Archive for the ‘Classic Materials’ Category

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Preaching the Gospel Like An Apostle

November 20, 2007

In their excellent book “Being a Pastor“, Alistair Begg and Derek Prime succinctly outline the gospel that the Apostles preached. As you read their six point summary, ask yourself whether ALL these points regularly surface in your gospel presentations.

“It is helpful to remind ourselves from time to time of the six main elements in the apostolic declaration of the gospel, once they were sure that they had gone back far enough to enable their hearers to realize that their message was from the one true God, the Creator and Supreme Law-Giver:

First, the appointed time, concerning which the Old Testament prophets had spoken, and to which God’s chosen people had looked forward, has come. Through Christ, God has visited and redeemed His people (Acts 2:16-21).

Second, this act of God intervening in human history is to be seen in the life of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, sent by God, rejected, put to death by men, and raised up by God on the third day (Acts 2:32, 36).

Third, by his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has conquered sin and has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Salvation is found in no one else. (Acts 4:12)

Fourth, the proofs of God’s present power in the world are to be found in the fact of the resurrection of Christ and evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working in the church (Acts 4:33, Romans 1:4; Ephesians 1:19-20).

Fifth, this is but the beginning of God’s kingdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ will return again as Judge, and God’s kingdom will be finally established (Acts 3:20-21; 17:30-31; 2 Thesalonians 1:7-10).

Sixth, all men and women, therefore, should repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ the Messiah and Lord for the forgiveness of their sins, and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

(pages 139-140)

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Keller’s Outline For Gospel-Motivated Sermons

November 6, 2007

The following quote is an excerpt taken from Keller’s Preaching in a Post Modern City pt 3. When I read things like this, it makes me pray that Keller will eventually write a book about preaching the gospel in a post-modern culture.

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A BASIC OUTLINE FOR CHRIST-CENTERED, GOSPEL-MOTIVATED SERMONS

The following may actually be four points in a presentation, or they may be treated very quickly as the last point of a sermon. But more generally, this is a foundational outline for the basic moral reasoning and argument that lies at the heart of the application.

The Plot winds up: WHAT YOU MUST DO.

“This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative tells us that we must do or what we must be.” The Plot thickens: WHY YOU CAN’T DO IT.

“But you can’t do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard.” The Plot resolves: HOW HE DID IT.

“But there’s One who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the—. He has done this for us, in our place.” The Plot winds down: HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT.

“Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this…”

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Over 1500 Pastors Take ‘Preacher’s Pledge’

November 5, 2007

Isn’t this a sad reflection on the state of preaching today that pastors would even need to sign something like this?

I will make the Bible my primary resource in sermon preparation and preaching.

I may use other resources such as commentaries and web sites to enhance, not replace, my personal interaction with Scripture.

As I study I will strive to accurately understand and honestly apply God’s Word, allowing Him to uniquely proclaim His truth in a relevant way through me.

Here for the whole story.

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Drawing Around Our Arrows?

October 30, 2007

Do you ever come across an illustration that is so good, you feel you just need to use it. Don’t. At least, not till you find the appropriate text. The following illustration by Michael Ramsden shows us the folly of what we are otherwise doing:

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(Photo courtesy of Artist Wannabe, creative commons license)

“A young boy received a bow and arrow as a present from his father, and he immediately went outside to shoot it. A little while later his father went outside and saw that the boy had shot his arrows at several targets that had been drawn on the side of a fence. To his amazement each arrow had hit the bull’s eye.

The father was impressed and said to his son, ‘ I didn’t realise you were such a good shot.’ ‘Oh, it was easy,’ his son replied. ‘I shot the arrows first, and then drew the targets around them.’

When we use illustrations simply because they are good illustrations, we are drawing targets around our arrows. Right at the beginning of planning a talk we need to decide what the point, the target, is. Then we enhance the talk with seasoning in order to drive home the point effectively, keeping in mind that it takes different kinds of arrows to hit different kinds of targets.”

(Michael Ramsden, in Preach the Word, ed. Greg Haslam, p 498)

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The Problem With Preaching in 2007 (No, 1730!)

October 23, 2007

“The application of their discourses is either short, or indistinct and general. They difference not the precious from the vile, and divide not to every man his portion, according to the apostolic direction to Timothy. No! they carelessly offer a common mess to their people, and leave it to them to divide it among themselves, as they see fit. This is indeed their general practice, which is bad enough. But sometimes they do worse, by misapplying the Word, through ignorance or anger.

