Unashamed Workmen 6: Simon Manchester

March 17, 2015 | by: Bob Schilling | 0 comments

Posted in: Preaching Tags: Preaching, Book Review, Sermon Prep, Simon Manchester

I'm taking ten weeks to work through the book,

"Unashamed Workmen: How Expositors Prepare and Preach"
edited by Rhett Dodson

To quote D. A. Carson, "This is a great book." He adds,

"This is not so much a book for students as for preachers - a book to savor, reading a chapter or two, then a few weeks later another chapter or two, and so on, so as to refresh your vision and practice."

That's exactly what I'm doing. Reading through a chapter a week, thinking through what's being said, reflecting, adding a few thoughts of my own and blogging about it for the profit of both myself and others. 

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
- David Jackman, former President of the Proclamation Trust, retired, London
     - Today, 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 6: Simon Manchester: The Treasures are in the Text

Simon Manchester served three years with Dick Lucas, a name you see frequently when reading about expository preaching (he came up in the last blog about David Jackman - Proclamation Trust guys in London). 

"If I were to put in one word what I learned from [Dick Lucas] about preaching it would be listening - paying attention to the Scriptures until the message of those veres in that book in that canon was really heard and understood so it could be conveyed. Listening is the key to preaching." (149)

Before mentioning some specific, practical matters regarding his method of sermon prep, Mr. Manchester begins with some important convictions, five of them:

1. The Word is the way God works.

It’s the way He works in creation (Gen. 1), preservation (Heb. 1:3), the church (Deut. 4), and edification (Eph. 4:11) “It’s His weapon; it’s the Spirit’s sword” (Eph. 6:17).

2. The Pulpit and the Church tend to rise or fall together.

I so agree. This point was timely encouragement to me this week. He adds,

This doesn’t mean that numbers must rise or fall with faithful or unfaithful preaching. We know that numbers are a fickle guage. But the pulpit is the key to the quality of the church…You must have the conviction of Jesus to stick with the key work and not do everything that people want you to do…” (151)

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you. And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mark 1:35–39)

3. Be sure that the Declaration of the Word is God’s plan for all time.

There’s a place for fellowship and for small groups discussion the Word, Sunday School classes, etc., teaching the Word – but “that is not the same as declaring it.” God has ordained that His Word be preached with authority, regularly and perpetually (Mark 3:14; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; 1 Pet. 4:11).

4. Huge amounts of Pastoral Care are done from the Pulpit.

Not all of it, but huge amounts of it. The real shepherd is a preacher and the real preacher is the shepherd. “Every faithful sermon is an expression of pastoral care for the people of God.” (151)

5. Work hard in Prayer and Preaching so that Christ be Glorified.

Secondly, Pastor Manchester walks through some practical points for sermon preparation.

Having been preaching for over thirty years, I find it gets easier and harder all the timeIt gets harder in that fresh insights become more demanding and familiar listeners may find the regular preacher predictable! This is where the Bible becomes [or needs to become] our joy and treasure chest because the Scriptures yield new depths and new wonders that we will never get to the end of, like exploring the oceans of the world.”

He tries to start his Mondays (he takes Thursday’s off) with reading the text and writing a word-for-word translation.

“When I’ve done my translation page, I use a red pen to link up words in the text, add questions that I want answered, and include early thoughts that will need to be addressed and maybe some illustrations or cross references that have occurred to me…” (152-153)

One of the greatest dangers in our preparation is simply to regurgitate the accepted wisdom on a passage without proper thought…” (153)

“We must think and pray and wrestle till we get the treasure in the text.” (154)

“…Another great danger for preachers is simply preaching our framework. We come to Exodus 20 or Matthew 4 and everything we know about law or temptation is crammed into the sermon. But we have stopped listening and started saying what we already think or know. All of us have a systematic theology, and we need it. But the text is bigger and better. Without a humble view of the text we will squeeze it all into our system, and our system will stay the same (getting more stagnant and predictable every year). What we need is a text that rattles and refreshes our system and shocks and shapes us into the people who see more and more of the grandeur of God.” (154-155)

Tuesdays and Wednesdays he spends a few hours in commentaries, writing down the helpful or important notes he comes across. This usually yields about 6 or seven pages of notes. On a single sheet of paper he puts the verse references (3:8, 3:9, 3:10, etc.) on left-hand edge of the paper and then tries to fill in brief notes culled from his other work – next to the appropriate verses, working out an outline as well. On the right side of the paper he writes brief notes about illustrations or applications that he might work in. He likes to do all this on one sheet of paper, in fact, he writes all this with a red pen so that it stands out from his other preparation pages, thus giving himself an overview of how he plans to develop the sermon and the main things that he’ll be saying.

This process, he says takes about 2 hours on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday, working through 8-12 commentaries. “I leave to Saturday morning my final notes.”

Wow. That’s a lot of work in a short space of time. The main point is that he’s worked out a system that works for him and steadily returns to it week after week.

I appreciated his brief comments on ‘Introductions.’ He says regarding them, that “no rules should apply.” “The important principle is to get your listeners to come with you, and there are times when you must work much harder to achieve this.”

On illustrations,

“…I think we should actually love our people by including mental pictures or stories that will help them to stay with us and get the point. In setting out a sermon from start to finish we must recognize where things have become long and complex and deliberately move into an illustration that will provide light and break in the tension.” (156)


Application comes more with prayer, I have found. I talk through the passage in prayer and think through why this is wonderful, what it tells me of God, and what it means in my life, what it says to the fearful or careless, what it says to the long-time Christian or the ‘thinking through Christianity’ person, the sad or the silly, the plumber and the professor. Sometimes I look out my window at my neighbors and think what I would say to them if I was asked to explain why my text is so significant. Much application can be driven home during the sermon; try not to save it all for the final five minutes.” (157)

Regarding his general practice of what to preach on, he typically rotates, without worrying about the order through an Old Testament series, Gospel, Epistles, and topics. “This keeps me thinking across the Bible.”


His first lesson, learned from Dick Lucas is what stayed with me after reading this chapter: Listen to the text. Robert Smith, Jr., wisely says, that our biggest hindrance to understanding Scripture is our understanding of Scripture. It is very difficult as we get more and more years under our belt, to approach the text fresh, humbly, 'listeningly' – he who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit has written.


The sermon included by Pastor Manchester was on “The Real Lord’s Prayer” – John 17.

He had three points:

     I. Jesus’ Prayer for Himself (17:1-5)
     II. Jesus’ Prayer for the Apostles (17:6-19)
     III. Jesus’ Prayer for all Believers (17:20-26)

The sermon was a meal of some bland meat and vegetables for me.

I appreciated his thoughts on preaching, especially his initial “vital convictions.” Not every sermon can be a home run. But we need preachers who can steadily get us on base – and his sermon did that for me.


Next up: David Meredith: “The Jeweler’s Window”