March 10, 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
I've been enjoying every chapter of this very good book. These proven expositors each have unique and helpful things to convey regarding their typical practice of sermon preparation. We're taking a section a week and gleaning some tips from men who have been in the trenches for many years.
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
- Iain Duguid, Christ Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Grove City, Pennsylvania
- Ajith Fernando, serves as Teaching Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka
- Today, 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 5: David Jackman: Seems Odd to Me
I came to this chapter with great anticipation. David Jackman is a man I’ve seen referred to for a while. He’s been one of the point men at Proclamation Trust in London, England – the British counterpart to The Charles Simeon Trust here in the US. Under the leadership of Dick Lucas (a mentor to many good preachers), in 1981 conferences designed for equipping preachers began which evolved into the founding of The Proclamation Trust in 1986. In 1991, David Jackman joined the staff and later became President until 2009 when he was succeeded by Vaughan Roberts. 
David Jackman is also scheduled to join Michael Lawrence next fall for the Charles Simeon Trust Preaching Workshop at Hinson Church in Portland, OR. I’m looking forward to meeting him at that, Lord willing. All this to say – I was looking forward to this chapter, and it did not disappoint.
“Seems odd to me.” That’s an odd title, but one that will now stick with me after reading his thoughts. One of the key things he’s always looking for while studying a passage are the “odd things.” It’s become a strapline (“subheading”) in the Proclamation Trust – first coined by Dick Lucas, which summarizes what they’re looking for in any text they’re studying to preach from.
“It’s a way of reading the text, observantly and thoughtfully, which generates a fresh engagement with its meaning, however well known we may imagine it to be. As I read and reread the passage, usually in more than one version, I often jot down on a piece of paper, both the things that I find difficult about the text and the surprises I encounter. ‘Seems odd to me!’ is one way of expressing these reactions to the text.” (131)
We are all “works in progress” says David, and he shares in this chapter the things that have come to mark his unique practice of sermon preparation developed over the course of over forty years.
“In a day when it is so easy to download the most popular preachers at the click of a button, what is undoubtedly a great privilege can also become a hazardous danger. It can be very seductive to younger preachers to try to emulate their favorite exemplars, to use their outlines, to repeat their illustrations, even to imitate their tone of voice or gestures. But in the end it is all counter-productive. You cannot be anyone else and to deny this is to reveal a fundamental lack of trust in God’s wise providence.” (128)
“…Anything other than being yourself in Christ will not command God’s blessing on your work. It will always be second-hand and, sadly, that nearly always means second-rate. God has called you with all your individual strengths and weaknesses to preach this Word of the Lord, to a specific congregation, at this particular moment in time. Don’t try to copy anyone else, however ‘good’ they are.” (128)
He’s a strong advocate (as are all who are involved in the Proclamation Trust and the Simeon Trust) of preaching the text. Not importing ideas into a sermon to make the Scriptures relevant – but painstakingly studying and engaging the text, convinced that,
“If he engages deeply with the mind of God in the Bible text, his content will be relevant since it will be ‘the living and abiding word of God’ (1 Peter 1:23).” (130)
‘Looking for the odd things” means that we’re always trying to approach the Scriptures a fresh way. We can’t divorce ourselves from our frameworks, past engagements with texts, or from our biases – but we can seek to study in a humble posture that listens and queries the text to see things that we haven’t seen before. If we don’t, we’ll revert to our favorite themes or hobby-horses.
“What is read into the text usually ends up dominating the sermon.”
“Even though what is being said may be biblically true, if it is not what this text is saying in its context within the book, then the authority for the sermon has subtly shifted from the Bible to the preacher, from divine revelation to the human channel…Such preaching loses authority, even as its content becomes increasingly repetitive and predictable.” (132)
“Clearly, if we are to do better than this, we shall have to be disciplined and diligent about our preparation. Too many sermons fall at this first fence. Because the preacher has allowed insufficient time for his preparation, he cuts corners with the result that his hearers are disappointed and the God who gave His word is dishonored. Preaching is a calling from God, a stewardship for which we must give an account.” (132)
Structuring the Process:
David Jackman lays out a plan for a man who is able to give himself to ten hours of uninterrupted time for sermon preparation. Divided, typically, “into four roughly equal periods of two to three hours each.” Here’s how he walks through those four sessions:
1. The first session is devoted to exegesis and has two major aims:
- To determine the Subject of the text – what the passage is saying and what it means.
