Rev. John Brand runs a website, Encouraging Expository Excellence out of Edinburgh, Scotland. In a recent email conversation, John offered these responses to some interesting questions about expository preaching.
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I am utterly and increasingly convinced it has to be the heartbeat and central focus. There are many hallmarks of a true church and many things churches should be doing but none more vital and strategic than the faithful preaching of the Word of God. If the Word of God is not at the heart of its activities then it is no longer a church and simply a religious organisation.
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I was born into a Manse, the son and grandson of missionary preachers, and I think to start with it was almost a natural thing to do – to try my hand at preaching. My father’s church – who were not, it has to said, the most spiritually discerning of folk – gave me opportunity in my mid-teens and I was encouraged to persevere as well as sensing a growing burden and joy in my own spirit for this great work.
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
To be honest, it takes me longer now than when I started out more than 30 years ago and in the Lords goodness I think that is partly because I take the responsibility much more seriously now than at any other time in my life. I guess these day it takes me anywhere between 12 and 15 hours on average.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I wish I had realised the importance of this in my early days of preaching because I have come to realise how vital this issue is for effective communication. There is a tendency, especially when you are younger, to try and cram too much into one sermon and generally speaking, not only can most folk not cope with that but it can so easily blur the God-intended focus of the passage. In some way I find this the hardest and often most time-consuming aspect of preparation and yet you can’t move forward until you have identified it. For me, I just try writing out ‘the big idea’ again and again and again; restating it until I feel I am doing justice to the Scripture I am working.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
Firstly, it is vital that we are truly ourselves in the pulpit and not try to be somebody or something we are not. Affected tones of voice and imitation of others is for the stage and not the pulpit. Sincerity and integrity are key. Two other vital ingredients for me are earnestness and passion. We live in a day and age of all too often lifeless, take-it-or-leave-it preaching and it’s inconsistent with the message we preach or the one in whose name we claim to speak.
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
These days, my notes are much fuller than they used to be, though I have gone through different stages in my ministry. It varies too depending on the nature of the sermon. A more closely reasoned exposition, working through the logic of a passage, for example, will demand more notes than a study in one of the parables. For me, it’s not so much the quantity of the notes but the familiarity with the text and notes and though my notes are fuller I probably refer to them less than I used to.
7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
I have already referred to things like affectation. We must also studiously avoid disclosing confidences, even by allusion. We must avoid ‘showing off’ the work done in preparation. Perhaps the greatest sin to avoid is saying any less or any more than the text we are preaching says.
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
In recent years this has been a special challenge for me, now as a Bible College Principal and before that heading up a Mission agency, rather than in church-based pastoral ministry. It’s really a case of identifying and protecting priorities. I have had to ring fence time slots and tell my colleagues that I am unavailable except in emergencies.
9. What, in your opinion, are the top 5 books on preaching that have been most helpful to you as a preacher, with perhaps a few words by way of comment about them?
-Bryan Chapell’s Christ Centered Preaching is, in my opinion, simply the best there is
-Ramesh Richard’s Preaching Expository Sermons really helped me work on and teach the importance of structure with his very helpful model of the human body
-Arturo Azurdia’s Spirit Empowered Preaching provides the perfect balance between hard work on the part of the exegete and preacher and the empowering of God’s Spirit
-Michael Fabarez’s Preaching that Changes Lives is the most helpful book on application that I have found
-John Piper’s The Supremacy of God in Preaching keeps reigniting my passion for preaching and keeps my sights fixed on God
10. Which preachers, living or dead, have had the greatest influence on your own ministry?
During my student days I read many of Spurgeon’s sermons and through Lloyd-Jones sermons on Romans and Ephesians and, albeit largely unconsciously, imbibed a commitment to systematic, verse by verse exposition, though not at the same level of detail as the Doctor! Sinclair Ferguson taught and modelled homiletics as well as systematic theology and made a monumental impact on my life and, humanly speaking, I owe him a unique debt. The inspired passion of men like Steven Lawson and John Piper are also a great example.
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
This has always been a joyful privilege and responsibility for me. In my first pastorate I gather a group of 3 men and we met on a monthly basis to encourage one another and I gave them regular opportunities to cut their preaching teeth and try and help them. I am and have been involved in several preachers workshops, seminars and conferences. One of my greatest joys in this area has been an annual workshop in Sudan where I have seen 50 church leaders grow in their confidence in and ability to handle the word of God. I teach homiletics at the College where I serve and also blog on preaching at www.encouraging expositoryexcellence.co.uk where, among other things, I hold a ‘sermon clinic’.
11. What advice would you give to a young man who is wondering whether God is calling him into a preaching ministry, firstly in terms of recognising the genuineness of a call and secondly in acting on it?
Be obedient! Of course, we must take seriously the immense responsibility of such a charge, but if someone senses that God is leading them in this direction – perhaps because as they hear others preach they have a godly sense of ‘I could do that’ – pray that others will prompt you and give you opportunity and look to mature, experienced spiritual leaders to confirm – or otherwise – the gift of a preacher in you.
12. Is good expository preaching something that is ‘caught’ or ‘taught’; where is the balance between the two?
I have no doubts that it is both. There must, of course, be the divine gifting in the first place, but preaching is both an art and a science and skills can be sharpened and honed. One of the neglected responsibilities laid on preachers is to model good preaching to others.
13. What is the secret of perseverance in a preaching ministry?
A constant re-submission to the call of God on your life and an awareness of the fact that there is no greater or more important task on the planet!
14. What is the secret of freshness in a preaching ministry?
Keep close to God and to his Word. The more I read Scripture, the more I want to preach Scripture as I gain new insights. I am more enthusiastic today about preaching than I was over 35 years ago when I started out.