Reflections on Billy Graham and Spiritual Heroes

Why did Billy Graham’s life and preaching impact so many thousands of lives? This is a question I have pondered a lot since news broke that he went on to be with the Lord.

The news of Billy Graham’s death came out this week as I was preparing a sermon on Jonah 3. I had been wrestling with the question of why Jonah’s preaching had such a profound impact on the Ninevites when I heard of Billy’s passing. After discovering a few reasons why Jonah’s preaching was “God-timed” for the people of Nineveh, I still knew that only the Spirit of God brings the preached Word of God to bear on sinners. But then I considered other spiritual heroes in recent generations, like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and John Wesley, and the same question struck me. Why did God choose these men as opposed to others? Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, had little effect on his home church, but God used it to spark a nation-wide revival when he preached it in Enfield, Connecticut. Why is it that the people in Enfield were grabbing hold of the pillars of the church, moaning, and crying out, “What must I do to be saved?” but the people in Edwards’ congregation were often laying down horizontally on the pews asleep as he preached?

In my research, I discovered no shortage of reasons from the world’s perspective as to why Edwards’ sermon had such profound impact on early America. One scholar, Edwin Cady, says it was the fresh imagery Edwards used. Another, Lee Stuart, says it was the element of comfort after such a long, negative message. Another, Rosemary Hearn, suggests that the logical structure and persuasiveness of Edwards’ sermon made it successful. Yet another says it was Edwards’ references to Newtonian physics and the earth’s gravitational pull that created a feeling of falling among his hearers. Still others say it was Edwards’ use of vivid illustrations which made the listeners feel like they had been transported to hell even as they sat in the church pews. These were all plausible ideas, but something about them rang hollow and didn’t fully explain the monumental response that followed the preaching.

After reading George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, by Dr. Thomas Kidd last year, I discovered something else interesting: Whitefield’s words and concepts in preaching were not particularly unique or novel. One contemporary of Whitefield remarked that Whitefield could move men to tears simply by repeating the word mesopotamia.’ Whitefield also had one lazy eye that one would think would have lessened his fame, but it did not in the least. John Wesley’s ministry is comparable in many ways to Whitefield’s. This reminds me how the Lord used all the heroes in the “hall of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11. God often uses the simplicity of the preaching and the weakness of the servant to bring all the glory to Himself.

As for Billy Graham, is there any spiritual leader that has had such profound, worldwide acclaim and impacted so many vast numbers of people through his life and preaching since these earlier famous preachers? I was recently given Billy Graham’s autobiography by an elderly widow in our church, and one picture in it shows Billy Graham preaching to over a million people at one time in South Korea in 1973. Perhaps some of Billy Graham’s impact is owing to the fact that he lived in the age of television and jet travel. Nevertheless, anyone who has heard Billy Graham’s preaching can tell you his messages were not anything new. Billy Graham preached the same old gospel that countless other lesser-known heralds have preached. Yet as Billy Graham spoke, his words carried clarity, compassion, and spiritual force unlike any for generations.

While it can be argued that some of the droves of people who descended the bleachers at Graham’s preaching crusades were doing so merely in response to the emotional tug of the music and the zeal of the preacher that day (Graham himself said he wouldn’t be surprised of only 2% who came forward were actually converted that night), this still does not sufficiently explain why Billy Graham did not become just another TV preacher out there with his own little following. He was invited to the White House by many presidents in his day and was esteemed by all for his moral purity and faithfulness to what he believed.

Ultimately, God has not chosen to reveal to us why He uses some men to impact thousands and others only hundreds. But Scripture does tell us that He does so according to His sovereign purposes in the world. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, He explains that some are given more talents than others (Matthew 25:14-30). Then, in Jesus’ parable of the soils, He shares that the crops growing from good soil will produce various amounts: some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and some one hundred-fold (Mark 4:8). But God does not tell us specifically why there is a difference in the growth. Instead of telling us why God uses some more than others, He charges each of us to be good stewards of whatever amount of time, gifts, relationships, and resources with which He has entrusted us.

Billy Graham was faithful with his and may we all be faithful with ours. May Paul’s question to the church at Corinth echo in our minds, “What do we have that we did not receive?”


7 Steps to the Pulpit

Many times I’ve sat on the front pew just prior to the sermon time looking at the steps to the pulpit. In these moments each Sunday morning I’m reminded of the great task with which I have been entrusted and my own weakness to perform it. 

After hours of painstaking study and prayerful preparation, I still stare at those steps and feel under qualified, knowing I’ve only scratched the surface of the message. There is a certain holy trembling a preacher feels before climbing those steps to proclaim God’s eternal Word. In centuries past, preachers like Charles Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones had to climb winding staircases to reach the “sacred desk”, but many pulpits today are just a few steps above the floor. Whether you have many steps or none at all, it is an other-worldly task we have been given. The following are a few practical steps preachers can take before climbing the real ones on Sunday morning…

Get in the Word

We must immerse ourselves in the text at the outset of all sermon prep, otherwise we will start with our own flawed opinions instead of the rock solid truth of God’s Word. 

Read the text multiple times, letting its arguments and warnings and promises inform and shape your thinking. Know the context of the passage and how it fits in the chapter, the book of the Bible it is in, and the grand scope of redemptive history. Beware of relying on your own history with the text, but don’t forget how it has affected you in the past. Familiarity with famous passages often requires we do a lot of un-learning before we can really understand it. This is the step in which to consult the original languages and discover the many nuances and word plays happening. Its also a good time to ask lots of questions of the text and consult commentaries to iron out the logic. Get the tone of the text in your head as well, so that you don’t carry the wrong tone into the pulpit. Since the tone of Psalm 23 is much different than that of Psalm 10, our preaching tone ought to reflect this. Breaking the text down into truths for the Christian life is best at this stage as well.

Let the Word get in you

This second step follows closely behind the first. You may know the Word well and have consulted the Greek and several scholarly commentaries, but you are not yet ready to preach it until you have let it get into you. 

Have you been humbled or encouraged or corrected by its teaching yet? What about it are you disobeying right now? Spend time thinking over these questions. I give myself an entire day for this stage. Before we preach the gospel from this text to others, we must first preach it to our own hearts. This is the step where study Bibles and devotional commentaries can be helpful. Such tools as the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible help to take the text and apply it with gospel force to our lives. It is also helpful at this stage to open oneself up to the scalpel of the Puritans, as their applications are heart-searching. A work like Banner of Truth’s Voices from the Past can assist you here as it has texts listed in the back to easily look up.

Pray the Word back to God…a lot

We ought to be praying at all times anyway, but especially over the text we’re to preach on Sunday. I have found that the more time I spend praying the text back to God, the more He reveals about it. 

If I’m preaching on the Great Commission this Sunday, I’ll be much more likely to share the gospel that week if I’ve been praying it to God multiple times. This also gives us a deeper conviction about its necessity before preaching it to others. After reading Tim Keller’s book entitled Prayer, I have since followed Martin Luther’s prayer method, which involves thanksgiving, confession, and supplication (p. 90). I first thank God for the text at hand and how it relates to the gospel. I then confess my failure to obey that particular text. Lastly, I pray for God’s grace to obey the text this week.

