A Reading List for Pastors/Ministers for Sermon Preparation
I am going to pick back up my reading list for pastors and ministers. Previously, I have mentioned some tools for personal growth and then a reading list by E. E. Jolley. This post will draw your attention to some very good tools that are specifically related to sermon preparation.
In my estimation, the most challenging thing about preaching is that it is very weekly. Because preaching is very weekly, if one is not careful the preaching can be delivered very weakly.
As one elder minister told me one time, “Sunday comes around pretty regular.” This is precisely what makes preaching so demanding. We have to take into consideration schedules that sometimes become filled uncontrollable circumstances and demands. I feel at times that a minister’s schedule is something that the enemy will use to try to dictate and control the amount of time we spend in the Word. Most ministers who are willing to be honest, feel that there are times when the preached Word literally cleared the fence and then there will be other times that he feels as if a strikeout was recorded.
This powerful Word is being conveyed through earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:20). Because the vessel is weak there will sometimes be a certain liability that comes with the delivery of the message. The message is not weak, if it is Word-centered, but the tool that God is using can sometimes not live up to its potential and fulfill the task.
I am going to suggest some books for you that have to do with either putting the message together or in inspiring the man toward the task of preaching. We must be faithful and patient in what God leads us to preach to the Church that we serve. He can bring us the direction of the thought but then I believe it is my personal responsibility to dig and flesh out the message in the study.
I will admit that this book was a little difficult for me but because it was required reading to get my license for the UPCI, I did read it. Robinson really tries to encourage the “Big Idea” concept of every single message. He encourages the preacher once the message is complete, to use one word to sum it up. What is the message about? Salvation, Faith, Prayer, etc. His book deals with selecting, studying, discovering, analyzing, formulating, determining, outlining, and then putting the meat on the bones of an outline.
Following is a portion of notes (there are many more but I thought these would be helpful) that I wrote in the front flaps of the book:
Preaching the Word is far more important than waiting on tables (I wrote this down back in the late 90’s. You might want to get Terry Shock’s message from BOTT 2006 entitled, “Accidentally Apostolic? Impossible!” and listen to it.). There is a power that comes through preaching that will never be replaced. Preaching will be a necessity either until death or the Rapture. I have a vast responsibility to preach the Word patiently, carefully, and routinely, whether I “feel” like it or not. I would hate to know that I had to go to a church that devalued preaching.
The Bible is great literature. All of its diamonds do not lie exposed on the surface to be picked like flowers. Its richness will have to be mined out through hard spiritual and mental spadework.
One man has told me that a pastor has been in a particular church for seven years and has preached through 27 or 30 books of the Bible during that period of time.
William Barclay diagnosed the cause of spiritual malnutrition in a minister’s life when he wrote: “The more a man allows his mind to grow slack and lazy and flabby, the less the Holy Spirit can say to him. True preaching comes when the loving heart and the disciplined mind are laid at the disposal of the Holy Spirit.” Ultimately God is more interested in developing messengers than messages, and since the Holy Spirit confronts men primarily through the Bible, a preacher must learn to listen to God before he speaks for Him.
In my opinion, this is the best book on expository preaching that I have ever read. It literally walks you through the mechanics of preaching through a book of the Bible. I realize that in Pentecostal circles that such preaching is not as popular as topical preaching. However, I am becoming increasingly convinced that this sort of preaching is the most practical and life building. By preaching verse-by-verse, it forces the minister to deal with the text and not be constantly reverting to his favorite “candysticks” and hobby horses.
These were ideas for series of messages that I gleaned from this book and wrote in the front flaps:
- The Tests of Life -- Messages from 1 John -- This epistle revolves around three words: Light, Righteous, and Love. This is what helps us to go through the “tests” of life.
- From Acts -- Look at the Great Texts of Acts. Look at the Great People of Acts. Look at the Great Events in Acts.
David L. Larsen -- Telling the Old, Old Story -- The Art of Narrative Preaching
This book encourages the preacher to tell the story. Most of us like good stories and the Bible is full of stories that will provide a life lesson. To me the most helpful portion of this book had to do with the massive amount of authors and book titles that Larsen either recommended or listed for further evaluation. This book is literally loaded with fantastic seed thoughts.
Following are some sermon titles that stood out to me:
- The Tyranny of Trifles -- On Mary and Martha. Luke 10:38-42.
- The Snare of Spiritual Familiarity -- Luke 4:14-30. Deals with
’s rejection of Jesus. Nazareth
- God-induced Good-Byes -- Genesis 12. Spiritual men cannot stay at the level of the carnal man. You must leave
- The Song of the Vineyard -- Isaiah 5.
