Make your next sermon your best: three tips

by Augustin Edouart, silhouette, 1828
Charles Simeon preaching by Augustin Edouart, silhouette, 1828

I recall the late Mark Ashton observing two things about young preachers. First (negative) that he would rather have a curate/assistant from a college which did not think itself theologically infallible; in his experience, colleagues from training institutions which thought they had it ‘nailed’ exhibited the same attitude to their own abilities. It was a way of Mark saying he looked for humility. Second (positive) that he wanted to encourage young preachers to keep humbly learning their craft: because there are in the modern world few arts where one needs basically the same skills for one’s entire “career”, but preaching is one of them.

We all who preach should want to keep learning – or as my first incumbent put it “always pray that your next sermon may be your best”.

So my first thought on keeping sharp as a preacher is from John Piper, who urges those who preach to pray more for themselves and their hearers, and prayer is without doubt as important as anything not just in discerning the truth of God in a text or topic, but in delivering it with authenticity and spiritual power.

Second: one of the ways to keep learning and growing in preaching is by listening to the wisdom of those who are respected as preachers and good at teaching its science and art to others. As so often, it can be more effective to watch a five-minute video interview on a topic like “evangelistic preaching” or “how to apply a text faithfully” than to plough through a long book on homiletics. In terms of expository preaching,  I’ve found the St Helen’s church youtube site has a number of really good items, especially this curiously inspiring one from William Taylor on “poor preaching“.

Third, having said that, there are numerous really helpful books on the theory and practice of preaching. I came across a masterful chapter by Peter Adam on Calvin’s expository preaching in the book “Engaging Calvin” edited by Mark D Thompson (Apollos, 2009) which in many ways says it all.

But for those wanting more, it is hard to better the following

John Stott “I believe in preaching”. Solid, systematic and surprisingly practical.

Bryan Chapell “Christ-centred preaching” – superb on the gospel-based reasons for having such things as a clear focus, coherent unity and application-driven introduction to a sermon.

Peter Adam “Speaking God’s Words” – one of the very few books to talk about the theory of preaching, not just the practice.

JW Alexander “Thoughts on Preaching” – practical old wisdom on keeping time for reflection and reading central to pastoral work, including a broadside on this from Luther verbatim, which is work the book in itself.

D Martin LloydJones “Preaching and preachers”. Logic on fire, in theory and practice.

I also loved the chapter on Jonathan Edwards as a preacher in John Piper’s “The Supremacy of God in preaching”.

For a more practical approach to assembling the nuts and bolts, I’d go to Andy Stanley “Communicating For A Change”. I’d never seen myself preaching as an HGV driver, but it kind of makes sense.

Just out and on my list to read is Tim Keller’s new book on “Preaching”.

Let me know any other suggestions!