The Best Books on Preaching--Part 3
Part 3—Preaching With Freshness, Bruce Mawhinny, Kregel, 1997
I hope you will discover the treasure trove of books about preaching that will inspire you and help you to become better at it. Every pastor ought to aspire to be a great preacher! Not in the aspect of being on the conference circuit but rather to take the Bible and use it in such a way that your hearers anticipate the preaching as a very important part of worship. Years ago, I found some good advice from H. B. London in one of his books on pastoral ministry when he said that every preacher ought to work in such a way that he literally has the knack for making the biblical characters get up and walk around in front of the congregation as he is preaching.
Reading this particular genre of books can encourage even the most tired and weary of preachers. The first book by Lloyd-Jones was a book that addressed the soul and internal motivations of the preacher. The second book by Rummage was a bit more technical in its approach as to planning the preaching so that you systematically cover the Word. This next book is one that a friend of mine, Tim Kelley, recommended me to me more than ten years ago. It actually is a very easy book to read because of the way that Bruce Mawhinney wrote it.
The title is Preaching with Freshness and it tells the story of Paul Andrews a beleaguered pastor who is under fire by his board and his church for his long slide into dull preaching. Having reached a flashpoint, the board issues an ultimatum that he either improves or they are going to let him go. He limps home from the board meeting licking his very bruised and battered soul ready to throw in the towel and find something else to do. However, there is that inevitable calling that he cannot get away from that causes him to pray desperately for a way for God to help him. But what he soon discovers is that there are a number of other members in the church who are filling various teaching roles and they also are experiencing huge problems with inspiration to continue in their roles.
In desperation, Paul returns back to the seminary library where he once was a student. Providentially he runs into one of his old former professors, Dr. Vickerson, who taught him homiletics. As Paul pours out his soul to Dr. Vickerson a plan arises that there will be a weekly meeting to help Paul try to get back on track again. So through this fictional tale, Mawhinney draws you into Paul’s struggle in the pulpit. Any preacher who is honest with himself will have to say that he can totally relate to the dilemma that Paul Andrews finds himself.
I think that all who have heard anyone preach understands that there are some preachers who have learned how to preach and then there are preachers who can take the Bible and literally force it into your life. Those are the men that we all want to hear preach! They aren’t necessarily silver-tongued orators or gifted communicators but rather men who believe the Bible to be true and authoritative and are firmly convinced that this task is what God has called them to do. Their preaching is literally on fire with content, passion, and depth. They are also men who have learned as Dr. Vickerson tells Paul that the ministry is not a sprint but rather a marathon and somewhere along the way, there has to be the catching of a second-wind.
Mawhinney forces the reader to grapple with the necessity of personal discipline in Chapter 3 that is entitled The Preacher’s One Business. Paul is extremely uncomfortable when Dr. Vickerson asks him for a copy of his last set of sermon notes. Paul is very embarrassed because he has not been a diligent workman (2 Tim. 2:15) and his notes reflect it. I have long been an ardent believer in notes and while I realize that all preachers don’t necessarily fit into the same mold, I do believe that a preacher’s notes are really a reflection of his devotion to study. The lack of notes often is a reflection of a lack of study.
Dr. Vickerson reminds Paul that preaching is the main business of a pastor. Further he reminds him that the longer you are in the ministry, the more disciplined effort it takes to preach with freshness and vitality. He tells Paul that “this ministry (of the Word) is always at odds with the Prince of Darkness. He will do anything to subvert your work. He will have you running here and there doing a thousand good little works in order to keep you from doing those two important works: prayer and ministry of the Word. All your efforts should turn toward those two aspects of ministry. Nothing you do should detract from it. This is your calling, your ‘job description,’ if you like.”
Dr. Vickerson has a collection of old leather-bound notebooks that has accompanied him for years. He is constantly taking notes and writing things to come to him during the day. You will discover that such a practice is helpful for all who are in the ministry. Moleskin notebooks have become very useful to me personally over the years and although I don’t always develop the seeds that drop into my soul, I have learned to go back and spiritually and prayerfully graze over these scribbling and invariably something comes to me. One time in one of my Sonny’s BBQ visits with Jeff Arnold, he told me about a stack of legal pads that he has written things on. He told me that when he gets a little dry, he will start going back through those things he has written and it helps him to develop messages to preach.
