February 24, 2015 | by: Bob Schilling | 0 comments
I'm taking ten weeks to work through the book,
"Unashamed Workmen: How Expositors Prepare and Preach"
edited by Rhett Dodson
The book allows us to eavesdrop in the study of ten proven and experienced preachers to glean some helps for our own labors in sermon prep. It's a very practical and enjoyable book - useful, I think, for both seasoned pastors and aspiring preachers.
Here again is an overview of the ten practitioners (and links to the previous blogs):
- Peter Adam, St. Jude's Carlton in Melbourne Australia
- Rhett Dodson, Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Hudson, Ohio
- Today, Iain Duguid, Christ Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Grove City, Pennsylvania
- Ajith Fernando, serves as Teaching Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka
- David Jackman, former President of the Proclamation Trust, retired, London
- Simon Manchester, St Thomas in North Sydney, Australia
- David Meredith, Smithton Church, Iverness, Scotland
- Josh Moody, College Church in Wheaton, Illinois
- Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Senior Lecturer at Queensland Theological College, Brisbane, Australia
- Richard D. Phillips, Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina
Section 3: Iain Duguid: "Tell Me the Old, Old Story: Preparing to Preach OT Narratives"
This was an exceptionally enjoyable chapter. I resonated with many details and appreciated Iain Duguid's unapologetic comments about the way sermon prep works for him. There truly is no "one-size-fits-all" and it's the major blessing of this volume that it commends and defends that reality.
I mentioned in the first blog in this series that each section of this book is made up of an explanatory chapter in which the preacher walks through aspects of their sermon prep routine, and then a sample of one of their sermons - seeking to flesh out the things they've inculcated in the 'methodology chapter.' I just want to add here that Iain Duguid's sermon from 2 Samuel 13, "Like Father, Like Sons" was one of the most beautiful sermons and exemplary handling of the Word of God that I have ever read. It gripped me and moved me and caused my heart to soar in the things of God; and it helped me to think more practically about preaching. It did everything a good sermon should do. It was also one of the best examples I've read of a gospel-infused message - without it being in any way artificially tacked on or imposed - it just flowed into it so beautifully - which is the beauty of God's Word. It is an excellent model of a faithful handling of Old Testament narrative.
I had not realized that Iain Duguid is "a bi-vocational church planter in a church with multiple part-time staff." He labors with another half-time pastor, they have part-time intern who oversees their music ministry and another part-time staff member that prepares the order of service. Iain works a full time job as a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania and preaches in his church about 40% of the Sundays. He's a busy man. Most useful men I know or read of are busy men.
His opening words in this chapter on preaching Ool Testament narratives is excellent:
"The Holy Spirit has chosen to fill the Bible with stories, and so the preacher wanting to preach the whole counsel of God will need to work out how to preach stories sooner rather than later. As the Scriptures tell us, the stories of the Old Testament are written down for our instruction (1 Cor. 10:1-11), and are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Yet, at the same time, the central focus of the whole Old Testament is the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow (Luke 24:44-47). Thus my goal in preaching Old Testament narratives is to show people the glory of the gospel in the sufferings and resurrection of Christ, in a way that instructs and trains them in righteousness, while at the same time constantly returning their eyes to Christ, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Heb. 12:2). (71)
Here's his overview of what he covers for us:
1. Select the Text
2. Understand the Text
3. Use Good Resources
4. Start Writing
5. Practice Delivery
1. Select the Text
"A complete narrative unit typically starts with an exposition that sets the scene for the story, followed by a series of episodes with increasing narrative tension in which the events play themselves out, and then a final resolution." (73)
The sections of Scripture that we preach from are normally longer than in other genres. We're looking for a narrative unit "that has a beginning, a middle, and an end."
"Taking shorter sections as your preaching unit can easily lead to missing the main point of the story and preaching about something that is incidental rather than central to its purpose." (73)
Text selection is a lot more straightforward when we preach consecutive messages through books or larger sections of Scripture. There are still important decisions to be made, but we can start on those concerns sooner than if we’re having to first determine what part of the Bible we’re preaching from. Among other advantages to preaching through books is that it forces us to deal with the whole counsel of God by making us “wrestle with hard texts that [we might] otherwise skip.” And not only do our people perhaps need the most help in understanding those kinds of texts – in God’s providence some of those difficult texts can prove to be the sources of some of the most seasonable and helpful sermons. God is preeminently wise in giving us His word in the precise packaging that He has.
Preaching Old Testament narrative means that we’re often going to be preaching from fairly lengthy passages. He’s rightly sensitive to visitors and the frame of his hearers, but he says plainly, “I…never apologize for a long Scripture reading…” (73) I’m also with him regarding this preference:
“I also always read my own Scripture passage at the beginning of the sermon because I believe that that is, in a profound sense, the beginning of teaching the story. Since I have been living with this story for a week, often I can read it in a way that highlights important aspects and themes.”
