Seasoned preachers Peter Adam (Principal of Ridley Melbourne), Glenn Davies (Bishop of North Sydney and Chairman of EFAC Australia) and Kanishka Raffel (Rector of St Matthew’s Shenton Park, Perth) talk about their preaching role models and methods of preparation with Wei-Han Kuan.
Most young preachers can readily identify their early role models, those preachers whose ministry greatly affected and inspired them. Novice preachers often consciously or unconsciously mimic the patterns of preaching in their heroes. John Stott reckoned that it takes about ten years of preaching before the preacher finds their own voice. I was interested in this dynamic and earlier this year asked three experienced preachers to talk about their role models and methods of preparation.
Thanks for agreeing to discuss this. Let’s start with role model preachers. Who were your’s?
Peter. Four bachelors!
John Stott, who came to Australia for the CMS Summer Schools in January 1965, and expounded 2 Corinthians. I had not heard a book of the Bible expounded before. It was my call to the ministry, and also provided the model of ministry I wanted to do.
Archdeacon John Moroney, who preached varied powerful, memorable, and convincing Biblical sermons, at Williamstown and Hawthorn, each
one perfectly suited to the text being expounded.
Dick Lucas, of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, for his marvelously incisive insights into the Bible, and into its application.
John Chapman, for his example of evangelism, human engagement of preacher and people, and for finding an Australian model of preaching.
Glenn. John Stott also! He was a model preacher for me in my youth, with his memorable three-point outlines and several subdivisions. I’ve never heard a better preacher for organising his material into a sermon.
Edmund Clowney, President of Westminster Theological Seminary, is also a person who has influenced me in my preaching. His notes were limited to an A5 page, so he could engage his hearers more personally.
I should also mention my pastor Ron Patfield, who for my formative late teens and early twenties was a profound influence upon me in many ways, not least of which being his passionate preaching.
Kanishka. I was first nurtured in the Word by Keith Birchley who for the last 18 years or so has been the AFES Staffworker at UQ. In those days, he was the pastor of the evening congregation at St Paul’s Carlingford in Sydney.
He in turn was influenced by the late Rev Bruce Smith, a masterful and penetrating expositor who I first heard at a Katoomba Easter Convention.
How have you tried to follow their lead in preaching? And how have you realised that you’re different?
Peter. I try to follow their attention to the text of the Bible, their care in crafting their sermons, and their careful and pastoral connecting with their particular contexts.
While I have consciously and intentionally tried to understand what works in their preaching and why it works, I also realize that my preaching has to express the human person God has made me, and my context of ministry. So I try to work out how I should preach, and what kind of preaching serves the people I preach to. I consciously re-think my preaching style every five years, to adapt to the cultural changes in our society. Then when I am a visiting preacher, I work harder at human interaction with the congregation, to make for the fact that they do not know me and I do not know them.
Kanishka. What I appreciated about Keith’s preaching was his relentless attention to exegesis. Never assuming what the text says or means but working hard to see what the Lord has put in Scripture and thinking hard about why it is there. I don’t think I do that well, but it is what I continue to benefit from in Keith’s model.
Bruce was incredibly evocative in his use of language. He drew pictures with words which didn’t ‘embroider’ but unfolded scripture. There was too about both of these dear brothers an emotional engagement with the Lord’s word which gave authenticity to their preaching. They were entirely believable—the grace of the gospel moved them to tears and to prayer and to zeal in ways that made you want to know the Lord better. Their preaching was a demonstration that the Word was living and active, that to honour the Lord was to hear and respond to his Word.
Glenn. I try to organise my material in a way that is memorable. One of the aims of preaching is to assist the congregation in reading the Bible. I know that I have succeeded if they recall the sermon (or some salient parts) when they next read the passage upon which I have preached. I know it is a high bar, which I confess is not always reached—but when it is, it warms the soul with thanks to God.
Following Edmund Clowney, I try to preach with as few notes as possible. This encourages me to know my sermon well and to engage with people’s eyes in my preaching. Most of all I want my sermons to be passionate. I am responsible for delivering God’s word to his people. It is a weighty responsibility and a rich privilege to undertake this task. If I am not passionate, how can I expect my hearers to be passionate about God’s grace and our covenant response of faith and obedience?
How do you plan your preaching?
What does sermon preparation look like for you?
Kanishka. I want to read a passage early in the week and let it ‘travel’ with me wherever I go. (Warning: try not to let it have too much presence when you are supposed to be listening to family members!) Then I want to interrogate the passage. The main things I try to work out are what the author is talking about; what is being said about that subject; and why it was important for the first readers and contemporary readers to know this.
As I think about how to communicate these ideas I want to look for movements in the passage—what gives the energy to the argument or the narrative? Are there particular pictures or other sensory or emotional language that is being used? Especially I want to look for the gospel in the grain—where is the grace of Christ to be found—in anticipation, fulfillment, reversal, encouragement, rebuke?
When I think about bringing the message home to my hearers (those patient and forgiving saints!) I want to consider what this truth requires from those who receive it—thanksgiving, repentance, trust, hope. What behaviours or attitudes might (or must!) be changed by such truth? And I want to think about the sins and circumstances that prevent us believing such a word or putting it into practice.
Glenn. First and foremost one must understand the text. In my view, a bishop isn’t worth his salt if he cannot preach on any part of the Bible! This should also be the case for any experienced preacher of God’s word.
Therefore first rule—know your Bible. Know where the text fits into God’s history of salvation for his people (what we call biblical theology); know how one passage integrates with the whole (systematic theology); know how to apply it, for you will not have understood the Bible text unless you know how to respond to it (practical theology).
Secondly, know your congregation. Seek to understand their perspective, their context and their needs. As a pastor of a congregation, it is easier to do this than as an itinerant speaker. The latter must rely upon the general community in which one lives, whereas the pastor of a flock ought to gather this information by listening and getting to know the congregation to whom they are responsible in the Lord.
Peter. At St Jude’s I planned three sermon series a year: two books of the Bible, and one topical series. I tried to do one Old Testament book a year, and one difficult Bible book a year. I did topical series because I wanted to model how to go from an issue to the Bible.
Here at college I preach in chapel on one book of the Bible each year: this year it is John. When I am a visiting preacher of course I preach on what I am asked to preach on.
The most satisfying preaching is focused on one book of the Bible. I spend 60 hours working on the book as a whole: then each sermon comes much more easily! (Editor: Read Peter’s extended two-part Essentials article on preaching from 2 Corinthians in our Autumn and Winter 2008 editions at: www.efac.org.au)
When I was at St Jude’s I also ran training classes for lay preachers, which not only produced some good preachers for St Jude’s, but also encouraged many to think about being ordained.
Thanks for sharing your reflections with us. And thank you also for your preaching ministry to the wider EFAC Australia community and beyond.
Peter. Let’s honour God by devoting ourselves to the Scriptures and devoting ourselves to the congregation, loving God’s words and loving God’s people, serving God’s words and serving God’s people.
Glenn. Never lose confidence in the power of God’s word to change people (including you) and his promise that his word will never return to him void. While there is much value in gaining a proper understanding of both your text and your audience, nothing is of more value than a prayerful dependence upon God in your preparation and delivery.
Kanishka. The Lord’s word does not return to him empty but accomplishes everything he purposes for it (Isaiah 55:11), therefore Preach the Word!
Wei-Han Kuan pastors young adults at St Alfred’s, North Blackburn, and is the editor of Essentials.