They often strengthen the hands of the wicked by promising him life. They comfort people before they convince them; sow before they plow; and are busy in raising fabric before they lay a foundation. These foolish builders do but strengthen men’s carnal security by their soft, selfish, cowardly discourses. They have not the courage, or honesty, to thrust the nail of terror into sleeping souls.”

(Gilbert Tennent, speaking of many of his contemporaries; quoted in Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards – A New Biography, p133)

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Lloyd Jones – Sermons that ‘Attack’

October 9, 2007

Attacking our congregation during the sermon might not seem a sensible idea. But Martyn Llyod Jones seemed to think so. In Preaching and Preachers (p 73) Jones reminds us that true preaching has an ‘element of attack in it.’ Therefore it is utterly unlike an ‘essay.’ The quote below reminds me that preaching a sermon isn’t the same as giving a lecture. We are looking to capture the throne of men’s hearts for Christ!

“He proceeds to write an essay, and then enters a pulpit and either reads or recites this essay which he has so prepared. But I suggest that that is not preaching at all; that really has very little, if anything, to do with preaching.

This is so, very largely, because there is no element of attack in it. If there is an element of attack in an essay it is correspondingly a bad essay. The essential character of an essay is that it should play with the ideas, and on the whole handle them lightly. An essay should have charm and elegance. It is a form of literature which should make interesting, entertaining and enjoyable reading; but it is not preaching.”

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Helping the Sheep Feed Themselves

October 2, 2007

One dangerous temptation for us preachers is to want our congregation to need us in order to understand the bible. The shepherd’s goal, however, is to enable the sheep to feed on the bible for themselves. Thus the effective expositor is not so much the one with impressive oratory or biblical clarity but one who’s congregation is equipped – through years of faithful teaching – to evaluate his preaching in the Berean fashion. John Stott addresses us on such a theme today.

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We who are called to be Christian preachers today should do all we can to help the congregation to grow out of dependence on borrowed slogans and ill-considered cliches, and instead to develop their powers of intellectual and moral criticism, that is, their ability to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil.

Of course, we should encourage an attitude of humble submission to Scripture, but at the same time make it clear that we claim no infallibility for our interpretation of Scripture. We should urge our hearers to ‘test’ and ‘evaluate’ our teaching. We should welcome questions, not resent them. We should not want people to be moonstruck by our preaching, to hang spellbound on our words, and to soak them up like sponges. To desire such an uncritical dependence on us is to deserve the fierce denunciation of Jesus for wanting to be called ‘rabbi’ by men. (Matt 23:7,8) By contrast, the people of Berea are commended as ‘noble’ . . . because they combined enthusiastic receptivity with critical listening. . . . (Acts 17:11)

This kind of open but questioning mind is implicit even in the ‘pastoral’ metaphor. . . . The way in which the shepherd feeds [the sheep] is significant. In reality, he does not feed them at all (except perhaps in the case of a sick lamb which he may take up in his arms and bottlefeed); instead he leads them to good grazing pasture where they feed themselves.

(John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, Eerdmans, 1982 p. 177).

HT: Expositor’s Quote for the Week

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Finding Your Own Voice

September 18, 2007

We draw near to the conclusion of Sinclair Ferguson’s Preacher’s Decalogue. Part one and part two of this series can be found in its original setting at the Reformation 21 website. Today, the seventh and eighth commands: “using the plain style” and “finding your own voice.”

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(Photo courtesty of Elmer Duncan)

7. Use “the plain style”. This is a familiar enough expression in the history of preaching. It is associated particularly with the contrast between the literary eloquence of the High Anglican preaching tradition and the new “plain style” of the Puritans in the 16th and 17th centuries. William Perkins’s The Arte of Prophesying served as the first textbook in this school.

But this seventh commandment is not insisting per se that we should all preach like the Puritans. Indeed acquaintance with the Puritans themselves would underline for us that they did not all preach as if they had been cloned from William Perkins! But they did have one thing in common: plain speech which they believed Paul commended and should be a leading characteristic of all preaching. (2 Cor 6:7, cf. 2 Cor 4:2).

There are many ways this principle applies. Do not make eloquence the thing for which you are best known as a preacher; make sure you get the point of the passage you are preaching, and that you make it clear and express its power. True evangelical eloquence will take care of itself. Despite Charles Hodge’s reservations, Archibald Alexander was in general right in urging students to pay attention to the power of biblical ideas, and the words used in preaching will take care of themselves.

