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One question we must ask in assessing our preaching is this: “What are my listeners impressed with at the end of my message? Or you could put it this way: “Who are my listeners impressed with at the end of my message?”

Consider the following except from Jonathan Leeman and Matt Chandler’s book Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People.

A group of American Christians in the nineteenth century planned to visit London for a week. Their friends, excited for the opportunity, encouraged them to go hear two of London’s famous preachers and bring back a report.

On Sunday morning after their arrival, the Americans attended Joseph Parker’s church. They discovered that his reputation for eloquent oratory was well deserved. One exclaimed after the service, “I do declare, it must be said, for there is no doubt, that Joseph Parker is the greatest preacher that ever there was!”

The group wanted to return in the evening to hear Parker again, but they remembered that their friends would ask them about another preacher named Charles Spurgeon.

So on Sunday evening they attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where Spurgeon was preaching. The group was not prepared for what they heard, and as they departed, one of them spoke up, “I do declare, it must be said, for there is no doubt, that Jesus Christ is the greatest Savior that ever there was!”

I recently heard this story from Richard Phillips. He heard it from his seminary professor. Whether it actually happened or is a piece of folklore that has grown up around Spurgeon, known as “the Prince of Preachers,” I’m not sure. What is sure, however, is that this is the response Christian preachers want to produce in their congregations–a reveling in Jesus Christ. And this is the response, I hope, that Christians want to have Sunday after Sunday.

Christian preaching, if it’s about anything, is about announcing the amazingly good news of Jesus Christ. (emphasis mine)

So, preachers, make it your greatest ambition to impress your listeners with the person and work of Jesus Christ. Pray to that end. Prepare and craft your sermon to that end. And preach the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit to that end.

Effective expository preaching finds it origin and power not so much in clever construction as in detailed, obedient listening to God’s voice in the text.
~ David Jackman in The Art & Craft of Biblical Preaching, 229.

Effective Preaching Begins with Obedient Listening

I find it helpful at times to take a step back from the nitty-gritty details of weekly sermon preparation and think about preaching from a big picture perspective.

There are lots of ways to look at preaching and describe the process of preparing an expository sermon. I’m always trying to refine my thinking in this area and come up with better ways of articulating and explaining the process to my students. In some cases I’m just trying to remind myself of what this thing called “preaching” is all about. Too often we lose sight of the forest for all of the trees.

So here are 10 P’s of preaching. (Honestly I’m not a huge fan of alliteration, but if it shows up at my door and doesn’t contort everything, I’m probably not going to turn it away.) This is intended to be a basic, simplified overview of the preaching process. In general the first 7 capture the hermeneutical phase. The last 3 represent the homiletical phase.

1. Steep the Process in Prayer.

Sermon preparation must always begin (and continue) with prayer. We need to be reminded at the outset that we desperately need God’s help to understand and communicate the Word.

2. Begin with a Passage.

Biblical preaching begins with the Bible. The form of preaching called expository preaching begins with a passage from the Bible.

3. Consider the People.

That passage was written by a particular person. In the case of the Bible there is a human author (small “a”) and a divine author (capital “A”). Those authors are addressing a particular group of people—one ancient and one modern (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

The preacher must consider all these people in his preparation of an expository sermon. What do we know about the original writer? Who are the people he is writing to? How does this information help us understand the passage?

Preaching from a passage begins by thinking of the people involved.

4. Uncover the Problems.

Anytime you have people you have problems. Not always sin problems, but sometimes problems associated with being a finite person living in a world that’s broken. (This is what Bryan Chapell refers to as the “Fallen Condition Focus” in his book Christ-Centered Preaching.)

What are the struggles of the biblical writer? What is the situation of his target audience? What are their circumstances, questions, fears, and weaknesses? In what areas are they experiencing pressure from the world? Where are they falling short of the glory of God?

Preaching from a passage begins by thinking of the people involved and their particular needs.

5. Understand the Purpose.

With the situation in mind, the preacher needs to think deeply about the objective of the biblical writer. Knowing what we know about him, and knowing what we know about his audience, what does he want to accomplish with them? What is his purpose? To encourage? To warn? To instruct?

6. Identify the Point.

Driven by his objective the writer sets out to communicate a point (or two or three). Even if there are many points, there is usually one overarching point—what some might call his “big idea.”

7. Trace the Pathway.

Let’s put some of the pieces together now. The people who make up the target audience have needs. The person writing has a burden to address those needs (the purpose) with a particular message (the point of the passage).