- Sacred Secrets -- The kingdom parables of Matthew 13. Here are a few of the titles from that series: When the Devil Goes to Church (the wayside), The Religious Rollercoaster (the stony ground), A Saga of Spiritual Strangulation (the thorny ground), The Fruit-Bearing Friends (the good ground), Spiritual Subversion (the wheat and the tares), and The Ecology of Evil (the leaven).
- The Crucible of Character -- A take on Jacob. How to turn a crook into a saint. This is accomplished in two ways, first God will cripple him and then God will crown him.
Bruce Mawhinney -- Preaching with Freshness
Tim Kelley, a friend of mine who pastors in north
The appendix in this book is worth it’s price. I will share with you what the Mawhinney determines are the “Keys To Long-Term Freshness.”
Wide Rangeof -- Follow the six-track path (novels, history, biographical, diary/journal, poetry, “hot topics”). Reading
- Gathering Illustrations -- Always look at newspapers, periodicals, now the Internet (which basically was in it’s infancy when this book was written 1997). Recruit the help of the congregation in gathering stories that might fit into some of the sermons.
- Practice Self-Evaluation -- Listen to yourself on tape or video. Ask for help from your spouse or another fellow minister. Critique your voice. Timing of message (I have severe trouble with this).
- Study Great Preachers Sermons -- Books of sermons from the past. Refer to E. E. Jolley’s recommendations. Talk to “old” preachers because they can put you on the path of obscure and often forgotten preachers of the past.
- Read one good book on preaching every year.
- Attend refreshers, seminars on preaching, or enroll for a D. Min.
- Plan a sermon series a year in advance.
- Carry a copy of the series schedule in the front cover of your Bible.
- Let “iron sharpen iron” with discussions with fellow preachers.
Stephen Nelson Rummage -- Planning Your Preaching -- A Step-by-Step Guide for Developing a One Year Preaching Calendar
I know that books like these scrub against the grain for a lot of Pentecostal preachers. Yet, I believe that this kind of thing can actually help promote great spiritual health in congregations. Our age is marked by an incredible famine of the Word (Amos 8:11).
I honestly read this book because I did not agree with the concept. Yet, I will say that the author had some very strong arguments (which were very convincing) for planning what you are going to do. Initially, this probably will work best for mid-week services. Then if the Lord strikes you with something that is absolutely a necessity to be preached then go with that. However, if we pray about this process, I truly believe that God can guide us in the direction that he wants us to go.
John MacArthur -- Preaching (formerly “Rediscovering Expository Preaching”)
I strongly recommend this book but I have somewhat of a disclaimer to go with the recommendation. It is a bit technical and some portions of the book reminded me of a high-school English class where we were diagramming sentences. This is exactly what MacArthur and the Masters Seminary contributors do with this book. It actually is a seminary text that has been published for ministers.
I highly recommend the segment in this book that deals with prayer and with the character of the minister.
This is an old classic. It actually began as a series of lectures that were given by D ML-J and then was transcribed into this book. This was one of the text books my senior year at
Michael Fabarez -- Preaching That Changes Lives
This is one of the books that I “accidentally” found and it ended up being a very profitable time for me. It reinforces the thought that preaching is still very important in the life flow of a church. It also really homes in on the idea of sermonic application (which sometimes is a weakness of my own preaching).
He brings out the fact that for the congregation to grow (not so much numerically as spiritually) that the preacher has to be committed to his own spiritual growth also. He even recommends that periodically (once a year) that the pastor preach a sermon on preaching.
He devotes a chapter (Come to Grips with the Time It Takes to Prepare a Life-Changing Sermon) to a minister’s schedule. There are “crock pot” messages and then there are “microwave” messages. The “crock pot” stuff is always the best.
He lists this poem about laziness:
I’ve gone for a drink and sharpened my pencils,
Searched through my desk for forgotten utensils,
Reset my watch and adjusted my chair,
Loosened my tie and straightened my hair,
Filled my pen and tested the blotter,
Gone for another drink of water,
Adjusted the calendar, raised the blinds,
Sorted erasers of different kinds.
Now, down to work I can finally sit
Oops! To late, it’s time to quit!
This is not a time management book but the author does spend an entire chapter forcing us to concentrate about where our time is going and how our lives are being spent.
Calvin Miller -- The Sermon Maker -- The Tales of a Transformed Preacher
Calvin Miller writes a little story about Pastor Sam and Emma Johnson. Emma is Sam’s worst and most vocal critic in the church he is trying to pastor. She stirs up more difficulties for Sam than he can shake a stick at. She saves her most critical words for Sam’s preaching.