Get with the people to see how they need the Word

Your sermon will always need tweaking and will never be fully complete, but the people God has entrusted under your charge need you. One secret to preach better sermons is to get to know the people to which you’ll preach it. Sometimes I’ll realize a powerful application of a text only after visiting a family undergoing some turmoil. Trust me on this: getting to know your members will be some of your best sermon prep in the week.

Illustrate the Word in a fresh way to engage their minds

This stage takes the most effort from me personally, yet can cost me dearly if I skip it.

Sermon illustrations serve a number of uses: mental break, artful explanation, real-life scenario, and many more. The best sermon illustrations, however, are those which take the congregation on a two minute journey outside of the building and four walls to help bring home the message of the text in real life. You can even use church history here to bring a truth home. Jesus was the master teacher because he used current events, everyday objects, and simple stories to add further weight to the message. Beware of using too many illustrations, but have some on hand when the need arises.

Apply the Word to the people

You can’t personally apply the text to every scenario in the life of the congregation, but you should give more application than, “Just do this”.

We can tell others the gospel is amazing all day long, but if we don’t show them it matters for their work attitude or their family relationships or how they run their errands this weekend, we’re doing a disservice to God’s Word. If you struggle with application, Mark Dever has a helpful idea known as the application grid. He basically asks questions of how the text relates to various groups in the church body (age groups, believer/unbeliever, married/single, father/mother to children and vice versa, work, etc.) and then address a few of those in your message each week.

Preach the Word from the heart

The final step in sermon prep is the preaching of it.

Familiarity with the text and your sermon manuscript/outline is vital. I try to look over my sermon manuscript at least four times before preaching it. I want to make sure I know the points and how to transition to them in a way that does justice to the text. But make sure you always leave some on the cutting room floor. If you try to say every single thing you prepared, you’ll only sound wooden, distant, and possibly rushed. Sometimes pausing for a few seconds after a truth has been communicated conveys you care more about bringing the message home than regurgitating a manuscript.

There are multiple other aspects to sermon prep which I didn’t even cover, but these are just a few to help my fellow pastors deliver the Word.

God’s grace to you as you ascend the steps of the pulpit this week to proclaim His Word.

Ten Prayer Points on Preaching

Each week I go through two texts of Scripture to understand them, absorb them, and preach them on the upcoming Sunday morning and evening. This process involves as much prayer as it does study. Here are ten things I pray for each week about my preaching.

In the Study

Lord, give me words for Your people.

This is the first thing coming into my heart when I open my Bible. I understand that I am opening it not just for the sake of my own soul but for the sake of the souls in my church. So yes I’ll have a slow and steady eye on the text, but I’ll also have an eye on the congregation as well.

Lord, give me words of precision.

Having the congregation in view increases the urgency of having a quality sermon for the congregation. What is a quality sermon? A precise sermon where the point of the text is the point of the sermon. Where attention is given to God’s agenda in the text and submitted to. In this sense I seek only to say what God has already said.

Lord, give me words of passion and power.

As I’m slowly working through the texts and as the sermons begin to take shape before me I begin to desire that these sermons not be merely information passed from me to them. I want the demeanor in which I preach to match the demeanor of the text. I don’t want to be unaffected myself and want to affect my hearers with the truth. I want passion and power, unction from the Spirit of God in preaching the Word of God, a feeling sense of the truth I’ll preach. I cannot create this on my own, so I plead with God to create it in me.

Lord, give me words for Your praise.

Lastly, as both sermons are close to being completed I remember the ultimate aim in preaching – the glory of God. Yes the text must be understood, yes the people must grow, and yes I must grow myself. But above all these things God must be honored and glorified. I complete my sermons and ask God to use this small effort to build His Church and make much of His name.

In the Pulpit

As I approach the pulpit I am aware that this moment is the culmination of a weeks worth of study and struggle with the text. It is the moment where I’ll reap the consequences of a diligent week of study or a poor week of study, and it is always my preference to reap well than poorly! It is the moment that never ceases to amaze me that God works to build His Church through flawed preachers like myself. Knowing all of these things fills my walk to the pulpit with the following five requests.

Lord, use me to challenge, use me to convict, use me to comfort, use me to console, and use me to change Your people.

Though every week is different, filled with joys and challenges of all shapes and sizes these 10 things have, at least for me, remained true and constant. I hope they encourage you in your own preparation.

Why Would you Preach That!

A little over a month ago I began preaching through the book of Ezra, that book right after Chronicles that deals with all the people coming back to the promise land, and rebuilding. No, not Nehemiah with the walls and all that really cool leadership lesson stuff. This book is about the depth of mercy God goes too in order to restore His people. In this little book we see the people broken down and defeated. They have acknowledged that they have sinned and God brings them home from exile. There is a lot to unpack in this book as we see them struggle with maintaining their convictions and following after God, yet God is long suffering and patient with his people, bringing prophets and men of the Word  again and again to point them back to the truth of Who God is and reminding them that God has a purpose for them.

Now I say all that to point to something that happened a week before we started preaching through the book. One of my members asked me honestly after reading the book what this has to do with the church and why we would study something like Ezra. Now I love my church and I totally see where he is coming from in that we don’t usually think about preaching through Old Testament texts like Ezra. We love texts on King David and even Nehemiah; I mean leadership lessons galore there. However there is just as much meat in the harder texts of the scriptures such as Ezra, the Minor Prophets (which I wrote on earlier in the year), Kings & Chronicles, Judges, Ruth or Esther.  These texts are often overlooked or simply relegated to Sunday School material, when they have some of the most amazing stories about the work of God in the lives of real people. In these lesser preached texts, we get to see God actually change things over the course of human history. This is where I explained the importance of Ezra.

For a church like mine in the midst of transition and revitalization we need to see the part of God where He is for his people. The story of Ezra shows a people who lost hope in their future. They didn’t see how God could us them anymore, even though He set them apart and had done great things in the past, for them it is simply past, but not with God. Ezra shows us that God works in long term swaths of history, what was once broken down and dying can be restored to new life through the preaching and teaching of the word of God (Ezra 5), through the faithful walking of His people under his word (Ezra 3,6,7) and through faithful obedience to the truth (Ezra 9-10). Ezra shows us that the Christian life is filled with ups and downs, but God remains and His people will be renewed. This is why Ezra was such an important book to be preached, not only for a church in transition or revitalization, but also for a church plant talking about what makes them a community of faith verses just a random group of people who meet and talk about God stuff, or even an established church who needs to be reminded of the Great work of God in the history of His people.

The lesser preached books, mostly it seems being Old Testament biblical narrative, are essential to our Christian faith because they are essential to the revealing of who God is and how God works. We can’t avoid them because they are hard and above all you can’t avoid them because they seem, irrelevant. If there is one thing we know to be true is that the word of God is never irrelevant and the narratives of the scriptures especially. God is the central figure in all of His word and the full revelation of Jesus begins in Genesis and is woven into the whole tapestry of scripture, to leave out large swaths of the story in preaching to our congregations is to miss out on the work of God and to deprive our people of seeing God’s work in the live so the saints through all of history. So For preachers; preach boldly the hard narratives and skipped over books, and for congregants; yearn for such preaching that shows the whole of God’s Word to be true and authoritative. Also pray for the Lord to open your own eyes to see his work through the lives of those who have gone before, through the struggles and victory of God’s people.

