I am continuing along with a thought from last week about the importance of study in the preacher’s life. After the initial post, I took the occasion to get into the world of Brother Jeff Arnold and give some of the details that I was aware of in his study patterns and how preaching took shape for him. Apparently from the response in phone calls, comments on the blog, and e-mails, you were encouraged by knowing what he did.
So with that in mind, I made a few phone calls to some friends of mine and sent out a few e-mails requesting them to consider telling me how they put things together. This morning I had the good occasion to spend a bit of time with Pastor Scott Graham of The Sanctuary in St. Louis, Missouri. He was very willing to open up to me some of the routines he goes through in the process of preaching.
He said that years ago he read a Max Lucado book in which the author mentioned something about thinking about the “white spaces” in Scripture. Those are the spots between the verses and chapters in Scripture that we sometimes may wonder what went on with a particular character. Brother Graham mentioned that mediating on Scripture in this fashion has proved to be a very important aspect in his preaching. He said that when he has the occasion to listen to other preachers, he always takes notes. Over the years, he has discovered that listening to preaching can help you develop into becoming a better preacher.
As far as his note-taking efforts, he has had to change up his style a bit because he was using his cell-phone on the platform and some of the youth group thought he was texting while the preaching was going on. We both had a good laugh out of this because our techno age has advanced so much that a pen and legal pad has almost become obsolete. However, in whatever method he takes notes, they all end up in one place. He has a folder on his computer that has Word docs in it that are the genesis of new messages. At any time this folder can have as few as 12 files or as many as 50 that have accumulated from thoughts or ideas he has gathered. He routinely reads through these thoughts and works them into messages. On an average, every message usually has about 8-10 hours of mental and spiritual “steam” behind them. He will put together the set of notes and then go back through them editing and expanding in the necessary places.
Recently, Brother Paul Mooney asked him to come to Indiana Bible College and address the Theology Club and then to preach a chapel. One of the things that he told the aspiring preachers (and it is some incredibly wise advice) is that there will be times that one will experience the fat cow/skinny cow syndrome. There will be times that all cylinders are firing and messages will come to you like gangbusters. You will think, “Wow! I don’t have enough Sundays and Wednesdays to preach all of this material.” Then the skinny cows will visit and you will have to plead and beg to dig things out. This is where you capitalize on the reserve you have hidden away. He also shared with me the thought that there are messages that will flow out of the seasons of life that you are presently in. From personal experience, I can say that many messages that come from these seasons of life are often some of the best ones that have the capacity to encourage and feed any congregation.
When we begin to talk about reading habits, Brother Graham mentioned that he tries to vary his reading. Invariably some of the things that he reads will find its way into his preaching as illustrative material. He mentioned that biography was one of the areas that he seemed to get the most mileage from but he does read a wide variety of other secular books. As far as the sacred genre is concerned, he told me that he had placed himself on a book-buying moratorium and was going back through his own personal library and was picking up some of the older books he had read 20+ years ago and was re-reading them. He told me that it was amazing what you could glean from books that were read as a young preacher and now as a middle-aged one.
Three books he specifically mentioned were Charles Swindoll’s Hand Me Another Brick, Leonard Ravenhill’s Why Revival Tarries, and Warren Wiersbe’s On Being a Servant of God. All of these books would probably be considered classics and will only become more valuable as time passes. In fact, Hand Me Another Brick was the very first book that I read as a young preacher which was followed by Charles Finney’s autobiography. Both of these books were very helpful to me in my early twenties.
I asked him if he listened to very much preaching. He told me that he is always listening to preaching either on-line or CD in his car. On an average, he would probably average a sermon a day. There are many resources on-line to listen to preaching these days and he told me that 90% of what he listens to is apostolic preaching. Rarely does he venture out and listen to other preachers who are not Spirit-filled. Although recently someone in the church had given him a four part CD set from John Hagee on prayer and once he got past some of the distractions of Hagee, he managed to glean something from it. However as a rule this is not very often that he does this. He also shared with me that probably 50-60% of the things he preached was spurred by a Scripture that another man used or a thought that occurred while listening to someone preaching.
I asked him about influences on his life as a young preacher to which he noted that there were two that stood at the forefront. First was Brother Jerry Jones. Brother Graham was serving as a counselor at a youth camp one summer when Brother Jones came to preach. Brother Jones style was very convicting and every night the campers responded extremely well in the altars. Two particular sermons stood out during that camp, “Amnon Had a Friend,” and “Learning to Live Without God.” He made Brother Jones acquaintance but he told me as a young preacher who did not grow up in a preacher’s home and he was quite intimidated and nervous around Brother Jones. As the years passed, Brother Graham and Brother Jones allowed a friendship to develop that continues to this day. Interestingly enough, the Alabama District UPC Campmeeting 2009 has paired up Scott Graham and Jerry Jones. I am looking forward to that upcoming event in June.
What many young preachers do not understand is that your heroes will invest into you to the hilt, if you can get past the intimidation of the image. Brother Graham told me that as he had gotten older he realized this. He is in contact with some younger men who have been pleasantly surprised by his generosity of giving them his sermon notes and even swapping e-mails with them.
His second influence was Brother Mike Williams and although this relationship is not as close as the one with Brother Jones, he has benefited much from listening to Brother Williams preach. He told me that if anyone was a wordsmith and had the ability to put words together it was this preacher. The first time that he heard Mike Williams was at Because of the Times and although there is not a particular message to be singled out, the composite of all the messages have had an effect on him as a preacher.
As Brother Graham was talking to me about these influencers, I remembered something that Brother Harrell in Bridge City, Texas told me one time. We were talking about preaching and those sorts of things and he said, “Who your heroes are will be who you become!” It is no surprise to any of us who have heard the ministry of Scott Graham to have to say that this statement is indeed a fact. The people whom we emulate the most will both consciously and unconsciously affect us in a great way.
It is important for preachers to have good solid friends with whom they are talking about Scripture, messages, and the things of God. Brother Graham told me that his best and closest friend is Pastor Doug White in Silsbee, Texas. The talk frequently and the majority of the time the conversation revolves around what they have preached or are developing into messages to preach. They both have a strong love for preaching and it is obvious to me after having heard both of these men preach that there is probably a lot of sparks flying between these two brothers as they sharpen each other during their times of fellowship.
Brother Graham mentioned another friend, Pastor Gary Randol, whom he has known from his early days in youth ministry. They have worked to remain connected over the years and this was particularly strengthened with both men when they were at the UPCI headquarters in St. Louis. He also mentioned a close friendship Pastor Jimmy Toney who is in Omaha, Nebraska. This friendship is more of a mentoring one but obviously both men are benefiting from it.
Some of the preaching of Scott Graham is on Faithbuilder. The following messages can be heard:
The Power of His Voice
Stay Out of the Woods
Being Passed By or Being a Bypass
Follow the Stones
Some Things Have to Die
The Bond of Brethren
There are also multiple messages of Scott Graham here.
There are also several interviews on Youtube of Brother Graham at IBC that you will find helpful.