The “masters” of clear style can teach us here. Paradoxically, in this context, two of them were themselves Anglicans.

C. S. Lewis’s counsel on writing applies equally to preaching: Use language that makes clear what you really mean; prefer plain words that are direct to long words that are vague. Avoid abstract words when you can use concrete. Don’t use adjectives to tell us how you want us to feel—make us feel that by what you say! Don’t use words that are too big for their subject. Don’t use “infinitely” when you mean “very”, otherwise you will have no word left when you really do mean infinite!

In a similar vein, here is J.C. Ryle’s counsel: Have a clear knowledge of what you want to say. Use simple words. Employ a simple sentence structure. Preach as though you had asthma! Be direct. Make sure you illustrate what you are talking about.

Of course, there are exceptions to these principles. But why would I think I am one? A brilliant surgeon may be able to perform his operation with poor instruments; so can the Holy Spirit. But since in preaching we are nurses in the operating room—our basic responsibility is to have clean, sharp, sterile scalpels for the Spirit to do his surgery.

8. Find your own voice. “Voice” here is used in the sense of personal style—“know yourself” if one can Christianize the wisdom of the philosophers.

That being said, finding a voice—in the literal sense—is also important. The good preacher who uses his voice badly is a rara avis indeed. Clearly affectation should be banned; nor are we actors whose voices are molded to the part that is to be played. But our creation as the image of God, creatures who speak—and speak his praises and his word—really requires us to do all we can with the natural resources the Lord has given us.

But it is “voice” in the metaphorical sense that is really in view here—our approach to preaching that makes it authentically “our” preaching and not a slavish imitation of someone else. Yes, we may—must—learn from others, positively and negatively. Further, it is always important when others preach to listen to them with both ears open: one for personal nourishment through the ministry of the word, but the other to try to detect the principles that make this preaching helpful to people.

We ought not to become clones. Some men never grow as preachers because the “preaching suit” they have borrowed does not actually fit them, or their gifts. Instead of becoming the outstanding expository, or redemptive historical, or God-centered, or whatever their hero may be, we may tie ourselves in knots and endanger our own unique giftedness by trying to use someone else’s paradigm, style or personality as a mold into which to squeeze ourselves. We become less than our true selves in Christ. The marriage of our personality with another’s preaching style can be a recipe for being dull and lifeless. So it is worth taking the time in an ongoing way to try to assess who and what we really are as preachers in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

———————-
Previously:

(1) Get to know your Bible better; (2) Be a man of prayer;
(3) Don’t lose sight of Christ; (4) Be more deeply Trinitarian
(5) Use your imagination; (6) Speak much of sin and grace

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Ferguson’s Ten Commandments (pt 3)

September 11, 2007

More from Sinclair Ferguson’s excellent advice for preachers, The Preacher’s Decalogue.

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Following (1) Get to know your Bible better; (2) Be a man of prayer; (3) Don’t lose sight of Christ; (4) Be more deeply Trinitarian, we come to…

5. Use your Imagination.
Does this not contradict the immediately preceding observations that the truth of the Trinity should not be thought of as speculative metaphysics? No. Rather it is simply to state what the preaching masters of the centuries have either explicitly written, or at least by example, implied. All good preaching involves the use of the imagination. No great preacher has ever lacked imagination. Perhaps we might go so far as to say it is simply an exhortation to love the Lord our God with all of our . . . mind . . . and our neighbor as ourselves.

Scripture itself suggests that there are many different kinds of imagination—hence the different genre in which the word of God is expressed (poetry, historical narrative, dialogue, monologue, history, vision and so on). No two biblical authors had identical imaginations. It is doubtful if Ezekiel could have written Proverbs, for example!

What do we mean by “imagination”? Our dictionaries give a series of definitions. Common to them all seems to be the ability to “think outside of oneself,” “to be able to see or conceive the same thing in a different way.” In some definitions the ideas of the ability to contrive, exercising resourcefulness, the mind’s creative power, are among the nuanced meanings of the word.

Imagination in preaching means being able to understand the truth well enough to translate or transpose it into another kind of language or musical key in order to present the same truth in a way that enables others to see it, understand its significance, feel its power—to do so in a way that gets under the skin, breaks through the barriers, grips the mind, will and affections so that they not only understand the word used but feel their truth and power.

