In Praise of Fussy Preaching

Yesterday, Stuart Olyott gave a useful answer to the question, “What is preaching?” I want to provide one more excerpt from his book Preaching: Pure and Simple. I hope it excites your interest enough to buy the book—it’s sound, simple, and satisfying.

41ZqPN9ZkLL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Sermons Need Clear Structure

Plain sermons are the best sermons. And plainness depends, to a large degree, on how easy the sermon is to follow and remember. So, what is one of plain preaching’s best friends? Olyott responds, “Our sermons will be both easy to follow and easy to remember if they always have a clear structure.” He then writes,

Preachers who love their people are fussy about the structure of their sermons. They know that the most ordinary person will never lose their way, as long as the sermon has unity, order and proportion. Unity means that the message holds together; it is not made up of several disconnected sermonettes. Order means that the sermon is made of distinct ideas which follow each other in a logical chain that leads up to a climax. Proportion means that each idea is given its proper place; unimportant things are not magnified, and important things are not played down. The worst preacher on earth will improve immediately if he remembers these three words.

Might your next sermon need some of this good ol’ fussiness?

What is Preaching?

6219394930_2580c323aa_bI’ve always found Stuart Olyott to be an underrated servant and preacher. When I preached through Mark’s gospel, few expositions I listed to were as consistently edifying as Olyott’s. He is bold, pithy, and direct—in the best way possible.

His book, Preaching: Pure and Simple, begins by mining the New Testament for instruction on what preaching is. Olyott shows, as he should, that biblical preaching involves four ideas represented by four Greek words.

Preaching Is . . .

  1. Heralding a message given by the King (kerusso): this tells us about the source of the message and the authority with which it comes.
  2. Announcing good news (euangelizo): this tells us about the quality of the message and the spirit in which it is given.
  3. Bearing witness to facts (martureo): this tells us about the nature of the message and the basis on which it is constructed.
  4. Spelling out the implications of the message (didasko): this tells us about the target of the message (the hearer’s conscience) and the measure of its success (did it change anyone’s life?).

He then concludes, “Until we are clear about this, we shall never really preach at all.”

2 Things Necessary

“There are two things which I have always judged chiefly requisite in a pastor, as he standeth related to his people—viz., labour and love. The former is a work of the head, the latter of the heart: faithful labour will speak his love, and sincere love will sweeten his labour. Labour without love is unacceptable to God; as a sweet perfume without fire, it cannot send forth its pleasant, fragrant savour. Love without labour is unprofitable to men; like Rachel, it is beautiful, but barren; both together—as soul and body are the essential parts of a man—are the whole of a minister.” — The Works of George Swinnock, 4:53.

M’Cheyne’s Favorite Book on Pastoral Ministry

9780851510873I’ve said before that Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry is the best book available on pastoral ministry. I believe no other work can compare in substance, depth, and conviction.

It thus smiled when I read a letter from M’Cheyne to Andrew Bonar during preparations for the Church’s “Mission of Inquiry to the Jews.” M’Cheyne starts by urging Bonar to join the team. Eventually M’Cheyne comes to ponder aloud what books he should bring on the trip. He says, “As to books, I am quite at a loss.” But he was certain as to a few essentials:

My Hebrew Bible, Greek Testament, etc., and perhaps Bridge’s (sic) Christian Ministry for general purposes,—I mean, for keeping us in mind of our ministerial work.”

I think he’s exactly right. If you have your Bible and The Christian Ministry always within reach, you’ll find fresh fire for faithful ministry.

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Preparation for Ministry

PREPARING FOR

Most of my time is spent these days working on the life and piety of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. I’m convinced he provides a unique template for gospel ministry.

In the Memoir and Remains, Andrew Bonar strings together a series of diary entries in the years before M’Cheyne licensure for gospel ministry in the Church of Scotland. He’d have us think of these as preparatory years. Upon M’Cheyne’s licensure, Bonar comments:

His soul was prepared for the awful work of the ministry by much prayer, and much study of the word of God; by affliction in his person; by inward trials and sore temptations; by experience of the depth of corruption in his own heart, and by discoveries of the Savior’s fullness of grace.

I tend to think Bonar’s comments a handy summary of M’Cheyne’s program for piety. I also believe it represents a model for us in ministry.

God has called some of you to the ministry. You are only waiting for a place to minister Christ’s gospel. How are you preparing your soul in the meantime? If you’re in seminary, don’t fall into the trap of believing research papers, reading, and exams are sufficient preparation. These tools are vital–they just aren’t sufficient. It’s “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Gospel ministry is no different. Afflictions and temptations aren’t hurdles to future ministry. When used rightly, they are friends to faithful pastoring.

Some of you are currently pastors. You may have interns or members in your midst sensing God’s call. How are you helping them to prepare for shepherding souls? Exhort them to prayer and Bible reading. Assist them in probing the depths of their sin and the unsearchable riches of Christ, so they may declare “the Savior’s fullness of grace.”

