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Ten Questions for Expositor Preaching

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The following has been submitted by a pastor in Georgia. He is the Associate Pastor of Family and Youth at White Oak ARP Church in Senoia, Georgia. Pastor McManus also blogs at A Voice From White Oak. He is a RTS/Charlotte graduate.

10 Questions for Expositors
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I believe in the ordinary means of grace – word, prayer and sacraments. I think these means are the main (and, really, only) essence of ministry in the true evangelical church. Out of these means, I hold the preaching of the word to be the most essential to the church. It is through the preaching of the Word that God communicates with His people. The Westminster Confession of Faith states in 1.2 that the Bible is the written word of God … and I think that the Divines were allowing for the view that proper preaching is the spoken word of God. A right and true exposition of a Biblical text will communicate God’s truth. Of course, the work of the Spirit has to be present in order for this to happen.
Terry Johnson of Independent Presbyterian in Savannah, GA argues that a minister’s most important ministry is in the pulpit – and I agree with that idea. It is from the pulpit that you can do the greatest ministry through the preaching of the Word. Therefore, I hold that the preaching of the Word is most important in the life of the church.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
Through an inward calling and lots of practice! Thankfully, while I was in seminary, I was able to do a good bit of preaching – and a lot of my discovering my gifts were done through trial and error. I am still discovering my gifts and how to use them – and I think I will continue to hone these gifts over the course of my pastorate.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
On average, I start a couple of weeks before the sermon thinking about it and running it over in my head. I try to get a handle on the text and come up with a rough outline. That Tues. before the sermon, I sit down with different commentaries and read through them at least 2-3 times. Then, I sit back down with the text and bang out a rough draft. I then spend the next couple of days looking it over, and on that Friday I will rework it as I need to. All told, I probably put in between 10-15 hours per sermon … sometimes I put in less, sometimes I put in more.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I think this is relevant to the congregation. Some congregations can handle more than one theme/idea … others can only handle one theme/idea. In my preaching, I usually stay with one idea, but try to incorporate “secondary” themes into it. For instance, in preaching on Mark 5.1-20, my main theme is spiritual warfare … but, I also spend some time discussing how Jesus is always victorious in spiritual warfare and how that should influence our thinking and participating in spiritual warfare. I will usually try and tie in other ideas with the main idea.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
My answer to both parts of this question is the preacher’s personality. The Lord uses a man’s personality in the development and delivery of a sermon – but his personality should never become the sermon. I think the Gospel writers are a good example – each writer’s style tells us about their personality (Matthew’s concern for the Jews, Luke’s analytical doctor view, Mark’s [Peter’s] blunt and to the point, and John’s lofty view, which I think is due to him spending so much time with Christ and knowing who He really is). Yet, their personalities never get in the way in the message – they each drive home the same message of the good news of Jesus Christ. The Lord uses our personalities – but never intends for that to overshadow our preaching. Christ is to be preeminent in all things- including our preaching.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I always take a full manuscript into the pulpit. This is a safety net for me, in case I lose my place or train of thought. I try to be as comfortable with the sermon as I can be so I don’t rely on my notes. It is always my goal to never “read” a sermon. I try to preach it to the people. I also pray before each preaching opportunity that the Holy Spirit would lead me – and I pray the same before I prepare my sermon! It is my custom to always allow for the Holy Spirit to work in the pulpit – and I trust that He was at work when I was writing out the sermon.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
The greatest peril a preacher must avoid is thinking that he goes into the pulpit alone. John Calvin fought great nervousness when he entered the pulpit – and he made it his custom to pray with each step to the pulpit “come, Holy Spirit, come”. I think many men think that it is just them with many sets of eyes and ears focused on him. However, I believe that the Holy Spirit is present in the pulpit, and that the power of Heaven is behind every word. Understanding this has helped me to understand that I am a conduit of God – and that helps me from focusing on myself … am I speaking well? Are my notes in order? Is this a good illustration? Instead, I can understand, and believe, that God is at work in this time – and His word will go out and produce the desired effect according to the will of God.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
I always try and take a day off to spend in the sermon. I will have done some mental prep beforehand – but I hide out on that day and just focus on my sermon. I try to avoid phone calls and emails, unless they are absolutely necessary. After this day, which is usually Tuesday, I will do some reworking here and there, but the main work has already been done. I do it this way because of the great importance of preaching.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
I have enjoyed Martin Lloyd Jones, Bryan Chappell, and Terry Johnson’s works on preaching. I find that listening to other preachers is very helpful for me – I enjoy servants such as Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Rev. Bowers of Christ Church of the Carolinas, Rev. Rich Lambert of New St. Peters PCA, and Dr. Ligon Duncan. I also find listening to my peers very helpful – each of my good buddies from seminary each bring something different to their sermons, and I am always challenged by that.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I think having young preachers come into your church and preach is the most nurturing thing a pastor can do. This allows them to figure it all out. Also, an older pastor can encourage and direct these men. We all start in the same place – and I love the idea of older pastors passing along wisdom to younger men. I think if there was more of this, maybe preaching would be more inspired and better directed to the glory of God.

Thank you Pastor McManus.

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