Luther did this by the sheer dramatic forcefulness of his speech. Whitefield did it by his use of dramatic expression (overdid it, in the view of some). Calvin—perhaps surprisingly—did it too by the extraordinarily earthed-in-Geneva-life language in which he expressed himself. So an overwhelming Luther-personality, a dramatic preacher with Whitefieldian gifts of story-telling and voice (didn’t David Garrick say he’d give anything to be able to say “Mesopotamia” the way George Whitefield did?), a deeply scholarly, retiring, reluctant preacher—all did it, albeit in very different ways. They saw and heard the word of God as it might enter the world of their hearers and convert and edify them.

What is the secret here? It is, surely, learning to preach the word to yourself, from its context into your context, to make concrete in the realities of our lives the truth that came historically to others’ lives. This is why the old masters used to speak about sermons going from their lips with power only when they had first come to their own hearts with power.

All of which leads us from the fifth commandment back to where we started. Only immersion in Scripture enables us to preach it this way. Therein lies the difference between preaching that is about the Bible and its message and preaching that seems to come right out of the Bible with a “thus says the Lord” ring of authenticity and authority.

6. Speak much of sin and grace.
In his exposition of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Martin Luther insightfully used the words of Jeremiah’s call: “The sum total of this epistle is to destroy, root out, and bring to naught all carnal wisdom . . . All that is in us is to be rooted out, pulled down, destroyed, and thrown down, i.e. all that delights us because it comes from us and is found in us; but all that is from outside of us and in Christ is to be built up and planted.”

If that is true of Paul’s “preaching” in Romans, it ought to be true of ours as well. Sin and grace should be the downbeat and the upbeat that run through all our exposition.

But there are some cautions. Preaching on sin must unmask the presence of sin, and undeceive about the nature of sin, as well as underline the danger of sin.

This is not the same thing as hammering a congregation against the back wall of the “sanctuary” with a tirade! That requires little more than high levels of emotion. A genuine, ultimately saving, unmasking and undeceiving of the human heart is more demanding exegetically and spiritually. For what is in view here is the skilled work of a surgeon—opening a wound, exposing the cause of the patient’s sickness, cutting away the destructive malignancies, all in order to heal and restore to life.

Doubtless people need warnings against the evils of contemporary society (abortion, apostasy in the visible church, etc). But we cannot build a ministry, nor healthy Christians, on a diet of fulminating against the world. No; rather we do this by seeing the Scriptures expose the sin in our own hearts, undeceive us about ourselves, root out the poison that remains in our own hearts—and then helping our people to do the same “by the open statement of the truth” ( 2 Cor. 4:2).

There is only one safe way to do this. Spiritual surgery must be done within the context of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace. But exposing sin is not the same thing as unveiling and applying grace. We must be familiar with and exponents of its multifaceted power, and know how to apply it to a variety of spiritual conditions.

Truth to tell, exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter. Therein lies our weakness.

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Ferguson’s Ten Commandments (pt 2)

September 4, 2007

Carrying on the theme of 10 commandments, we return today to Sinclair Ferguson’s Ten Commandments for preachers. Two weeks ago we covered the first pair: know your bible better and be a man of prayer. Today we are reminded “Don’t lose sight of Christ” and “Be deeply Trinitarian.”

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3. Don’t Lose Sight of Christ. Me? Yes, me. This is an important principle in too many dimensions fully to expound here. One must suffice. Know, and therefore preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). That is a text far easier to preach as the first sermon in a ministry than it is to preach as the final sermon.

What do I mean? Perhaps the point can be put sharply, even provocatively in this way: Systematic Exposition did not die on the Cross for us; nor did Biblical Theology, nor even Systematic Theology or Hermeneutics, or whatever else we deem important as those who handle the exposition of Scripture. I have heard all of these in preaching . . . without a center in the person of the Lord Jesus.

Paradoxically not even the systematic preaching through one of the Gospels guarantees Christ-crucified centered preaching. Too often preaching on the Gospels takes what I whimsically think of as the “Find Waldo Approach.” The underlying question in the sermon is “Where are you to be found in this story?” (are you Martha or Mary, James and John, Peter, the grateful leper . . .?). The question “Where, Who and What is Jesus in this story? Tends to be marginalized.