Learn to Preach

No matter what profession you are in one of the key aspects to growth in that profession is continued education and refinement of your skills.  For some that may mean going to a few conferences and learning about new products, for some maybe that is reading a book or two about new procedures and advancements in your given field. No matter what field you are in you usually want to take the opportunity to hone your skills and be better prepared to do the job before you, which is no different in the realm of pastoral ministry. In Pastoral ministry this refinement can take on many forms such as counseling workshops, theological conferences, or reading books and journals.

For me this past week it took on the form of a Simeon Trust Expositional Workshop. These workshops are hosted around the country and even internationally to help preachers get back to the basics of expositing a text. One of the best parts of the week was the reminder that no matter where we are at the goal is to be getting better as a preacher. As Dave Helm put it, “today you should be the worst preacher you will be the rest of your life.” As preachers our studying of scripture from beginning to end will help us refine our knowledge of God and His truth, making connections easier and quicker. The goal of these workshops is simply to help preachers refine their skills through a series of instructional lectures, through worship, through the hearing of the Word, and through their own personal exegetical work in small groups.  In today’s post I want to work through why these four avenues helped me and why if you are in any form of teaching ministry they can help you.

First, the instructional lectures consisted of six designated times of direct instruction on how to study the book of Exodus in a way that prepares you to preach well to your audience. In this time we covered the importance first of prayer. Often overlooked and yet the key component of any sermon is the prayer that went into it, because at the end of the day the Lord can work through the most heretical sermons to change lives, and give no spiritual advancement through the most biblically exegetical sermon. This isn’t to say what we preach doesn’t matter, because Jesus had some strong words on that, but that if we believe it is our work and words that change lives and not God through the power of the Spirit we have already lost. Prayer in sermon prep is a must as we turn over every aspect of our prep work to God.

Once we properly established the foundation we went to work establishing our best practices for making sure the text being preached properly reflects the meaning of the Scriptures. First, we do this by ensuring that we are properly reflecting the original audiences’ understanding of the text before we connect it to today. We must be true to the text before it can truly speak. After establishing the original audience we make a straight line from the text we are in to the Gospel. Now this could take on a variety of different directions such as direct references to your text in the New testament, illusion in scriptures, overarching theological themes found in the text, etc.  however the text connects back to the gospel make sure it is the clearest and most accurate representation of the text, do not try to wedge your gospel presentation into the text, it must flow properly from the text. If Jesus words on the road to Emmaus are correct and all roads lead to Jesus then it is possible, it just takes prayer and dedication to not be forced. After you have established these two things you now apply it directly to your audience in your context. This is where application and illustration come together. Here you want to make every effort to make it clear how this text and its connection to the cross affect your people’s lives today. This will look different depending on where you live and what your church is like, so while the original context and the connection to the gospel should be pretty similar how that is applied in your context may be very different, especially in the use of language, illustrations, textual critics, argumentation, etc. In the end the lectures help us to reorient our time in the study connecting God’s word accurately so that we can preach it biblically.

The next two parts of the workshop: Worship & Preaching, were equally beneficially in that with the preached Word we got to see the three men heading up the workshop put these very principles into action. For those of us from out of town we then were able to talk to them about it over dinner on Thursday evening and get a deeper insight into how they put their study into their delivery. But not only was it edifying on an intellectual level it was a blessing on a spiritual level to just simply be encouraged by the Word at the end of each of these log three days of study. The opportunity to hear the Word was not the only blessing because we were also able to sing in response to the word. It is a surreal experience at times to come together with 50 or so other pastors and just sing in response to the word. Because the faith isn’t simply pure intellectualism, we have been change by a true and living God and that should change how we live and respond, it does take on an emotional component that cannot be left out.

Finally, and really the most important part of the workshop was our small groups, here we spent time praying together reading the Word together and, in a very nice and pastoral way, grilling each other over our exegetical work on pre-assigned texts. This is the heart of the Simeon Trust workshops because it’s where we actually get to work together in community to refine our skills. I believe this is the key strength of the whole week. It is from here that I was able to see some of the areas where I was being a little careless in application, but also a place where through discussing the texts with guys that have been in ministry for 20 plus years realized we are all still learning and we don’t have it all together. When you first start out in the small groups it all seems a little intimidating, but as you work through them over the week you see how they make you a better preacher. They help you to see areas in your thought process that is just slightly skipping a beat, or that has become too dependent on commentaries to do the work that you have lost sight of how to properly connect the text and meaning yourself.

In the end this was a great week and I would encourage anyone to attend one in your area, unfortunately, for us in Florida not so much an option, but hopefully in the future. I would also say this workshop was better than any of the conferences I have attended as a pastor (not that conferences are bad) simply because I came back with skills to use in helping my people.

More Information can be found at their website:

How Then Shall We Now Preach! Pt. 2

Earlier in the week I addressed the need for ministers to take the role of preaching seriously in how we manage our time. When it comes to sermon prep we must allow ourselves time to be saturated by the word of God, giving ourselves time to see the meaning of the text clearly so that we can present it clearly. We cannot become reliant on quick sermons and a good wit to get us by, we are tasked with bringing the Word of God to His people and it is not so light a matter.  We must allow the Word to sink in so that we are able to properly communicate it in a way that helps our people to see the meaning of the text and how it applies to their lives and to the glory of God.

Which then begs the questions how best do we prepare our sermons, especially as we contextualize them to our congregations. David Helm in chapter one of his book Expositional Preaching outlines for us three distant things to remember while preparing and contextualizing our sermons. Each is reminder to us to be diligent in the word and not flippantly running directly to contextualization with no regard for the text.

The first form of sermon prep we should be wary of is Impressionistic preaching. This form of preaching involves the reading of a text and assuming its meaning based solely on our current culture context with limited to no regard for its original one. This form of preaching is usually a result of sloppy study and a quick imagination. If you are an impressionistic preacher you are more concerned with the final result than the accuracy of what the text may say. Once you feel like you have a base line understanding of the text you jump head long into applications and illustrations, without a more diligent working on of the text to ensure that your applications and illustrations find their roots in the text.

We want our people to see the beauty of scripture and the teachings of God for all their beauty not simply to impress them with our cool stories or six lessons to help their marriage. We need them to see the Word of God clearly for it, coupled with the Spirit of God, is the only that that can truly change us. No matter how awesome our illustrations may be, if they don’t clearly represent the text then they are not accurately serving the church or our people. So in an effort to jump straight to application and contextualization, don’t miss the hard work of truly knowing the meaning of the text to the best of your ability.

The second form that we should be wary of is Inebriated Preaching. David helm uses the illustration of a drunk man and a lamp post, the man uses it more for its ability to hold him up than to illuminate his path. In the area o preaching and contextualization this is seen when we come to the text of scripture already knowing what we want to preach and how we want it to connect with our people. We form our argument then go to the text of scripture to help give it legs to stand on. This is very dangerous as here we are really on our wit, knowledge and cleverness to lead our people, not the Word of God or His Spirit. Our creative talents, apart form the Word, may win us a crowd, but that’s what Ted Talks are for not the pulpit. We preach the Word of God not human wisdom. If we come to our sermon prep already knowing what we are going to preach, having not look at the scriptures, this could lead our churches into some very dangerous places, most obviously would be the thought that the bible isn’t as important as the man speaking. We are not smarter than God, we do not have the power to change lives, only the Spirit of God can do that, so let us trust in Him and His Word to work, not our wisdom.