- To distill the focus of the passage into a single Theme sentence.
This time of study is spent asking interpretive questions. Why does the author say what he says in this way? Why is he saying it in this particular context, at this point in the book, the narrative or argument? What did it mean to them then? Why did he word it that way? Etc.
2. “My second session sees me using my list of surprises and difficulties as I try to delve deeper, by moving from questions of meaning to questions of significance. The ‘what’ questions tend to be replaced by those beginning with ‘why?’ My aim here is to explore why this passage is included in the Bible and how it fits into the purposes of the book of which it is a part.”
The focus of the study in this session is the context of the passage. He thinks of context in terms of three concentric circles surrounding the text in the center:
A. The immediate literary context concerning the verses surrounding the text.
B. The historical context of the whole Bible book of which the passage is a part.
C. The theological context of the whole Bible (Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology)
At the end of this second session he wants to be able to write an aim sentence for the sermon (the aim of the text transported to my aim in this sermon).
3. The third session is focused on crafting the structure and strategy of the sermon. The outline and points of the message with illustrations and applications.
He makes the point that illustrations are to be used “at the points where the text is more difficult or where the applications need to be spelt out with practical examples.” He adds these pertinent words,
“If we fail to give sufficient time to this aspect of our preparation, including introduction and conclusion, we often fail to land our sermons in the hearts and minds of the congregation.” (138)
4. The final 2-3 hours is spent writing out the sermon.
“I like to write quite a full script, so as not to rely on my recall memory and so use up mental energy which I could use to communicate with my hearers. I don’t usually script my illustrations, but for all the major teaching content of the sermon I will put down on the paper all that I mean to say in exactly the way I want to say it. Far from being restrictive, for me it provides freedom, to concentrate on getting it across and into the hearer’s hearts and minds, having spent time in my preparation in trying to get it right.” (138)
He there expresses my thoughts and practice exactly.
A very practical procedure. The things that strikes me in reading this is the point he made at the beginning. This is the result of years of refinement and adaptation suited to his peculiarities. In the main, I like it – but I don’t see being able to accomplish all that in ten hours. Sometimes, that’s all you have. Ordinarily, I know for me – I need another 5-10 hours. But I can see that dropping over time.
He concludes with this pithy point:
“The secret of good preaching is careful listening.”
‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom”
The more you dwell in the Word and the Word dwells in you,
the more you will be a channel of the voice of God to your people as you preach.”
His sermon was from Luke 18:1-8, “Don’t Give Up On Believing Prayer”
Very, very good.
This man practices what preaches and preaches what he teaches. It was a very simple, engaging, contextual and helpful sermon. So clear, and such a beautiful weaving in of the surrounding context. I love how he brought in the end of the parable at the beginning of the retelling, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)
He then showed how the parable drove forward to that point. Persevering faith is evidenced by persistent prayer – he said that same thing a few different ways.
- “…one sure way to give up on your faith is to give up on prayer...”
- “Prayer is the last resort of the self-reliant but the first recourse of the true believer.”
- “The only way to keep trusting is to keep praying, day and night…”
- “…persistent prayer is the expression of our continuing, active faith in God…”
And the key to persevering faith and persisting in prayer is an accurate and trusting understanding of who God really is.
- “If we forget His nature….sooner or later, we shall give up on our faith.”
- “If we truly know the nature of our loving Father in heaven, we shall keep on praying…”
His conclusion, “If meanwhile we have stopped praying, how shall we then satisfactorily explain to Him why we doubted his character? Don’t give up on believing prayer.”
The character of God was brought out in the contrast of the parable – the extreme contrast between an unrighteous judge and our heavenly Father. Indifference – vs – Love. Disdain – vs – Care. “How then can we begin to think that He will act in any way other than in perfect accordance with His revealed character?”
I can’t do the sermon justice here – I recommend reading it for yourself.
What an excellent section of this great book. Very profitable.
[1.] A brief footnote: I hadn’t realized that Vaughn Roberts is a minister in the UK who along with Sam Allberry (author of “Is God Anti-Gay?”) recently launched a website called “Living Out” to explain their commitment to biblical Christianity as men with same-sex attraction. The site has a very biblical statement on the sinfulness of homosexuality (see here). These are brothers seeking to be real about their abnormal attractions while obeying God in not acting on them. I’m conflicted on how to best deal with that – but I greatly respect the effort to be both honest, and committed to obeying the clear Scriptures.
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