So we have answered the who, why, and what questions. But what about the how question? How is the author going to go about accomplishing his purpose with his point? Of all the options available to him, he is going to choose a certain pathway to get from A (where his readers are) to B (where he wants them to be). He may decide to move down the path deductively or inductively. He may decide to employ strong argumentation or moving illustrations.

8. Parallel the Process.

With all this in mind the contemporary preacher begins to parallel this process. He thinks of the passage with reference to his people. He compares their situation to that of the original audience. He thinks pastorally about the problems they are facing and begins to develop a burden to preach the the point of the passage in a way that accomplishes the purposes of the biblical writer and the Holy Spirit for that text.

The preacher must then consider the best pathway forward. Follow the order of the passage? Inductive or deductive? What explanation, application, argumentation, and illustration (and in what order) would best accomplish his purpose?

9. Preach the Word.

Now it’s time to preach and to do so in a way that represents the point and purpose (and maybe even the pathway) of the passage. The preacher’s re-presentation of the text must be done faithfully, clearly, and passionately.

10. Aim for God’s Praise.

The ultimate objective of preaching is the praise and glory of God. From the standpoint of the preacher, our objective is to glorify God through a faithful, Christocenric proclamation of his Word. With reference to our hearers, our goal is the glory of God in their glad and believing submission to the truth.


Question: If you were trying to talk someone through the process of preaching, what would you tell them? How would you describe the steps (without using any P’s 🙂 )?

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?

Ignoring the Christ-centered canonical context of Scripture is no less reductionist and problematic than ignoring the immediate context of the human author. A wooden application of the grammatical historical hermeneutic that fails to account for the fact that the Scriptures are the supernatural word of a sovereign God errs in the same way allegory does: both approaches exclude indispensible context. One excludes the context of the human author; the other excludes that of the divine author. Christocentric preaching does not mean neglecting exegesis in order to slip Christ in the sermon; it is rather the exposing of authorial intent, both human and divine.

~ David Prince

Christocentric Preaching and a/Authorial Intent

Our calling as preachers is really very simple. We study, we stand before our people, we read the text, and we explain it. We reprove, rebuke, exhort, encourage, and teach—and then we do it all again and again and again.

– Mohler, He Is Not Silent, 64.

Our Calling as Preachers

Kevin DeYoung discusses the benefits and dangers of preaching consecutively through books of the Bible.

Here are the risks, according to DeYoung:

  1. Selecting preaching units that are too small.
  2. Wearing out your congregration by moving too slowly.
  3. Spending too much time in books that are not as “fruitful” or “central to the plot line.”

But, as DeYoung argues, the benefits far outweigh the dangers. Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible . . .

  1. exposes your congregation to the whole counsel of God and keeps you from preaching only on those things that you are passionate about or that seem relevant to you or your congregation.
  2. helps you avoid the arduous task of having to select a new text for each sermon.
  3. gives context to the individual stories and sections of the Bible.

Question: What other risks and rewards would you add to DeYoung’s list?

Preaching may be slow work; it often is; it is a long-term policy. But my whole contention is that it works, that it pays, and that it is honoured, and must be, because it is God’s own method. . . . [So,] after you have tried these other methods and schemes, and found that they will come to nothing you will be driven back to this ultimately. This is the method by which churches have always come into being. You see it in the New Testament, and you see it in the subsequent history of the Church, and you can see it in this modern world. – Martyn Lloyd-Jones (via Dan Dumas)

Preaching: That Slow, Long-Term But Time-Tested and God-Honored Method of Church Growth

There’s . . . an underplayed devotional aspect to preaching. . . . One of the most powerful things is when your people get to watch you worship your way through your own sermon. – Paul Tripp

Devotional Preaching: Worshipping Your Way Through Your Sermon

“How can young preachers receive compliments humbly?”

This was a question posed to Al Mohler on his 02-08-14 Ask Anything:Weekend edition. His answer is quite thoughtful and helpful.

Here’s a brief summary, but I would encourage you to listen to his entire response. (The question begins at 7:54 and Mohler’s answer runs through 11:56).

Compliments can, of course, puff a preacher up, as Mohler notes. But they can also leave us “scratching our heads.” In general, we should receive any compliment as “a gift” no matter how it is packaged. God’s people want to respond to God’s working in their lives. However, they are not always equipped with the right vocabulary. Perhaps we need to do a better job of helping them know what to look for in a truly good sermon and how they can best express that. But, as Mohler makes clear, even though we should not be living for man’s approval, we are human beings who need encouragement. So receive any compliment humbly as a gift.