A Syllabus on Reformed Pastoral Ministry

EXHIBITION

A few weeks ago, I completed a seminar at The Institution on “Teaching in Higher Education.” It’s required for doctoral students soon to completed their coursework.

One of the assignments was to design three different syllabi (one each for a semester-long campus format, hybrid/modular, and online) for a class I’d hope to teach in the future. I chose to design my syllabi for a class titled, “Reformed Pastoral Ministry.” I describe the course in this way,

Reformed Pastoral Ministry is a course designed to introduce the student to pastoral ministry in the Reformed tradition. Specific attention will be given to the ministerial vision of the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus). Topics to be covered include: personal piety, ordination, prayer, preaching, visitation, administering the sacraments, evangelism, leading various ministries, and church discipline.

I constructed the course as an elective for your average M.Div. degree. I’m pretty excited with how it came together. Lord willing, I’d have a chance to teach it in the future. Check it out below and let me know what you think!

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An Underrated Trilogy

A few weeks ago I was at a pastors’ conference sponsored by Reformation Heritage Books. One of the free giveaways was James Garretson’s excellent volume on Samuel Miller and pastoral ministry. After the session, I talked to numerous men who hadn’t heard of the book, let alone read it.

My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

Usefully and Diligently

For some years now, Garretson has quietly assembled an arsenal of work on pastoral ministry in the tradition of Old Princeton. He’s edited two volumes of various material from the Princeton men on Christian ministry. He’s also put together a collection of funeral sermons, memorial addresses, and magazine articles, honoring the labors of Princeton’s leading faculty.

In my view, his best work comes to us in three different books that each unveil one Princetonian’s teaching on gospel ministry. A feast awaits any hungry pastor. The Princeton men gave us a model of what pious, learned ministry looks like—and can achieve for Christ. Don’t let these volumes go unnoticed, brother pastor. Tolle lege!

0851518931Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry. How does one know whether God is calling a man to the pastoral ministry? Are we aware of the moral, intellectual, and physical qualifications needed for the Christian ministry? What are the best methods of sermon preparation and should the preacher pay as much attention to preparing his own heart as to preparing the message he is to preach? On what kinds of subjects should a pastor preach, and how should such preaching be done? What is really involved in being a shepherd of Christ’s flock? Do we know what kinds of discouragements and encouragements face the pastor in his ministry?

These are some of the issues this book addresses. Dr. James Garretson has drawn together wise, practical, and relevant insights into the call, qualifications, and work of the Christian pastor from the extant lecture notes of one of Princeton’s best loved and most respected teachers, Dr. Archibald Alexander. As you read this book you will feel as if you were sitting at the feet of this ‘first-class theologian, mentor and minister of the gospel’, alongside the many students of ‘Old Princeton’ whose lives and future ministries were moulded by Alexander’s inspiring classroom instruction. You will also discover to your lasting profit that Alexander’s wise counsel on pastoral theology, drawn as it was from the ever-fresh spring of Holy Scripture, remains of continuing value for today’s preachers who seek to walk in the sound and fruitful paths of their godly forefathers.

9781601782984An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office. Samuel Miller (1769–1850) played an integral part in founding Princeton Theological Seminary, which became one of the most influential training grounds for Presbyterian ministers in the nineteenth century. While Miller is most commonly remembered for his writings on church office, he also played a significant role instructing students and shaping their theology of preaching and pastoral ministry. In the present volume, Jim Garretson highlights the narrative of Miller’s life and the major ministerial emphases found in his published writings, sermons, and unpublished lecture notes. As a result, readers will come to know the spiritual convictions of Miller’s heart and understand the theology of ministry he imparted over the course of his lifetime.

9781601784131Thoughts on Preaching and Pastoral Ministry: Lessons from the Life and Writings of James W. Alexander. In Thoughts on Preaching and Pastoral Ministry, James M. Garretson provides a detailed narrative of James W. Alexander’s life in order to better understand his approach to gospel labors. Garretson draws deeply from Alexander’s correspondence, tracking the spiritual development of his life as it shaped his practice of pastoral ministry. In addition, assessments of Alexander’s sermons, books, and especially reviews provide valuable personal statements that shed light on his character and convictions. Throughout, Alexander is allowed to speak for himself so that the reader may enter into the spiritual pulse that animated his life and actions. Bracing, heartening, and at times frustrating, Alexander’s growth as a Christian and development as a minister is the story of a man subdued by God’s grace and a life marked by a growing conformity to the likeness of Christ. For those whose privilege it is to serve as ministers of the gospel, Alexander’s life and instruction provide inspiration and wisdom for how to do pastoral ministry well and with all of one’s heart.