The final form to be wary of is Inspired Preaching. This is a method of sermon prep that arise out of a purely devotional approach to the scriptures. Now what I mean by this is not that preachers should not read the scriptures devotionally as a part of our spiritual growth, we should, but that our subjective (and at times wrong) interpretation should not be the guide for our preaching. Helm points out that for many this takes on the air of spirituality, except in reality it is simply trying to declare my devotional reading as inspired rather than the true meaning of the text. What God is teaching me on Monday in the book of Psalms or Hebrews may not be what he needs the church to be learning in the Book of Mark or anywhere else. We must not allow our very subjective approaches over shadow the truth of scripture especially as we prepare to bring the Word of God to His people. God’s Word is truth, mine is not. The “what does this passage say to you” approach to preaching will lead many people further from the truth than the many religions of this world.

If you are a preacher let me encourage you to dive deep into the text of scripture and let the true meaning of the word be the meaning of your sermon. Know the context, know the immediate application, and from there derive your modern application and illustrations. We can contextualize the truth without sacrificing the truth to our own wit and whim, God’s word is timeless and has been at work saving souls from cultures around the globe for two centuries, why would today be any different. His Word is. timeless while ours will fade away, so let his word be paramount.

How then shall we now Preach! Pt. 1

As a newer preacher this has been a question that has been floating around my head for quite a while and one that is often discussed: What makes a good sermon. Many weeks I go home and think” well that sucked, I missed an illustration here, I could have said that better.” So we pray harder, study more, and talk with a lot of other guys, and see that it’s the same for most of us. Over the next few post I want to deal with the issue of preaching and sermon prep. The first reason is because Adam and I are working through the subject currently, and second because next week I will be at a Simeon Trust workshop in Chicago tackling this very issue, for today, though, I wanted to begin to focus in on a trap we quickly fall into by waiting till Saturday to put together our sermons, and by put together I don’t mean finish an outline or brush up an illustration, but to crack open your bible and put the first word on paper. Back in the day, these sermons were affectionately referred to by a mentor of mine as Saturday evening specials.

Many of us may have fallen into this trap a time or two. If you are a verse by verse guy this may be a more alluring trap than you think.  This can arise out of two different type of preachers or situations: procrastination or over confidence. The first one involves you as a minister allowing many other events and pastoral responsibilities to be put in priority  over the studying the word. Each day you state there will be plenty of time tomorrow and yet each day passes until Saturday is upon you and you have a large empty page and only a few hours till the Sun arises. So you open your bible and hammer out a few points on a text you are familiar with or on something you think the church will enjoy. This is not the way it was meant to be, but if the sermon isn’t a complete flop you maybe tempted into this trap in the future.

The second trap is over confidence; I will be the first to admit I have fallen into this before. You feel like you know the text pretty well after reading it once, early in the week and you know there is so much other stuff going on that you will just hammer it out later. You know your own capabilities and know that you can finish it in a timely manner even if that means starting on Saturday. The problem though lies in the fact that in both cases you don’t allow the text to work itself out in your life that week. You are not allowing the text to drive what you’re about to preach or the spirit to speak to you in the text.

In preaching the key factor is that we give the people under our shepherding the Word of God, not the word of Andrew, Adam, or anyone else. His word is what must speak and His word is not to be taken lightly.  As I stated earlier this trap can be extra easy for us verse by verse expositors because we feel like we have a leg up because we already know the context from our previous sermons. However, this is not always the case because arguments change, and if you are preaching narratives scenes can change on a dime, jumping months or years at a time. We can not take our own wisdom and Knowledge as an excuse to not let the Word do it’s work in our hearts, each week.

So The first thing we need to apply to ourselves is to not settle for preaching Saturday evening specials, but rather taking the time to let the word saturate our minds and souls. We need to set aside time throughout our study to let the Spirit speak to us and to allow our study of God’s word to reveal the correct context and point of each text, so that we can give our people the Word of God, not whatever cleaver device we create, which means if His Word is not central to us why do we think it will be central to those we lead. If our scriptural text have not had time to mature and strike our own hearts , why do we think that the Spirit will use them to work in our people.

The second thing we need to remember is that this is our calling, first and foremost Elders are dedicated to Prayer and to the Word. This is not to downplay the other responsibilities we carry as pastors, but if you are the head of a church your job is first to pray and second is to preach the word. Therefore let us make sermon prep the delightful joy it should be and allow the word to guide us and guide our people, through an accurate and timely time in it.




What We Can Learn from J.C. Ryle

“The world will let a man go to hell quietly, and never try to stop him. The world will never let a man go to heaven quietly—they will do all they can to turn him back…let him begin to read his Bible and be diligent in prayers, let him decline worldly amusement and be particular in his employment of time, let him seek an evangelical ministry and live as if he had an immortal soul-let him do this, and the probability is all his relations and friends will be up in arms…if a man will become a decided evangelical Christian he must make up his mind to lose the world’s favours; he must be content to be thought by many a perfect fool” (Iain Murray).

The name J.C. Ryle seemed to be forgotten by the winds of time after his death. For fifty years, Ryle’s work would be left in the dustbin of history. But when the battle for the Bible began raging on and the conservative resurgence took shape, Ryle’s works once again grew in popularity. Now that a new wave of “young, restless, and reformed” have swept on the scene to retreat from the shallow theology of easy-believism, there is a renewed interest in J.C. Ryle, and for that we should all be grateful.

J.C. Ryle served as the first bishop of Liverpool and his life spanned most of the 19th Century. He has authored a number of works including Holiness, Simplicity in Preaching, and Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Everything I quote regarding his life in this blog comes from Iain Murray’s book entitled J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone.

John Charles (J.C.) Ryle was born just over two hundred years ago, on May 10, 1816. Although he was born into a very wealthy family with his father running a bank, his promise of fortune ended when the bank went belly up and he was left to pay off large amounts of his father’s debts for years to come. He recalls from his childhood that he, his brother, and his four sisters, “were brought up in the greatest comfort and luxury, and had everything that money could get” (pg. 4). Ryle later comments on the crash of his father’s bank: “I was going to leave my father’s house without the least idea what was going to happen, where I was going to live, or what I was going to do…an eldest son, 25, with all the world before me, lost everything, and saw the whole future of my life turned upside down, and thrown into confusion. In short, if I had not been a Christian at this time, I do not know if I should not have committed suicide” (pg. 49).

Although J.C. grew up in a church-going family, his was not a truly Christian church or home. He remarks, “The plain truth is, that for the first 16 or 17 years of my life, there was no ministry of the gospel at the churches we attended…we had no religious friends or relatives and no real Christian ever visited our house…neither at home, nor school, nor college, nor among my relatives or friends, had I anything to do good to my soul, or to teach me anything about Jesus Christ” (pg. 18).

At about the age of 21, J.C. Ryle began sporadically attending a new Church of England congregation in his home town of Macclesfield, which was unlike the other two churches in the area, “where you might have slept as comfortably in those churches under the sermons of their ministers as you might in your own armchairs with nothing to wake you up.” It was here, under the ministry of John Burnet that Ryle saw, “a kind of stir among dry bones.” He speaks later of his conversion, “Nothing I remember to this day, appeared to me so clear and distinct as my own sinfulness, Christ’s preciousness, the value of the Bible, the absolute necessity of coming out from the world, the need of being born again…all these things…seemed to flash upon me like a sunbeam in the winter of 1837, and have stuck in my mind from that time down to this” (pg. 23).

