It’s a perennial question, “Where should you start a book on preaching?” You could give a brief theology of Scripture, survey its primacy in church history, or you could do something totally different like write a chapter on prayer. That’s exactly where Gary Millar and Phil Campbell begin their book Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake. That emphasis seems just right. That apostles did say they would devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). So, when a book self-consciously reflects this order my interest is automatically piqued.
Gary Millar takes five pages and fills them with punch and pith on the necessity of prayer if we are ever going to keep Eutychus awake. His sage counsel is summarized with these points: 1) resolve now to pray fervently for your own preach, and 2) make sure that your church prays together for the preaching.
Putting It Into Practice
To illustrate the power of the second point Millar recounts his experience at Gilcomston South Church. I found the example of this community stirring. May it do the same for you and lead to you place greater emphasis on prayer in your preaching ministry. Millar writes,
From 1988-1991 (when I was a theological student), I was part of a remarkable church family. Gilcomston South Church of Scotland in Aberdeen wasn’t a huge church. Nor was it a particularly ‘happening’ church. We met twice on a Sunday, had a midweek central Bible study and a Saturday night prayer meeting—and that was it. There was an organ, and we sang five hymns or psalms (often to Germanic minor tunes). The pastor, William Still, preached steadily through the Bible (this was still relatively novel at the time, even though he had been doing it for 40 years). But what set that church family apart was its very simple commitment to ‘the ministry of the word nourished by prayer’ (as Mr. Still would repeatedly say). I have never been part of a church family that had a greater sense of expectancy when we gathered to hear the Bible explained. And I have never been part of a church family where prayer was so obviously the heartbeat of everything that went on. And I have never been part of a church family where God was so obviously present week by week as he spoke through his word. And, it seems to me, there might just be a connection.
Of course ‘Gilc’ was, and is, just like any church family—full of flawed, messed-up people like you and me. But those of us who had the privilege of ‘passing through’ went on from there with an indelible sense that preaching and praying go together. It was just part of the DNA of the church family. The precious group of 50 or 60 people who met week by week at the Saturday night prayer meeting spend most of the two hours praying for the proclamation of the gospel elsewhere—in other churches in our city, in Scotland, and on every continent around the world, one by one. Eventually, someone would pray, ‘And Lord, spare a though for us in our own place tomorrow . . .’ and the others, who had been praying faithfully on their own all through the week for the preaching at Gilc, would murmur a heartfelt ‘Amen.’
“If at any meeting, where only twelve persons were present, God in true grace were to send His Spirit upon all, this surely is giving greater usefulness than merely letting us preach to hundreds.” – Andrew Bonar, Diary and Life, 36.
“Certainly that minister that in private prayer lies most at the feet of Jesus Christ, he shall understand most of the mind of Christ in the gospel, and he shall have most of heaven and the things of his own peace brought down into his heart.” – Thomas Brooks, The Privy Key to Heaven.
“My tendency to neglect or shorten prayer and reading of Scripture, in order to hurry on to study, is another subject of humiliation. [I should pray] also that I may preach not myself but Christ Jesus alone in the Spirit.” – Andrew Bonar
“By far the most effective ingredient of good preaching is the personal piety of the preacher himself.” – Thomas Chalmers
“For the Gospel the Bible must be used. The minister must so live in it that he wears it easily. One reason why people are repelled from it is that the preachers cannot carry it with easy mastery. They are in Goliath’s armour. Now the ideal ministry must be a Bibliocracy. It must know its Bible better than any other book.” – P.T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, 37.
“We may preach publicly, and from house to house; we may teach the young and warn the old, but all will be in vain. Until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, briers and thorns shall grow. Our vineyard shall be like the garden of the sluggard. We need that Christ should awake; that He should make bare His arm as in the days of old; that He should shed down the Spirit abundantly.” – Robert Murray M’Cheyne
“Just as we become aware of a meteor only when, after traveling silently through space for untold millions of miles, it blazes briefly through the atmosphere before dying in a shower of fire, so it is with Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria,” writes Michael Holmes.
The only time we meet Ignatius is in the final few weeks of his life as he journeys towards martyrdom in Rome, sometime between 98-117 AD. Along the way he wrote a series of seven letters full of interest to historians and pastors alike. Historians get a unique glimpse into the church’s history at that pivotal time and see an early church leader’s teaching on a variety of important matters. Pastors should enjoy these letters because they are short and overflowing with pithy prose on church ministry and church life.
I recently worked through Ignatius’ letters for a doctoral seminar at The Institution and here are a collection of quotes of unique service to ordinary pastors.
Ignatius’ Top Ten
- “When you (the church) meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are overthrown and his destructiveness is nullified by the unanimity of your faith.” (Ephesians, 13.1)
- “It is better to be silent and be real than to talk and not be real. It is good to teach, if one does what one says.” (Ephesians 15.1)
- “It is right, therefore, that we not just be called Christians, but that we actually be Christians.” (Magnesians, 4.1)
- “I am guarding you in advance because you are very dear to me and I foresee the snares of the devil. You, therefore, must arm yourselves with gentleness and regain your strength in faith and in love.” (Trallians, 8.1)
- “Where the shepherd is, there follow the sheep.” (Philadelphians, 2.1)
- “Flee from divisions as the beginning of evils.” (Smyrnaeans, 8.1)
- “Focus on unity, for there is nothing better.” (Polycarp, 1.2)
- “Devote yourself to unceasing prayers; ask for greater understanding than you have. Keep alert with an unresting spirit.” (Polycarp, 1.3)
- “If you love good disciples, it is of no credit to you; rather with gentleness bring the more troublesome ones into submission.” (Polycarp, 2.1)
- “Stand firm, like an anvil being struck with a hammer. It is the mark of a great athlete to be bruised, yet still conquer.” (Polycarp, 3.1)
“Even more influential . . . was his personal religion, evinced especially in his famous Sunday afternoon conference addresses. He real and vital apprehension of the love of God in Christ, wrought his most characteristic work upon students.” – Said of Charles Hodges, quoted in Adam, Hearing God’s Words, 36.
“Laurence Chaderton, the extraordinarily long-lived Master of that nursery of Puritanism, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, once apologized to his congregation for preaching to them for two straight hours. Their response was, ‘For God’s sake, Sir, go on, go on!’ – Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame, 152-153.