One of the quotes that Dr. Vickerson shares with Paul is from Henry Ward Beecher. He gave a lecture in the Yale Lecture Series entitled ‘Preaching: The Preacher’s Whole Business.” It is quite instructional and helpful:
Henry Ward Beecher—There is not one of you who was built large enough to do anything more than preach. . . A man who is going to be a successful preacher should make his whole life run toward the pulpit. . . When a man stands in the pulpit, and all the streams run away from the pulpit down to those other things, the pulpit will be very shallow and very dry; but when a man opens these streams in the neighboring hills as so many springs, and all the streams run down into the pulpit, he will have abundant supplies. . . Then he is not carrying out three or four businesses at the same time. He is carrying on one business; and he collects from a hundred the materials and forces by which he does it.
If preaching the Gospel is what exposes people to the Word so that they may hear how to experience salvation and the continued instruction for holiness, I would say that preaching is important. Preaching demands a price on the soul that is often agony—spiritual and mental—that takes a toll on even the most stout of souls. If preaching is a declaration of war on the devil don’t expect him to sit idly by while you just do your thing so to speak. He will fight you with distractions and doubts to attempt to curtail your efforts.
Dr. Vickerson encourages Paul to attack early and attack daily in his preparation and study process. There is a chapter entitled Redeeming the Time where you have the ability to reflect on your own time management as related to preaching. Additionally throughout the story Dr. Vickerson and Paul are analyzing his sermons and working out the kinks so that Paul can see what adjustments he needs to make in the process of preparation.
There is also another helpful hint the books helps you to pick up on. Paul starts listening to his own preaching on cassette. It is a very unnerving experience for him to do but in the process of it, he can see his strengths and weaknesses in the actual process of his preaching. While this can be a very hard thing to do, I would recommend that you listen to yourself preach and then ask yourself, “Could I listen to this for ____ minutes?” However, it will help you to really see what kind of preacher that you are!
Various quotes throughout the book:
Shallow and shoddy preaching is one reason so many immature believers are desperate for counseling. If they were being motivated each week by strong, inspiring preaching they wouldn’t get into so many messy situations.
Inspiring preaching is the need of the hour in the church, and by God’s grace you can help meet that need.
Often those who hold a high view of God’s Word mistakenly think they don’t need to do the diligent work of preparation. They just throw out the message to the people in whatever form it first comes to them.
Attack early and attack daily! Each day will add more input and energy to your message. All week long you will be filling up your reservoir, not draining it.
As time goes by a certain smoothness comes with the experience of the years. That smoothness has a more professional sound to it, but it may also bring with it a certain dullness.
Jesus accented particular truths and set them apart in memorable form. Even if the crowd or the disciples didn’t immediately grasp what He was saying, they would remember His words long after He had spoken them.
Experience the exhilaration that comes from discovering the deep hidden treasures of God’s Word, treasures that cannot be unearthed by a half-hearted effort using a child’s toy shovel.
I am listing some of the chapter titles to give you an idea of what the book is about.
- The Preacher’s One Business—Focus in on the giant but extremely important purpose of preaching.
- The Importance of Starting Early—Planning your week. Most preachers are not even aware of how much time they waste until they track their week. Just as a budget will show where your money is going, if you are willing to track your time you will see where time is getting away from you.
- Rifles and Shotguns—The importance of a clear purpose aimed carefully at its target.
- Jonah Snoring—Using “non-dictionary” sounds to enliven preaching.
- Surprise Power—Tapping into the power of the surprising statements in Scripture.
- Reservoir Power—A reservoir of Scripture, scholarship, and prayer. Study that goes beyond week-to-week preparation. The importance of studying the sermons of powerful preachers.
- Light From Fog—What do you mean by what you said? The worthy art of making an application to what you are conveying in the message.
Lastly what you don’t realize until the end of the book is that Mawhinney has created a process of what he deems “Preaching with Freshness” checklist. Even though this book is a bit different in its approach as other books on preaching may be, I commend it to you.
More reviews coming. . .
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