Ryle’s later call into the ministry came after failed attempts at other things and seemed to be forced upon him. Although he didn’t want to be a clergyman and was fairly skilled in law, he would later say, “God ordered it differently, and would not allow me to be a lawyer.” He even said, “every avenue seemed shut against me.” He also remarked, “If my father’s affairs had prospered, and I had never been ruined, my life of course would have been a very different one. I should probably have gone into Parliament very soon, and it is impossible to say what the effect of this might have been upon my soul.” He served churches in Exbury, Winchester, Helmingham, rural Suffolk, and Stradbroke before being asked to become the first bishop of Liverpool. He was regularly in the houses of his parishioners, even visiting every family once a month. His commitment to visit his members so frequently came from a desire to preach the Gospel to them in their kitchens and living rooms as much as from the pulpit. His heart beat for discipling his people with the Word. Ryle saw it as his life’s work to preach the Gospel in the Church of England so as to keep it from drifting away into ritualism and Roman Catholic influences, a serious threat which we see now in our day. Having grown up in the Church of England, Ryle had studied the 39 Articles and loved the legacy of the Reformers, so he was intent to do his part to keep the Church of England on solid ground. Many would have abandoned such a hard road for another denomination with a brighter future, but not Ryle.

As a preacher, Ryle often preached from short, pithy texts and filled his sermons with no-nonsense straight talk about the real issues of life. He always spoke to his congregants like he believed he would one day have to give an account for their souls. J.C. Ryle was once referred to as, “that man of granite with the heart of a child.” Ryle earned the title of a “man of granite” by his rock-solid stance on the truthfulness of God’s Word against a host of Roman Catholic sympathizers wreaking havoc in the Church of England. He also took a bold stand in his preaching and was unashamed who was offended by the message of the cross. He did not cower before the opinions of others, even when those others were in the majority. He once told a group of ministers, “Stand fast, both in public and in private, even if you stand alone…Stand fast in the old belief that the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation was given by inspiration of God, and that the historical facts recorded in the Old Testament are all credible and true” (Murray, pg. 194). On the other hand, Ryle was said to have, “the heart of a child” because of his sincere love for all people. Some men take themselves so seriously that they turn people away from the truths they preach, but Ryle was not this way. On his daily walks, he would often be seen speaking to a group of young boys playing a game on the road and giving them a piece of sharp and witty advice. The children also knew that whenever they saw Mr. Ryle coming he had plenty of candy in his pockets.

Ryle’s ministry included suffering, as his first and second wife both died prematurely and left him with five children to care for all on his own. He eventually married Henrietta, who more than made up for all his suffering. Henrietta was more than a good wife to J.C.; she was also the perfect partner for him in the stresses of ministry. A good help-mate can make or break a man’s ministry, and she certainly made his thrive.

Perhaps one of the saddest events in J.C. Ryle’s life involved his son Herbert. Herbert studied and began preaching liberal theology to the dismay of his aging father. It is one thing for a preacher’s son to be lost and yet a whole other thing for that son to be a popular false teacher rising among the ranks. J.C. went to be with Jesus in 1900 and his son Herbert seemed intent on removing his father’s evangelical heritage. All that J.C. Ryle stood for theologically, his son Herbert stood against. The new era of liberal theology seemed to cast a dark shadow over all Ryle’s efforts and his son Herbert rejoiced to see evangelical theology dissipating into the dark recesses of the history books. Little did Herbert and his liberal contemporaries know, the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” can never be truly extinguished, but will shine ever brighter until Christ’s return. Liberal theology only served to close church doors as J.C. had foretold, but evangelical truth, which J.C. Ryle had stood for, would face another resurgence decades later.

Praise God for the life and ministry of His servant J.C. Ryle in a day where his memory is once again celebrated. Ryle teaches ministers today to have a thick skin and a soft heart. He also teaches us to be dead earnest about the Gospel and yet not take ourselves too seriously either. We would do well to learn these lessons from a dear brother gone before.

What Kind of Church Should You Go To?

What kind of church should you find and give yourself to? My answer is a simple one, but it needs explanation. You should go to a church with hard preaching. Let me explain. I once heard John MacArthur say, “Hard preaching makes soft people, and soft preaching makes hard people.”

Hard preaching is true preaching. Soft preaching is fake preaching. Another way to say it is hard preaching takes the Bible seriously while soft preaching doesn’t. Because the Bible is taken seriously in hard preaching, it values what the Bible values. The Bible has a high view of God, His holiness, and His Glory, while also having a low view of man and his sin, a high view of Christ’s Person and Work, and a high view of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the hearts of the elect. Thus true preaching will have these things present in it as well because true preaching goes where the Bible goes.

Soft preaching, in contrast, doesn’t value what the Bible values. It doesn’t present a high view of God, doesn’t present a low view of man, doesn’t present a high view of Christ’s Person and Work, and doesn’t present a high view of the Spirit’s work. Thus soft preaching doesn’t have anything of value in it for God’s people, because (oddly enough) pleasing people is the focus instead of pleasing God. It goes wherever it wants to and avoids the truth of Scripture.

Hard preaching is full of honest, truthful, and faithful conscience awakening plea’s from the Bible to recognize sin as sin, call us to repent, and call us to turn toward Christ with full affection and thankfulness for what He’s done and still doing in and through us. Soft preaching is full of attempts from the so-called preacher to explain away the truths of Scripture, soften the sin of man, lessen the punitive wrath of God for sin, and put all people regardless of religion on the same path to God. Thus it demeans God and exalts man.

The results of these two types of preaching may not be visible at first but overtime they are more than visible, they are disastrous. The effect of hard preaching on the human heart is a good one. You’ll find your heart softening over time to the things of God and come to hold a very high and proper view of God’s Word, God’s work, and God’s Church. The effect of soft preaching on the human heart is a bad one. You’ll find your heart hardening over time to the things of God and come to hold a view high view of self, which will lead to a low view of God’s Word, God’s work, and God’s Church. Hard preaching leads both the preacher and his hearers to repentance, while soft preaching leads both the preacher and his/her hearers to further callousness.

Hard preaching brings life to the soul and moves people toward holy living.

Soft preaching brings death to the soul and confirms people in their worldliness.

The conclusion is easy. If you want a real, authentic, living, and vibrant faith in Christ, seek a church who will give it to you straight and doesn’t tamper with the Word of God. If you want a fake, phony, showy, and fraudulent faith in a some kind of ‘higher power’, seek a gathering that will do everything in its power to increase your trust in yourself.

10 Things I Hate About Expository Preaching


Humorous Satire from Joe Allotta:

Expository preaching is basically preaching through a whole book of the bible at a time. Some pastors just preach on a verse or two at a time (but that takes years), and some take it chapter-by-chapter (which only takes months), but both types take the arduous journey of studying an entire book! The question is, is it really worth it? Here are 10 things I hate about expository preaching. They’re in no particular order. I guess I hate them all pretty equally.

10) The prep-time is way longer

Making sure everything is being taught in context and being aware of what’s coming in future weeks is exhausting when on top of all the other aspects of sermon prep.