Sam is on his knees having more of a pity party than a prayer meeting when Sermoniel, the Angel of Homiletics shows up (sent by God) to help poor Sam with his dilemma. This is a funny little story but the neat thing about it is the layout of the book. The story is told on the right side of the book and on the left side of the book there are massive amounts of comments that serve as “coaching” that arises from the advice the Sermoniel gives. The book ends on a high note with Sam and Emma.
You will find this helpful little story to be funny but also some very arresting homiletic principles are brought out by Miller. Miller teaches at
Stephen F. Olford -- Anointed Expository Preaching
You will get a lot of bang for your buck with this book. It is almost 400 pages long and has a smaller font and is packed with good leads and profitable instruction about the nuts and bolts of putting a sermon together.
The only draw-back in this book was the strong lean toward alliteration. I personally do not care for alliteration but there are some who really enjoy this type of preaching. I have a friend in
Wayne McDill -- The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching
John Piper -- The Supremacy of God in Preaching
Dr. Ockenga (a man who preached to Piper in a college chapel) never knew what his preaching did in my life, and you can mark it down that if you are a preacher God will hide from you much of the fruit He causes in your ministry. You will see enough to be assured of His blessing, but not so much as to think you could live without it. For God aims to exalt Himself, not the preacher.
This book explores the preaching, preparation, and some of the sermons of Jonathon Edwards.
Jerry Vines & Jim Shaddix -- Power In the Pulpit
This is another book that basically is a textbook on preaching. There are a lot of mechanics in this book. What I mean by that is it is very heavy on the “how-to” of putting messages together. However, with the “how-to” of this book, some of the steps that it suggests that you walk through in looking at the text you are preaching from are very helpful in adding some meat to the bones of your thought that has been impressed on you.
Furthermore, it is not light on forcing the preacher to pull biblical truth into the frame of the message. This is very important! I frequently look in the paper and see the sermon titles and series of churches around my city. I am becoming more and more amazed that most of these sermon titles are inferring that stress management, financial planning, how to be happy, and parenting are replacing biblically driven messages. Ever so slowly, the Bible is being squeezed out of the secular sermons.
If you do not believe this, then I ask you to do a little experiment. Find the books of sermons that were written in the 1950-70’s and really earlier than those dates and you will find a remarkable change. Those older sermon books were centered on God and His principles, new sermon books are centered on man and his desires. Romans 1 appears to be encroaching into the current preaching.
Power in the Pulpit is a strong call back to the biblical text and it’s establishment of truth.
Bryan Chappell -- Christ-Centered Preaching
This book was a textbook for a class that I took on Expository Preaching. I practically filled up one “marble” notebook with notes on what Chappell wrote about. It is a very good book although there are some places that it can be very dry. That is the way the process goes sometimes, you are never in a harvest mode all year long (at least I am not).
Chapter 7 is entirely spent on how to use illustrations and most importantly how to gather illustrations.
Another strong value of this book is that it is heavily foot-noted. Blessed is the preacher who loves footnotes for they shall open up many paths (Barnabas 9:14). I made that up but there are great treasures available to the man who will run down the footnotes and do his homework. Sweat in the study can give an added edge to the sermon (Barnabas 3:20).
Jack Hughes -- Expository Preaching with Word Pictures -- With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson
This book is absolutely magnificent. It has a great flow to it however the clincher for me was all of the quotes in the appendix from the writings of Thomas Watson. They were great stimulants to produce thoughts for messages. Here is a sampling from the smorgasbord.
- Preaching -- Many love the Word preached only for its eloquence and notion. They come to the sermon as to a music lecture (Ezekiel 33:31-32) or as to a garden to pick flowers, but not to have their lusts subdued or their hearts bettered. These are like the foolish woman who paints her face but neglects her health.
-- The most dark, cloudy providences of God have some sunshine in them. What a blessed condition is a true believer in! When he dies, he goes to God; and while he lives everything shall do him good. Affliction is for his good. What hurt does the fire to the gold? It only purifies it. Providence
- Repentance -- Those who are not bruised penitentially shall be broken judicially. Those whose hearts would not break for sin shall break with despair. In hell there is nothing to be seen but a heap of stones and a hammer. A heap of stones—that is hard hearts; a hammer—that is God’s power and justice, breaking them in pieces.
- Sin -- Sin first tempts and then damns. It is first a fox and then a lion. Sin does to a man as Jael did to Sisera. She gave him milk, but then she brought him low. Sin first brings us pleasures which delight and charm the senses, and then comes with its nail and hammer. Sin does to the sinner as Absalom did to Amnon. When his heart was merry with wine, then he killed him. Sin’s last act is always tragic.
In conclusion of these recommendations, remember that you can never get beyond praying over your preaching, praying over your studying, and praying over your preparation.