The truth is it is far easier to preach about Mary, Martha, James, John, or Peter than it is about Christ. It is far easier to preach even about the darkness of sin and the human heart than to preach Christ. Plus my bookshelves are groaning with literature on Mary, Martha . . . the good life, the family life, the Spirit-filled life, the parenting life, the damaged self life . . . but most of us have only a few inches of shelf space on the person and work of Christ himself.

Am I absolutely at my best when talking about him, or about us?

4. Be deeply Trinitarian. Surely we are? At least in some of our churches not a Lord’s Day passes without the congregation confessing one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But as is commonly recognized Western Christianity has often had a special tendency to either an explicit or a pragmatic Unitarianism, be it of the Father (Liberalism, for all practical purposes), the Son (Evangelicalism, perhaps not least in its reactions against Liberalism), or the Spirit (Charismaticism with its reaction to both of the previous).

This is, doubtless, a caricature. But my concern here arises from a sense that Bible-believing preachers (as well as others) continue to think of the Trinity as the most speculative and therefore the least practical of all doctrines. After all, what can you “do” as a result of hearing preaching that emphasizes God as Trinity? Well, at least inwardly if not outwardly, fall down in prostrate worship that the God whose being is so ineffable, so incomprehensible to my mental math, seeks fellowship with us!

I sometimes wonder if it is failure here that has led to churches actually to believe it when they are told by “church analysts” and the like that “the thing your church does best is worship . . . small groups, well you need to work on that . . ..” Doesn’t that verge on blasphemy? (Verge on it? There is surely only One who can assess the quality of our worship. This approach confuses aesthetics with adoration).

John’s Gospel suggests to us that one of the deepest burdens on our Lord’s heart during his last hours with his disciples was to help them understand that God’s being as Trinity is the heart of what makes the gospel both possible and actual, and that it is knowing him as such that forms the very lifeblood of the life of faith (cf. John chapter 13-17). Read Paul with this in mind and it becomes obvious how profoundly woven into the warp and woof of his gospel his understanding of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is.

Our people need to know that, through the Spirit, their fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Would they know that from my preaching?

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10 Questions – Derek Prime

August 22, 2007

Derek Prime was the senior pastor of Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh from 1969 – 1986. He is known more widely both for his preaching and writing, and closer to home for his gracious and wise pastoral heart. In case you haven’t read it, “On Being A Pastor” which he co-wrote with his previous assistant Alistair Begg is a must have.

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I would place it unequivocally as number one priority because it is the primary means of bringing people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and then building them up in Him.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
Soon after my conversion in my early teens it was my turn to speak in a small young people’s group in the church fellowship to which I belonged. It so ‘happened’ that the pastor was present that evening and at the conclusion of the meeting he spoke to me in such a way that the secret thoughts and convictions I had had about wanting to serve God as a pastor/teacher were encouraged and confirmed. My Bible Class teacher soon after took me with him when he conducted services as a lay-preacher, encouraging me first to take part in some small way and then to preach. From that introduction an increasing number of invitations came to me to speak and preach.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I find it difficult to answer this in terms of even an average amount. Much depends on time available and the familiarity I have with the passage. When I have the time, I would aim to spend a morning ideally of three and a half hours looking at the text/passage in its context and jotting down possible approaches. Then the next morning I would choose the simplest and most straightforward and type the sermon out in full.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I would not wish to be dogmatic about this because the text or passage should determine whether there is one or more major theme or idea. It is important, however, to remember that our hearers do not have the benefit of our study time and if there is a major theme or idea in the text/passage then the sermon should accurately reflect this.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I think I would say simplicity. Only yesterday I finished reading a biography of J. C. Ryle entitled That Man of Granite with the Heart of a Child by Eric Russell. He tells of how an old lady went out of her way to hear Bishop Ryle preach. After the service she told a friend that she had been very disappointed. “I never heard a Bishop,” she said, “I thought I’d hear something great. He’s nowt. He’s no Bishop. I could understand every word.” When Ryle heard the story, he said it was the greatest compliment he had ever had paid to his preaching. The better we understand what we saying the simpler we should be. It is no credit to us if people remark on how clever we are.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I use full notes, although I highlight with a marker the principal phrase or word in each paragraph and that is usually sufficient to quicken my memory and to give me freedom to preach without slavish dependence on them.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
Failure to relate every Scripture to the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Cross in God’s revelation

Pride – unconsciously perhaps seeing preaching as a means of gaining praise for oneself rather than seeking the praise and honour of God and His Son

Failing to feed the flock – forgetting the Lord Jesus’ words, ‘Feed my lambs…Feed my sheep.’