I appreciate the practice in many churches of having others read the text that will be preached upon – I encounter that when I preach in other pulpits occasionally. But I far prefer to read the text myself – for the very reason Duguid highlights above. I have been studying this passage; I want to read it in a certain way – and, he worded it so well: in a profound sense, the reading of the passage of the beginning of my preaching of it. To each man his own preference, but to this I give a hearty Amen. (Another benefit of reading the Scriptures publically – that is, sections of God’s word in addition to the text of the sermon, is that it gives another place for other voices to be reading God’s word to the assembly)
2. Understand the Text
This section and the fourth section on "Start Writing" contain the bulk of his discussion in the chapter - and both are suggestive and helpful.
No passage of Scripture is given to us in a vacuum. So in addition to reading and rereading the text in as many variables as feasibly possible (original languages and multiple versions) it is also crucial to be familiarizing ourselves with the larger context in which the passage is found. This is beautifully displayed in the sermon that follows Iain Duguid’s discussion in the first part of this section. He preaches from 2 Samuel 13 – but as he accurately opens that chapter up, it necessarily needs to be seen with the backdrop of chapters 11 and 12. In the wake of God’s dealing with David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, we see in chapter 13 the beginnings of the fulfillment of God’s words through Nathan, that evil would be raised up against him from his own house (2 Sam. 12:11).
As he reads the text of a narrative over and over, here are some of the things he tells us to look for:
- unusual words
- repeated words
- sometimes this isn’t discernable in an English translation, like the repetition of ra’ in the book of Jonah (which my co-elder Scotty brought out recently in his sermons through Jonah)
- phrases pointing to an emphasis
- “programmatic sounding statements”
- like Joseph’s words, “As for you, you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20)
- or Jonah 2:9, “Salvation is of the Lord”
- odd details or things that seem out of place
As these things are noted and highlighted the goals and purposes of the author become clearer.
He then tries to break the narrative down into individual scenes:
“Having identified the scenes, I will often try to summarize the function of each scene individually to build a composite picture of the flow of the narrative plot.” (75)
He makes a list of each of the characters, and in a narrative these identifications often become fertile ground for applications to our hearers.
While he’s still working to understand the text he’s looking for lines of connection to the fuller story of biblical theology – the lines that go from this passage to Christ. “…How does this passage draw us to see more richly the gospel of Jesus?” (76) His sermon on 2 Sam. 13 is a model of gospel-centered preaching.
3. Use Good Resources
“At this point, I’m ready to turn to the commentaries. In some cases, I may already know in a fair amount of detail what the text is about, with some clear ideas about application and how the passage points to Christ. At other times, I’m still completely in the dark at this point…”
“I know some pastors who use a dozen or more commentaries each week in studying every passage. I don’t personally find that profitable…For any sermon series, I usually try to find four different commentaries that will become my main resources [with one of them being a critical literary commentary that gives a good literary analysis of the text].”
He mentions that he doesn’t find much help in devotional commentaries – but he does appreciate, as do I, “pastoral” commentaries - works like those of Ralph Davis and the “Focus on the Bible" series or the “Bible Speaks Today” series (Welwyn, Reformed Expository Commentary, etc.). Commentaries written by pastors for pastors. Each man needs to find those select few that are most helpful to him on each book of Scripture.
4. Start Writing
I’m a broken record on this point – precisely because it hits me where I’m most broken as a preacher. He states the heart of the point succinctly:
the art of writing is rewriting
The earlier the better is his basic point.
“I can research a passage forever. It’s much easier than the hard work of writing…”
A thousand Amens. To reiterate:
"I can research a passage forever. It’s much easier than the hard work of writing, so I have to discipline myself to sit in front of my computer and get to work. Sometimes I sit down and the sermon seems to write itself. At other times, I spend a lot of time staring at a blank computer screen. Occasionally, I even remember that I ought to pray! God often uses the process of writing to humble me and remind me that producing a sermon is not a matter under my control…”
“In general, when I hit a block, I try to keep on writing something, even if I know it isn’t any good. Often the next day when I come back to it and ask the question, ‘Why isn’t this any good?’ the answer points me in the direction of what ‘good’ looks like. In any event, I try to start writing early in the week, since I firmly believe that the art of writing is rewriting.” (79)
When it comes to biblical narratives he says that the typical homiletical approach of a deductive sermon construction with a thesis statement and a three point outline may move the sermon away from the text and flatten out the details of the story.