9) The congregation loses out on the surprise

If church-goers know what’s coming the following week, they might read ahead for themselves. They should probably hear the pastor’s take on the passage before reading it for themselves.

8) There’s hard stuff to preach on if you don’t skip it

Have fun preaching on how God loved Jacob and hated Esau or how women should wear head-coverings. When you preach through a whole book of the Bible there’s always something complicated you have to talk about.

7) It’s harder to squeeze in my funny illustrations

Sometimes something really funny happens to me, or there’s a hilarious story on and if I don’t get to pick the verses I preach on, then the illustration will be out of place.

6) It’s too repetitive

The Apostle Paul is the worst at this. He repeats himself so much. Yeah “psychology” might call it reinforcement, but I call it boring. At the end of the day, tell me the difference between the movies Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Iron Man 3. I’ll help you, they’re the same plot with different bad guys. No one thinks Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man is still cool, do they?

5) It’s harder for the pastor to prove a point

Sometimes I have an argument with someone at church, and it helps if I can preach against them the following week from the pulpit. I can collect all the verses that prove my point and make sure everyone agrees with me by the end of the next Sunday.

4) There’s too much sin and Hell mentioned

We all know that sin is kind of a big deal, and Hell pretty much just stinks. How much should we really harp on it? The Bible seems to bring it up a lot. Do we have to talk about it as much as Scripture does?

3) Tithing isn’t brought up in the New Testament

Are you kidding me? This subject obviously needs to be brought up more often if God wants us to upgrade the video arts capabilities of the church.

2) It’s just not practical or pragmatic

How can God inspiring writing thousands of years ago be relevant to people living today? Doesn’t it make more sense to use Scripture as a jumping off point for more modern discussions?

1) It pigeonholes me as a pastor

The church hired me, not the Apostle Paul, not Peter, not John… me. Wouldn’t they want to hear my stories rather than theirs? Wouldn’t they want to hear my thoughts on various social issues rather than me speculating on their views based on similar situations they dealt with?

Almost the Greatest Advice on Preaching I’ve Received

When it comes to preaching, I have very strong opinions, AS EVERY PREACHER SHOULD!  Anywho, the title of this post is exactly what I want to say.  The best preaching advice one can ever give or receive is simple: expository preaching (verse by verse preaching) is the best way to preach.  If you want to know what this is, find the “preaching” category below and you won’t have to go far to find posts on it.

Now for the second best advice you can ever give or receive.  In seminary, the first thing my preaching professor Dr. Bruce Lowe ever told me was this:

If you say everything, you say nothing.

Let me give you an example: Romans 5:1-2 says this, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  Let’s say this is the passage you’ve chosen to preach on, what will you say?  You could do one sermon, fully loaded on doctrinal items, going into depths of explanations like this:

How many doctrines are in Romans 5:1-2? “Therefore, having been justified by faith (Justification by Faith alone…), we have peace with God (…Propitiation, Atonement, Substitution, Satisfaction…) through our Lord Jesus Christ (…Christ’s Deity, Eternal Priesthood, and Mediatorial Work…), through Whom (…Sola Christus…) also we have obtained our introduction by faith (… Sola Fide…) into this grace (…Sola Gratia…) in which we stand (…Justification, Perseverance…);and we exult in hope (…Assurance…) of the glory of God (…Soli Deo Gloria…).”

If you were to do this, your people would surely get a head full of true and right doctrine, which is great.  But is this beneficial?  I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the doctrine I think is wrong, it’s the manner in which you bring it forth to your people.  Instead of doing one sermon on all these doctrines, how about doing one sermon on each of these doctrines (making it a sermon series on two Bible verses – awesome!), showing how this verse teaches it?  That would be far better, because your people would get deeper into each individual doctrine, and hear how it specifically applies to their lives.  This is far better of an option in preaching because…

…if you say everything, you say nothing.

You Aren’t as Smart as You Think You Are….So Manuscript Your Sermons

Jason Dees:

If you’ve read even a few of the many books and articles on sermon preparation, then you’ve probably read the adage that says, “Think yourself empty; read yourself full; write yourself clear; pray yourself hot; and let yourself go.” This phrase has been attributed to Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, and others. But it actually originated with a Welsh Anglican named W. H. Griffith Thomas.[1] While I agree with all five of Thomas’ exhortations, the one I want to focus on in this essay is his third: “Write yourself clear.”

There has long been a debate in preaching circles on whether or not a preacher should manuscript his sermons. While it’s true that some of the great preachers throughout church history (including favorites such as Charles Spurgeon and Martin Lloyd Jones) did not use and even discouraged the use of the manuscript, I am not as smart as Charles Spurgeon or Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and neither are you. So allow me to give you four reasons why you should consider writing manuscripts as a part of your sermon preparation.



Write a manuscript to shorten your preparation time.

I was trying to encourage a pastor friend of mine toward writing manuscripts and he said, “I just don’t have time to write a manuscript.” Many pastors may give time as an excuse, and I understand how busy a pastor’s week can be. Even as I write this article, in the back of my head I am thinking, “I really should be working on my sermon, or making a phone call, or coaching an intern.” But I would argue that rather than lengthening your time of preparation, writing a manuscript can actually shorten it. When you are in your study and have come across something that’s good for your sermon, just write it down, and there you have it. Then, when you build your sermon, you can just plug in all of your best notes and you don’t have to go back and try to remember or find something you studied.

Write a manuscript to find the right words.

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” What if John Owen had said, “Rid your life of sin because it is important for Christian growth,” instead of, “be killing sin, or sin will be killing you”? Both sentences communicate the same truth, but the second sentence is said so well that it leaves a lasting impression on the heart. The right words matter, and writing a manuscript helps the preacher to not just say true things, but to say true things well.

Write a manuscript to ensure your sermon is congruent.

One of the marks of great preaching is that it’s congruent. In fact, I was talking with another pastor friend recently and he said, “I had been preaching for years, but when I started writing a manuscript my sermons got better the next Sunday because they were instantly more congruent.” A good preacher has many high points that catch the attention of and inspire his listeners. A great preacher can grab his listener’s attention and hold it for the duration of the sermon, smoothly leading them from one point to the next. Again, unless you have the mind of Spurgeon, it’s difficult to do this without writing a manuscript.

A manuscript helps the preacher with transitions, as it clearly balances time for each point; a manuscript also helps to explain difficult passages or truths with clarity. This helps the preacher see his sermon as a whole before he delivers it, thus enabling him to easily and decisively edit his sermon. In fact, it’s not until I’m looking at the finished product that I can really see the points that don’t fit or may take away from the overall message. Preaching is a high calling from God, so the preacher must do whatever he can to place the best, most congruent, Spirit-filled argument before dying men whose only hope is that their souls would come alive in Christ.

Write a manuscript to have a record.

One of my greatest treasures are the 1200 sermons or so that I have preached across my years of ministry. And fortunately, because I was encouraged early on to write manuscripts, I have a record of all of them. They have been an enormous help to me in writing other sermons, or in preparing for preaching engagements outside of my own local church. Having a record of my sermons also helps in my pastoral ministry. Almost every Sunday, someone asks me to counsel them on something that I have just preached, and being able to point them to our web page where we post all of the sermon manuscripts online, or being able to email them an excerpt from a sermon is a powerful shepherding tool.