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (e.g. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)?
There is no easy answer but the emphasis must be upon self-discipline. For example, reserving mornings for study and preparation, the determination of priorities in pastoral care and not allowing pastoral care to be separated from the task of preaching in that our calling is to be pastors and teachers.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
One of the early books I read on preaching – if not the first – was James Black’s The Mystery of Preaching and it probably made the greatest impression upon me. James Stewart’s two books on the subject were a help also. The two exemplars when I began my ministry were John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, very different in style and both conspicuous for their evangelical witness and faithfulness to the Scriptures.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I probably would not have phrased the question like this! Any influence I have had in this area has been through God’s providence. In both churches of which I was pastor I had a series of preaching and teaching classes to encourage and to discover spiritual gift. Having been encouraged myself by two men in particular when I was young, I have felt bound to try and repay my debt by encouraging potential pastor/teachers and those in their early years of ministry. The initiative has not always been with me but over the last eighteen years or more I have met on both a regular and occasional basis with a number of men. Finally, as I reflect on it, the privilege of having pastor’s assistants in both churches – probably a total of fourteen men – provided the greatest unconscious opportunity to encourage future preachers.

Over at Steward Of Secret Things, some of Derek’s Recommended Books
For more of Derek’s books, try here.

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Ferguson’s Ten Commandments For Preachers

August 21, 2007

I’m not sure how I missed this till now but Sinclair’s Ferguson’s article “A Preacher’s Decalogue” is one of the best short exhortations on how to grow as a preacher. To make it digestible, I’ll divide up his Reformation 21 thoughts over a number of weeks on Tuesday’s Classic Materials.

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1. Know your Bible better. Often at the end of a Lord’s Day, or a Conference, the thought strikes me again: “If you only knew your Bible better you would have been a lot more help to the people.” I teach at a seminary whose founder stated that its goal was “to produce experts in the Bible.” Alas I was not educated in an institution that had anything remotely resembling that goal. The result? Life has been an ongoing “teach yourself while you play catch-up.” At the end of the day seminaries exist not to give authoritative line-by-line interpretations of the whole of Scripture but to provide tools to enable its graduates to do that. That is why, in many ways, it is the work we do, the conversations we have, the churches we attend, the preaching under which we sit, that make or break our ministries. This is not “do it yourself” but we ourselves need to do it.

As an observer as well as a practitioner of preaching, I am troubled and perplexed by hearing men with wonderful equipment, humanly speaking (ability to speak, charismatic personality and so on) who seem to be incapable of simply preaching the Scriptures. Somehow they have not first invaded and gripped them.

I must not be an illiterate. But I do need to be homo unius libri—a man of one Book. The widow of a dear friend once told me that her husband wore out his Bible during the last year of his life. “He devoured it like a novel” she said. Be a Bible devourer!

2. Be a man of prayer. I mean this with respect to preaching. Not only in the sense that I should pray before I begin my preparation, but in the sense that my preparation is itself a communion in prayer with God in and through his word. Whatever did the apostles mean by saying that they needed to devote themselves “to prayer and the ministry of the word”—and why that order?

My own feeling is that in the tradition of our pastoral textbooks we have over-individualized this. The apostles (one may surmise) really meant “we”—not “I, Peter” or “I, John” but “We, Peter, John, James, Thomas, Andrew . . . together.”

Is it a misreading of the situation to suspect that preachers hide the desperate need of prayer for the preaching, and their personal need? By contrast, reflect on Paul’s appeals. And remember Spurgeon’s bon mot when asked about the secret of his ministry: “My people pray for me.”

Reflecting on this reminds me of one moment in the middle of an address at a conference for pastors when the bubble above my head contained the words “You are making a complete and total hash of this,” but as my eyes then refocused on the men in front of me they seemed like thirsty souls drinking in cool refreshing water, and their eyes all seemed to be fixed on the water carrier I was holding! Then the above-the-head-bubble filled with other words: “I remember now, how I urged the congregation at home to pray for these brethren and for the ministry of the word. They have been praying.”

Alas for me if I don’t see the need for prayer or for encouraging and teaching my people to see its importance. I may do well (I have done well enough thus far, have I not?) . . . but not with eternal fruit.

(Tomorrow, Derek Prime answers 10 Questions)