The February 2010 edition of The Banner of Truth contains an article by Iain Murray warning of the disadvantages of ‘expository’ preaching (by which he mean “preaching which consecutively takes a congregation through a passage, or book of Scripture, week by week). Unfortunately the article is not online, but you can read a summary here. Iain is right to warn of the dangers, but as the letter below (which I’ve just sent to Banner HQ) says, I think he goes too far:
Several people have recently asked me what process I go through in sermon preparation, so I thought I’d share it here. This is a far longer post than normal, but perhaps other preachers (particularly younger men) might find it useful.
There are five steps that are important to me:
- Divide: Firstly, I decide how many verses should I preach on by looking for divisions at the beginning and end of the passage. I’m looking for a natural unit in the passage that has plenty to say. With compact historical literature (like 2 Kings or Chronicles) it’s usually a story. With other narrative literature (e.g. the Pentateuch, or the Gospels) it’s usually a scene. With epistles its usually a large paragraph. With prophetic books its usually a complete oracle or sermon.
- Dissect: Then I split up, or dissect the passage by determine the main point of the passage, and the sub-points which serve it. This is strongly related to the first step. If the ‘division’ I’ve chosen has more than one main point, it’s too long. But it must have a few sub-points that feed the main point. If it hasn’t, it’s too short.
- Discover: Next I try to carefully exegete each point to discover the original meaning and principles. It means understanding both the meaning to the original hearers/readers, and the timeless principles that flow from it. When dealing with the Old Testament I look at the first step (the original meaning) purely from an Old Testament perspective, but the second step (the timeless principles) through a New Testament lens. There must be an inarguable link between these two steps. Every member of the congregation must be able to see how I got from (a) What the Bible said, to (b) What the Bible means. If they can’t, there’s no power in the message – it’s man’s words, not God’s Word.
- Digest: Fourth, I think and pray through each principle to determine the application, to me, and try to digest the truth. If I haven’t taken this truth on board myself, I can’t preach it. This is where a lot of the prayer comes.
- Disseminate: Finally, all of this needs to go in a form which can be passed on. In other words, the sermon can now be written. I pass this teaching on to my congregation, they need to apply it to themselves and be able to pass it on to others. This means short points made easy to understand and apply. To maximise the impact, the application needs to be focussed, not vague, but it also must apply to the whole congregation, not just one or two. I’ll want my sermon to have an introduction, a few points, and a conclusion. Within each point I’ll want teaching, illustration and application. The whole thing must be very tightly linked to the text of the Bible – if it’s not, it’s my words not God’s Word.
Several weeks ago I mentioned that I was developing a plug-in to allow you to upload sermons into your WordPress blog. I’m delighted to say that the beta version of this plugin is now available for you to download.
As with all beta software, the normal caveats apply. The software isn’t fully tested, and may cause you problems. In particular, the database format may change between now and the release version, which could mean that any sermons you enter into the database would have to be re-entered later.
If you want to see what the plug-in would look like on your site, you can view it here on this test site. (The site has not yet been launched, and is still in beta itself!)
Articles in this series:
- WordPress sermon plug-in announced
- SermonBrowser beta now available <-- This article
[display_podcast]I came upon this sermon of Spurgeon’s during my time in theological college, and it has stuck with me ever since. It is vintage Spurgeon, but the truths ring as clear today as they did in 1859. Here’s an extract, but the whole sermon is well worth reading, if simply to understand Spurgeon’s passion for souls and God’s glory:
[Paul] had preached ALL the counsel of God. By which I think we are to understand that he had given to his people the entire gospel. He had not dwelt upon some one doctrine of it, to the exclusion of the rest; but it had been his honest endeavour to bring out every truth according to the analogy of faith. He had not magnified one doctrine into a mountain, and then diminished another into a molehill; but he had endeavoured to present all blended together, like the colours in the rainbow, as one harmonious and glorious whole… He had, doubtless, sins to confess in private, and faults to bemoan God. He had, doubtless, sometimes failed to put a truth as clearly as he could have wished, when preaching the Word; he had not always been earnest as he could desire; but at least he could claim this, that he had not wilfully kept back a single part of the truth as it is in Jesus…