that testify about Him (Luke 24:27)?
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
In short, through the affirmation of my local church in Dundee. Not long after my conversion at the age of 19 I had a great appetite for God’s word and I became aware of a compelling desire to proclaim everything I was learning. Having had opportunities to lead Bible studies for 18-25 year olds and given talks at our church youth group, I spoke to our senior pastor who explored my desire to preach, took me under his wing and gave me opportunities to preach in church. Despite preaching some shockingly bad sermons, the church in Dundee were very gracious and encouraging and spurred me on towards full0time gospel ministry. Ultimately the local church confirmed what i believed my compulsion to preach indicated… that I must preach. It’s like what Spurgeon said in his autobiography, “A man who has really within him the inspiration of the Holy Ghost calling him to preach, cannot help it – he must preach. As fire within his bones, so will that influence be, until it blazes forth. Friends may check him, foes criticize him, despisers sneer at him, the man is indomitable; he must preach if he has the call of heaven.”
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I usually give all of Thursday and Friday to sermon prep – so on average about 16-20 hours per week.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I personally find it helpful in both sermon introduction and sermon conclusion to provide a clear one sentence statement summarising what the text is saying. I would also add that I think it’s essential that each of the main points that make up the body of the sermon should a) be derived from the text with respect to the breakdown of whatever passage is being handled (not derived in order to fit a preferred outline), and b) serve to reinforce that clear statement that ‘bookends’ the sermon. As for crystallising the key message of the text, I do that by reading, re-reading, and re-reading the text, taking notes, checking the context to see if there’s anything which negates any conclusions I come to.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
Two things: 1) He must be himself – that goes without saying. 2) He must be passionate – A preacher who is noticeably impacted by the text he’s preaching from will be listened to. Even is those hearing don’t necessarily believe everything he says, they will hear!
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
For 4 years I have used a full manuscript but over the past year I have moved to using detailed notes/outline. But I am considering reducing my notes further after preaching with a bare-bones outline recently – not by choice I might add (I copied over my morning sermon with my evening sermon and only realised that 20 minutes before leaving the house for church). I might add, for me, preaching with full script or outline does not reduce the amount of time in careful excavation of a text and in careful consideration of application. I know I would have been flailing a couple of weeks ago if it hadn’t been for three things, a) the grace of God, b) preaching expositionally through a book of the Bible (greatly increasing my ability to understand the text) and c) devoting myself to the rigorous wrestling of the text in the study.
7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
The big one for me is this: Failing to preach Christ from every text. If Christ is not preached, the Gospel is not preached; and if the Gospel is not preached you not only miss the mark when you preach, you miss the target altogether! “The Scriptures testify about me”, Jesus says (Luke 24:27), and our preaching must not only reveal that we have bore that in mind in our preparation, but that we have made it the central question that infiltrates and informs every thought and every word and every teaching.
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
Admittedly, this is still something I’m working on, but by seeking to reserve Thursday and Friday for sermon prep, I try to fit meetings and pastoral appointments in to Tuesdays and Wednesdays). I’m really keen to find ways of concentrating my time on discipling relationships and sharing life with the members of our local church.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
Re: Exemplars of preaching that have influenced me? Without a doubt, Mark Dever for his expository faithfulness. I have learned so much from him and particularly from hearing him preach larger texts (covering chapters and even books). John Piper, for his passion. My old pastor Jim Clarke, for all the times when he would walk out from behind the pulpit and stand, as it were, face-to-face with his flock spurring them on to Christ. And my best friend Charles Haddon Spurgeon whose sermons were so saturated with grace that I cannot read one without being freshly amazed.
Re: books on preaching that have influenced me? Between Two Worlds by John Stott; The Supremacy of Christ in Preaching by John Piper; Preaching with Passion by Alex Montoya, Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Joners; Heralds of God by James S. Stewart; Preaching that Changes Lives by Michael Fabarez, Feed My Sheep edited by Don Kistler; Christ-Centred Preaching by Bryan Chapell; Kindled Fire (methods of Spurgeon) by Zack Eswine.
10.What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
Three things: a) I set aside the evening service to make opportunities for discovering or developing preachers (as well as giving other gifted preachers in the church the opportunity to preach). b) I invite those who are just starting out to lead every part of a service apart from the sermon just to give them the experience of putting a service together and standing up front. c) This summer we’re giving a young guy the opportunity to work for us for 5-6 weeks, giving him the experience of preaching a 5-6 week series through a book of the Bible and he’ll be getting some feedback and encouragement from that.