“I often prefer to adopt a more inductive approach where I walk the congregation through the story, examining all of its details like the facets of a jewel. Application may be scattered throughout the sermon or gathered together at the end, once we have a really rich appreciation of the narrative. Something is lost in the unity of the sermon, perhaps, but I think that something is gained in appreciating the nuances of the text.” (80)
On another variable of sermon prep I’m with him on the point of writing the introduction to a sermon first. The majority of books on homiletics make the sensible point that the introduction is best written last, after we’ve developed clearly where the sermon is going. That makes sense to me, but as with Iain Duguid, it doesn’t work for me. For myself, the two prerequisites that I need in place to really plow forward in writing my sermon are, (1) a clear outline in my head (and written on paper) of where I’m going, and then (2) I need to nail my introduction early – because for me, it sets in motion my trajectory, and the rest follows if I can lay out a good start. As Duguid says, “I have to start at the beginning…” – me too. As he continues, “…even if I am aware that I may have to come back at the end and make sure that the introduction still matches where the sermon ended up going.” His words express my sentiment exactly.
He writes a full manuscript, but doesn’t take a full manuscript into the pulpit. That’s where I’d like to get. He does keep the written manuscript on file though, so that if he preaches it again, he knows exactly where he was going the first time. The abbreviated notes he brings into the pulpit would be nearly impossible for anyone else to preach from, but as it is the result of his writing, rewriting and rehearsal – he’s able to trigger his memory with short phrases or bullet-points and preach with greater freeness and eye-contact than if he was more tied down to a manuscript. Here again, each man has to forge his own way. Many preach quite freely from manuscripts. The model advocated here – is the goal after which I’m striving.
5. Practice Delivery
Once he has reduced his manuscript to his preaching notes, he rehearses it a couple of times Saturday evening and then again Sunday morning. He mentions that he’s gotten to the point that he’s able to rehearse his message now silently rather than out-loud – I find it best to be able to vocalize my rehearsals.
Illustrations or applications are added at any point as they strike us in our review of the sermon. This is another one of the crucial reasons for writing the sermon as early as possible. The rehearsal time is often when I’m able to “hear” the sermon and see where it is lacking a good flow, clarity, smooth transitions, etc. Some of my most fruitful sentences strike me while rehearsing. I’ve truncated too many messages by not giving myself the time to rehearse and revise; I goad myself again and press on.
Iain Duguid utilizes his wife by getting her a copy of his manuscript by Friday. Her input has been invaluable for him. I use to do more of that – preaching it to her in part – but usually I’m not far enough along even by Saturday night. The pros and cons must be weighed by each man. My greater and better need is simply writing earlier and finishing earlier and making the time to rehearse, to distill, to revise, to ruminate and to add thoughts and illustrations.
The one thing I can say with all sincerity is that while I work hard to make progress in the areas of perceived weakness – at the end of the process, however successful or unsuccessful I may have been in achieving certain preparation benchmarks, I do not overly concern myself with those matters. I think nearly every week of the line, “silver and gold have I none, what I have, I give you." I rest not in my expertise but in God’s enablement and grace in tandem with my weakness. The injunction remains for my part:
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman
who does not need to be ashamed,
accurately handling the word of truth.”
(2 Timothy 2:15, NASB)
“Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them,
so that your progress will be evident to all.”
(1 Timothy 4:15, NASB)
Under this heading he concludes his comments by simply saying that he invites feedback and he listens for substantive responses both critical and encouraging. When someone remarks, “That was a great sermon, Pastor” he often asks what it was specifically that they found helpful. There are formal and informal means of soliciting feedback and a faithful preacher will want both wounds and words of appreciation.
“It can be difficult to hear people point out our weaknesses and flaws. We would rather that they only told us our strengths. Yet I need to remember that if this is what my friends are thinking about my preaching, there are probably other people in the congregation who are thinking it less charitably! There may be bad habits that can be corrected or other areas to work on that will help the gospel to shine more clearly in my preaching. Why wouldn’t I want to do everything in my power to pursue that goal?” (83)
Iain Duguid’s sermon was on 2 Samuel 13, the account of the rape of Tamar by David’s son Amnon and the subsequent murder of Amnon by David’s other son Absalom.
In chapter 11 David had violated a woman who was also off limits to him and also committed murder. Having sown to the flesh, he’s now reaping from it.
Iain aptly titles his sermon, “Like Father, Like Sons.” As I mentioned above – it is one of the most beautiful and faithful sermons I’ve ever heard or read. He exemplified his inductive method of retelling the story without at all being pedantic. His transition into the storyline of the gospel was seamless, insightful and natural. His application came by means of addressing each of the primary characters, Tamar, Amnon and Absalom as though we had had opportunity to counsel them in the midst of these events. It was a beautiful weaving of Scripture’s counsel to those who have sinned, and who have been sinned against.
“In Jesus, there is cleansing from our deepest shame,
mercy to cover our blackest sin,
and the hope of justice that transcends anything this world can offer.”
This is how shepherds ought to feed their flocks. All praise to God for gifting His church with such men.
“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
Next up, Ajith Fernando, "Sermon Preparation On the Run"
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