There are many other reasons you should manuscript your sermons: it helps the preacher stay on time; if you preach to multiple services, it can ensure the two congregations are getting the same teaching; it can help you avoid using the same illustrations; I could go on.

But I want to conclude by addressing the warnings given by Spurgeon, Lloyd Jones,[2] and others; the preacher should always be free, and the manuscript should never confine him. I agree with Spurgeon that the manuscript should never be read and that the preacher should be perceptive enough to at times speak extemporaneously, veering from the manuscript when he sense the need or desire to. If a preacher cannot help but read it, perhaps he should write the sermon, and then separately write an outline that he takes into the pulpit. While I believe the manuscript is one of the best tools in sermon preparation, it can be a dangerous tool in sermon delivery. You are the preacher, not the manuscript. You are delivering the sermon, not the manuscript. The manuscript is a great tool, but God anoints the man to preach, not the manuscript.


[1] J. I. Packer, Truth and Power (Guildford, Surrey: Eagle, 1990), 132.

[2] Two classic resources on preaching are: C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: Complete & Unabridged (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1954), and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1972).

Hard Preaching is Better than Soft Preaching

At one of the recent Together for the Gospel conferences John MacArthur said, “Hard preaching makes soft people, and soft preaching makes hard people.”

To understand this quote, let me define the two terms in play and show their natural consequences:

Hard preaching is true preaching.  Soft preaching is fake preaching.  Another way to say is hard preaching takes the Bible seriously while soft preaching doesn’t.  Because the Bible is taken seriously in hard preaching, it values what the Bible values.  The Bible has a high view of God due to His holiness and glory, a low view of man due to sin, a high view of Christ due to His Person and Work, and a high view of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the hearts of the elect.  Thus true preaching will have these things present in it as well because it goes where the Bible goes.

Soft preaching, in contrast, doesn’t value what the Bible values.  It doesn’t present a high view of God, doesn’t present a low view of man, doesn’t present a high view of Christ’s Person and Work, and doesn’t present a high view of the Spirit’s work.  Thus soft preaching doesn’t have anything of value in it for God’s people because, oddly enough, people are the focus of it instead of God.  It goes wherever it wants to and avoids the truth of Scripture.

Hard preaching is full of honest, truthful, and faithful conscience awakening plea’s from the Bible to recognize sin as sin, call us to repent, and call us to turn toward Christ with full affection and thankfulness for what He’s done and still doing in and through us.  Soft preaching is full of attempts from the so-called preacher to explain away the truths of Scripture, soften the sin of man, lessen the punitive wrath of God for sin, and put all people regardless of religion on the same path to God.  Thus it demeans God and exalts man.

The results of these two types of preaching may not be visible at first but overtime they are disastrous.  The effect of hard preaching on the human heart is a good one.  You’ll find your heart softening over time to the things of God and come to hold a very high and proper view of God’s Word, God’s work, and God’s Church.  The effect of soft preaching on the human heart is a bad one.  You’ll find your heart hardening over time to the things of God and come to hold a view high view of self, which will lead to a low view of God’s Word, God’s work, and God’s Church.  Hard preaching leads both the preacher and his hearers to repentance, while soft preaching leads both the preacher and his/her hearers to further callousness.

Hard preaching brings life to the soul and moves people toward holy living.

Soft preaching brings death to the soul and confirms people in their worldliness.

The conclusion is easy.  If you want a real, authentic, living, and vibrant faith in Christ, seek a church who will give it to you straight and doesn’t tamper with the Word of God.  If you want a fake, phony, showy, and fraudulent faith in a some kind of ‘higher power’, seek a gathering that will do everything in its power to increase your trust in yourself.

Andy Stanley Trashes Expository Preaching


Andy Stanley Trashes Expository Preaching; Calls it “Easy” and “Cheating”

From Pulpit and Pen:

Ed Stetzer, whose employer – Lifeway “Christian” Resources – sells more than a few Andy Stanley books, interviewed the Texas pastor on the topic of preaching related to his book, Communicating for a Change. The second of such interviews on this topic, Stetzer posts the Q&A on his blog, hosted by Christianity Today. What follows is nothing short of a shocking (but refreshingly honest and explicit) rejection of expository preaching, and although is not new, is making its way around social media as of late.

The question posed to Stanley was this…

What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?

Stanley’s answer…

Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.

It’s “cheating.” Do you hear that, you exegetes? You small church pastors, sweating away in your study on Friday and Saturday nights to finish up before Sunday…you expositors checking the Greek and Hebrew and grasping the etymology of key words and phrases, putting it within Scriptural context, cross-referencing all the important verses, studying the commentaries of all the great scholars to unwrap the oracles of God verse by verse at a time. People don’t grow that way.

I think I speak for a lot of people – and I mean a lotta people – who when we think of spiritual growth and discipleship – don’t exactly think North Point Church. I’m not trying to be mean (really, I’m not). I’m just sayin’. I don’t think “discipleship” would be the perceived strong-suit of the congregation. I’m willing to bet the still-married to women but happily gay couple at North Point probably don’t think of discipleship, either. They certainly don’t think about sanctification and holiness, which is, essentially, the same thing as spiritual growth. This leads me to believe that Stanley must mean…

“That isn’t how you [numerically] grow people.” 

That would make more sense. And, if that’s what Stanley means, he might be right. There is that sweet-spot in the life of the church when it’s years or decades into its existence and the maturity level has risen from internal spiritual growth to an evangelistic zeal that’s as much truth as spirit and the wind of the Holy Spirit is at the church’s back and there are amazing, incredible times of revival and refreshing. We all live for those moments when we see the Third Person of the Trinity reap lost souls and see genuine converts flood the gates (let’s call that “new growth”). There’s also those times when a church develops a reputation for solid exposition, sincere worship and real discipleship and actual Christians come from miles around to take part in the life of that body – primarily because they are sheep starved for green pastures and are tired of being ripped apart by doctrinal wolves and ridiculed or ignored by hireling shepherds (we’ll call that “old growth”). The former is primarily a move of God and the latter can be savvy communication or advertising to spread the word that this church actually cares about their Scriptural purpose (although God is certainly involved in old growth, too). And sometimes, there’s a healthy combination of both new and old growth.

The two kinds of legitimate numerical growth of actual believers in the church’s assembly are acts of God, facilitated by the Spirit using His inspired Scriptures.

There is, however, a kind of numerical growth that is not a legitimate increase in the Church’s assembly of believers. It is the type of growth that can be seen as pervasive in many growing “churches” today, of which John MacArthur says

There’s a serious defect in a so-called minister content to be proud of assembling non-believers and calling them a church. Something deeply wrong there. Modern evangelicalism seems to exhaust every imaginable and unimaginable means to attract and collect non-Christians into a building and then call it a church and call it church growth. Maybe there’s a better way to identify these places, let’s just call them non-churches.

If what Stanley means here is “That isn’t how you [spiritually] grow people” then, essentially, we’re left to believe that Stanley’s understanding of growth is that it’s done by the person, the pastor, the “communicator” and not by God through the Scriptures. Notice the phrasing, “That’s not how you grow people.”

You’re right, Stanley. That’s not how we grow people. It’s how God grows people, through his Spirit, via the Holy Scriptures. Stanley continues (from the above)…

No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.

