The 10 Commandments of Preaching

May 11, 2015

After 40 years of preaching Sinclair Ferguson took some time (on a airplane!) to write down his 10 commandments of preaching.

Though Ferguson admits his commandments are not “infallible” (as were the ones given to Moses on the mount) every preacher would do well to think carefully about these “ground rules” for preaching.

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 need to be homo unius libri–a man of one Book.

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.

3. Don’t Lose Sight of Christ

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.

4. Be Deeply Trinitarian

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?

5. Use Your Imagination

All good preaching involves the use of the imagination. No great preacher has ever lacked imagination. . . . 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.

6. Speak Much of Sin and Grace

Sin and grace should be the downbeat and the upbeat that run through all our exposition.

We cannot build a ministry, nor healthy Christians, on a diet of fulminating against the world.

Spiritual surgery must be done within the context of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter.

7. Use “the Plain Style”

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.

8. Find Your Own Voice

Some men never grow as preachers because the “preaching suit” they have borrowed does not actually fit them or their gifts.

The marriage of our personality with another’s preaching style can be a recipe for being dull and lifeless.

9. Learn How to Transition

[Preach in such a way as to show people] how to transition from the old ways to the new way, from patterns of sin to patterns of holiness.

Not “this is wrong . . . this is right” but by our preaching to enable and effect the transition.

How do we do this? To begin with by expounding the Scriptures in a way that makes clear that the indicatives of grace ground the imperatives of faith and obedience and also effect them.

The Scriptures themselves teach us the answer to the “What?” questions and also the answer to the “How to?” question.

10. Love Your People

This is a litmus test for our ministry. It means that my preparation is a more sacred enterprise than simply satisfying my own love of study.


Question: Ferguson remarks that “Once one begins thinking about this, whatever Ten Commandments one comes up with, it becomes obvious that this is an inexhaustible theme.” What other commandments for preaching would you add to Ferguson’s list?

Kerry McGonigal

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In Adam by birth but in Christ by grace. That's my story. Husband to one and father of three. Pastor, homiletics teacher, and passionate proponent of expository preaching. If you like what you've read and want to be notified of future posts, take a second and subscribe via RSS or email (on the right sidebar). Opinions expressed here are my own.

3 responses to The 10 Commandments of Preaching

  1. How about these?

    11. Focus on answering the question “What does the passage say?” instead of “What can I say about the passage?”.

    12. Respect the congregation’s time.

    13. Respect the congregation’s intelligence level. They can easily find out while listening to the sermon whether the preacher has really spent sufficient time studying the passage. What they’re expecting (most of them) from the preacher is for someone to rightly divide the truth and make relevant applications that lead to conviction and repentance.

    14. Let the size of your notes sheet be smaller than the size of your Bible (this is not a commandment 🙂 )

    • I especially like #11, Roshan. It is critical that we begin with the text (as much as is possible) and work out from there and avoid imposing our ideas on the text.