If you want to listen to Garretson speak on Princeton and pastoral ministry, try this message from the 2012 Conference at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

What Brings Revival

James-W.-Alexander-Frontispiece-from-Vol.-1-of-his-Memoirs-by-Hall-7-28-20151James Waddell Alexander (1804–1859) was the eldest son of the legendary Archibald Alexander, first professor at Princeton Seminary. James himself was a formidable force for Christ’s kingdom. He pastored the famous Duane Street Presbyterian Church in New York City and was eventually appointed Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at Princeton.

He was an enthusiastic proponent of and participant in revival. But not the kind Charles Finney advocated—a spiritual stirring based on human engineering. Alexander once wrote about the necessary conditions for true revival. He said,

For my own part, I believe that revivals depend not so much, as is thought, upon phases of doctrine, or petty arrangements, as upon the ardent piety and zealous labours of humble Christianity, apart from all these things.

Do you want to see a revival in your ministry? Alexander would say pursue an ordinary ministry. Love Christ enough to prize holiness. Love Christ enough to proclaim Him zealously in every place. Leave the rest to our Sovereign King.

In Praise of Plain Preaching

A lovely movement of retrieval is happening in Puritan studies. William Perkins is once again moving to center stage. How important is Perkins? J.I. Paker once said, “No Puritan author save Richard Baxter ever sold better than Perkins, and no Puritan thinker ever did more to shape and solidify historic Puritanism itself.” For too long the only work Christians have known from Perkins is his magnificent The Art of Prophesying. Thanks to Reformation Heritage, Perkins’ broader labor is readily available in The Works of William Perkins (projected to be a ten-volume collection).

If you’re unfamiliar with Perkins, you could pick up this little biography or this useful treatment of his Sermon on the Mount expositions. Or you might watch Sinclair Ferguson’s recent lecture entitled, “William Perkins: A Plain Preacher.” It’s full of wisdom and usefulness.

Advice on Prayer Meetings

prayer-meeting-webheader

Oh, how I wish more churches had a regular prayer meeting. Could it be that our shortcomings in piety, worship, and witness have a direct correlation to how few congregations spend time in earnest prayer? I tend to think so.

Studying M’Cheyne has reminded me of the prayer meeting’s significance. He understood concerted prayer to not only be a prerequisite to revival, but also an evidence of revival. One fruit the St. Peter’s revival of 1839–1840 was the commitment to prayer. In December 1840, the Presbytery of Aberdeen appointed a committee to inquire about the revivals taking place throughout Scotland. They wrote to M’Cheyne asking him to answer a series of fifteen questions related to the revival in Dundee. His answers were published later as Evidences on Revivals. He said during the revival “thirty-nine prayer meetings [were] held weekly in connection with the congregation, and five of these were conducted and attended entirely by little children.” After twelve months, M’Cheyne wrote, “I believe the number of these meetings is not much diminished,” although many were more private in nature.

Congregational prayer was something M’Cheyne prioritized from the beginning at Dundee. Not long after his installation at St. Peter’s he began a Thursday night prayer meeting that 800 people attended. He apparently earned a reputation for skill in leading congregational prayer, as Mr. J.T. Just wrote to him asking for advice in conducting prayer meetings.

M’Cheyne begins by saying, “No person can be a child of God without living in secret prayer; and no community of Christians can be in a lively condition without unity in prayer.” A true church is a praying church. And every church can always grow in prayer. Here then are some bits of wisdom M’Cheyne offers.

12 Helps For Prayer Meetings

  • “One great rule in holding them (prayer meetings) is, that they really be meetings of disciples.”
  • “The prayer-meeting I like best is where there is only praise and prayer, and the reading of God’s word.”
  • “Meet weekly, at a convenient hour.”
  • “Be regular in attendance. Let nothing keep you away from your meeting.”
  • “Pray in secret before going.”
  • “Let your prayers in the meeting be formed as much as possible upon what you have read in the Bible. You will thus learn variety of petition, and a Scripture style.”
  • “Pray that you may pray to God, and not for the ears of man.”
  • “Pray for the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church of Christ and for the world; for the purity and unity of God’s children; for the raising up of godly ministers, and the blessing of those that are so already.”
  • “Pray for the conversion of your friends, of your neighbours, of the whole town.”
  • “Pride is Satan’s wedge for splitting prayer-meetings to pieces: watch and pray against it.”
  • “Watch against seeking to be greater than one another; watch against lip-religion.”
  • “Above all, abide in Christ, and He will abide in you.”

Around this time M’Cheyne wrote to his great friend Andrew Bonar asking for more advice on prayer meetings. In the letter, M’Cheyne gives some humorous sanity on a pastors’ prayer meeting he just began. May those of us who minister the gospel remember it: “We began today a ministerial prayer-meeting, to be held every Monday at eleven for an hour and a half. This is a great comfort, and may be a great blessing. Of course, we do not invite the colder ministers; that would only damp our meeting. Tell me if you think this right.” I for one think it right, very right indeed.

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