Well, that’s true. It’s hard to find a didactic and authoritative model of preaching  Scripture in Scripture. That would be like finding characters in a movie rewinding or fast-forwarding itself to provide commentary, which as far as I know, has only been done in one scene of Space Balls. There is not a chapter of the Sacred Text describing expository, topical, thematic or narrative preaching. We do, however, see how Scripture is handled in Scripture, even if there aren’t books entitled 1st and 2nd Homiletics. Chiefly, the Scripture is saturated with the Scripture. The Psalms, the Prophets, the Epistles are all wrapped up in one another and soaked in Inspiration.

We see New Testament writers (via the Holy Spirit) preach their oratories and saturate their divinely-inspired epistles from the verses of the Old Testament, roughly 850 times. We see Jesus discussing doctrine from the Old Testament with the scholars in the temple from age 12 onward. We see Him resisting Satan by a recitation of the Scriptures. We see Jesus daily contending with the Pharisees over the Scriptures. And we see that the most famous sermon in the history of mankind was an exegetical outline of the Old Testament Law and Ten Commandments (what was provided in Matthew was not a word-for-word account of Jesus’ Sermon preached upon a mountain top, but an outline, and from which you can see how He was working his way through Mosaic Law). The same is said for Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7. Unless you believe these are word-for-word transcripts of 4-minute long orations, these are clearly exegetical outlines that were ambitious in the amounts of Scripture being cited and covered.

Stanley and other seeker-friendly “creative” preachers improve upon the Text by incessant story-telling and personal anecdotes. That’s the “engaging” part of his shtick. I’ll remind you, beloved, that Jesus taught in parables not to reveal engaging and compelling truths from Scripture, but to conceal truth from those who didn’t need it at the time (Matthew 13:11-17). I’m convinced the non-exegetical approach of modern-day story tellers and dreamers is for the same, but non-divine, purpose – to conceal truth and not to reveal it. Cloak scripture in stories and endless illustrations like riddles, the oracles of God that have now been made clear to us; the choir will get it and the lost won’t see anything offensive and stumble on no Cornerstone. Stanley continues…

All Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applicable or relevant to every stage of life. My challenge is to read culture and to read an audience and ask: What is the felt need? Or perhaps what is more important, what is an unfelt need they need to feel that I can address? 

We see here what Stanley is busy reading – and it’s not the Scripture. After all, the Scripture isn’t equally applicable or relevant to every “stage of life” (which is why the typical seeker-friendly church preaches from only a dozen different scripture texts – David and Goliath, Jonah and the whale, Joshua and the Sun, etc – repackaged over and over and over again in an endless sea of regurgitated life advice in a camouflage of changing phraseology). No, Stanley is reading culture. He’s reading the audience. He’s not a preacher – he’s contemporary anthropologist. His job is basically the same as Ed Stetzer’s – except applied as ecclesiastical methodology instead of as helpful missiological data – Stanley studies culture and provides to the consumer what is is asking for. Stanley’s king is not Christ.  The consumer, in Stanely’s ministry, is king.

Stanley then gives an example for why expository preaching is over-rated and it’s the icing, and not the cake, that makes the difference…

I believe the true defining moment of my life as a communicator took place when I was in seminary. I was asked to do a chapel for the high school academy at First Baptist Church, Dallas. So I got the message all ready to go, and I was going to preach on the story of Naaman. And God told him to dip in the water seven times and he would be healed. I had all this great stuff. And I was sitting in my one-room efficiency apartment and I was thinking, “These kids have heard everything. They go to church all the time. They are not going to remember this. This is just another chapel. What can I do so that they can remember this? I am just going to come up with one phrase and I am going to say it so many times that they can’t possibility forget it.”

So I came up with this phrase: “To understand why, submit and apply.” That was over 30 years ago and I still remember it. So I told the whole story. And I said the bottom line was: “To understand why, submit and apply. ” And I said that God is going to ask you to do some things that you might not understand why, but you must submit and apply. I had them say it over and over.

Three years go by, and I am working in the college department in the same church and a freshman walks in and says, “I remember you. To understand why, submit and apply.” He didn’t remember my name. He wasn’t even sure where he had seen me before. But it stuck in his head. And I’ll never forget thinking, “That is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

I think the story says it all. It’s not a catechism of Scripture that the next generation needs or wants. No, we need to catechize ourselves in Stanley and other wordsmiths who take the sharp-as-any-two-edged-sword Word of God that divides souls and spirits, that regenerates hearts and makes us born again through its incorruptible seed and create pithy little, theologically shallow slogans that end up on bumper-stickers and tshirts and eventually are debunked by discernment blogs for being so doctrinally anemic and usually preposterously and biblically incorrect until even the originators of those slogans grit their teeth in an awkward smile, throw up their hands in a defensive posture and walk backward slowly from their messed up semantic children. That’s how you grow people.

I want to take all this stuff in the Bible, and I want to say it so simply that it gets so lodged in people’s hearts that in the moment of transition or temptation or whatever it might be, they think: What is that statement? What is that phrase?”

Not from the Bible, but from Stanley. Not from the collection of 66 Books of Inspired Writ, but from this book sold at Lifeway. Yes. That’s the ticket.

[Contributed by JD Hall]

How Do I Preach from the Old Testament Better?

Recently a close friend asked me a question that I thought was simply a delight to answer.  He asked me, “How do I preach better from the Old Testament?”

Here is my answer:

I’m grateful you’ve asked about how to preach from the OT better.  This is a grand desire, and one that you’ll feel for the rest of your life.  The hardest thing about preaching is the first 60 years :), really.  We all should be striving to be better handlers of God’s Word, asking God to make us more faithful every sermon we prepare for and preach.  Here are a few basic guidelines I’m come to find very helpful and have embraced over the past 7-8 years.

First and foremost: Preach Christ from all of Scripture.

From Genesis to Revelation God only has one sermon, Christ crucified, risen, and reigning.  Though every verse in the Bible does not explicitly have Christ in it – every verse in the Bible exists to get you to Christ in some manner.  One of my RTS professors always said it like this, “Christ is the end which every verse in the Bible means to take you.”  If Christ is not the center of every sermon, especially an OT sermon, than your hearers will usually only hear one thing: TRY HARDER, DO BETTER – this is preaching law not grace, tyranny not liberation.  Rather, our hearers should hear the best words they could ever hear from every text of Scripture: IT IS FINISHED.  All this is, is putting Colossians 1:28 into practice from all of the Scripture.  One thing that will help you see the connections between the OT and Christ is a study in Typology.  That’s what did it for me.

Second: Explain how the OT text would have been heard and understood to its original audience.  Answer the question: what would have been the first thing coming into the original audience’s heart/mind when hearing or reading this passage of Scripture?

Third: Explain how the OT text must be heard and understood to our current day today.

Fourth: These previous two items may be very close to the same thing, but they may not be also.  For example, knowing how the original audience of the Israelites would have read, heard, and understood the words of Genesis 1 (for example) helps us understand it more today.  Though I have many friends who hold to the literary framework interpretation of creation, I highly doubt that was the original audience’s view.  It most likely was understood as a literal 6 day, 24 hour creation.

Fifth: Listen to good OT preaching, a lot.  It gets in your bones.

Sixth: Read good books on preaching, of which they’re are only 4 in my opinion:

a) John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching

b) Martin Lloyd Jones, Preaching and Preachers

c) Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim

d) Edmund Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture


For His Fame,