Book Recommendation: Unashamed Workmen: How Expositors Prepare and Preach - Rhett Dodson

Increasingly I am much encouraged by some of the conversations that I am having with various Pentecostal pastors around the nation.  It is becoming more and more common that I am finding men who are paying the price with discipline and diligence to really dig into the Word so that their preaching has taken a different direction.  This direction change is coming because of the challenges that we are facing in our culture and the deep moral depravity that is assaulting the church.  We also have to contend more and more with the onward advancement of various world religions that are making inroads to the United States.  Our preaching has to change to meet those challenges for we can no longer afford to simply preach to the moment so that people get out of their seats and flutter about for a little while to satisfy some shallow emotional need they need to feel better about. 

The so-called “felt need” preaching began making its inroads into all churches during the 1980’s when the seeker sensitive pundits and experts told us that this is how you can build a church.  We had a whole generation of preachers that bought into that concept and little did we know that there were worms in that forbidden fruit.  I remember well attending a conference when I was in my early 20’s in the late ‘80’s and a polished conference speaker encouraged all of us to “find a need and then preach to that need” because that was how we were going to build churches.  Because I wanted to be involved in building a “big” church and not necessarily a biblical church, I bought into that idea and worked that way for a good ten years of preaching to “felt needs.”  I look back at that wasted ten years and greatly regret having bought into that lie. 

Things for me started changing around 1995 or so when I did an in-depth study on the believer’s warfare from Ephesians 6:10-18.  You have to remember that this was really a time when all the Bible programs on computers were very difficult to really be helpful.  I had PC Study Bible and Quickverse but the real workhorses like Hermeneutica (now Bible Works) and Logos had yet to come on the scene.  Even when I tried to use Hermeneutica it was a very weighty and complicated program to navigate about in so I did not use it very much.  So all I really had was a Thayer’s Lexicon, Strong’s Concordance, and the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.  I had a few commentaries to boot like the Pulpit Commentary and the Biblical Illustrator but both of those sets were geared to preaching instead of digging out the background of the text.  It was my good fortune to run across the Anchor Bible Commentary at our local library and that started moving me toward a direction that I am on now.  Since that time I have purchased multiple commentary sets that have been incredibly useful to me. 

I have told a host of pastors over the years that if they ever decide to start moving in the direction of expositional preaching that it will forever change them, their taste for preaching, and it will change their churches.  I believe the change is all for the good!  Some of those men who have started down that road have found the Bible to be opened up to them in a way that it never had been before.  I also tell them that this kind of preaching is the most demanding kind of work a workman can do because you cannot preach like this and fly by the seat of your pants.  It takes hard, hard work to create the necessary discipline to work with the Word.  You will have to get a grip on your schedule and real expositional preaching does require a time deposit.  Just a couple of days ago, I was speaking to a pastor in the Midwest who a few years ago decided to start down this path of expositional preaching.  He related to me that he went back and looked at some of his sermon notes from several years ago and found a wave of repentance moving him.  He told me that he lamented the wasted years that he had used up on frivolous, out-of-context preaching he had done.  Moreover he also admitted that some of the things he preached were so off-the-wall that he wasn’t even sure it really was biblical.  This is not the first conversation that I have had with a pastor who articulated the very same thing to me.  If there is one goal of expository preaching it is to get the text right that you are going to preach.  Topical preaching will only get a man so far in his ministry but when you move into the area of expository preaching suddenly the Word has a grip on you like it never has before and you will weep as you work through the text.  The power of the Word shows us how far our flesh really is from God and how great His grace is that has saved us. 

One of the key things that an expositor has to do is to stay motivated in his quest to preach the Word.  I believe that once a man starts going toward expositional preaching that the enemy is very much aware of the potential that this man has on his church and the people under his influence and hell will rise up and oppose him with every snare, stumbling-block, and set-back that he can throw in his direction.  One of the ways that I stay motivated is by reading books about preaching.  Our generation has more resources and availabilities than any previous has had.  So today I come to you with another very helpful resource to encourage you in your efforts to be an effective expositor. 

The book UnashamedWorkmen:  How Expositors Prepare andPreach edited by Rhett Dodson.  Dodson along with nine other writers have put together a book that covers many of the areas of being a prepared and diligent workman who labors over the Word.  As I read through Dodson’s preface, he related how that as a young preacher he managed to gain a copy of Warren Wiersbe’s book Walkingwith the Giants:  A Minister’s Guide toGood Reading and Great Preaching which is actually part of a four book set that Weirsbe would compile.  I remember well reading that one along with the others and how inspiring they were.  But as it is with all preachers, we struggle with the “how” of preaching.  How do you put it all together?  How do you make sure what you have is not just a data dump?  How do you make the application to everyday Christian living?  All of those matters are of great concern for any workman worth his salt.  This book compiled by Dodson is one that helps you get to the “how” of expositional preaching. 

Peter Adam in the first chapter, What Is God’s Word for These People?, asks a series of questions that all deal with the preliminary matters before the man ever delivers the message.  The questions are:

  • · How is God currently changing me to make me into a preacher?
  • ·      How will I set time and energy aside to focus on sermon preparation?
  • ·      Am I preaching the full range of Scripture?
  • ·      What book of the Bible does this congregation need?
  • ·      What is the message of the whole book of the Bible in which this passage occurs?
  • ·      How will I divide this book into preachable units?

In another area, Adams related how he looks at certain texts.  He looks for the structure of the passage.  He looks for images and stories that are contained there.  He looks for the motivations of the text.  He looks for the emotions of those who are involved in the passage.  He looks for key words in the passage.  He looks for arguments and evidence that reinforce the biblical message.  He looks for contrasts that will clarify the passage. All of these are instructional matters that will help a workman open up his soul to the Word of God in a way that heretofore may have never been experienced. 

Another strongpoint for this book is the footnotes that are all throughout.  When I was younger, paid very little attention to the footnotes and really thought it was a waste of the ink on the page for them to be there.  As I have aged I look back at the silliness of that former practice and have discovered the footnotes are a huge storehouse of material for a preacher.  This has become even more of a resource since used books are readily available and usually much cheaper on the Internet at various websites.  As you read through this book you can find many very good books to track down for future reading.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, the life of a minister will require him to be diligent student for the rest of his life.  If you are not willing to make the necessary down payment in the study, your preaching ministry will be very shallow and there will come a day when we all will answer to the Chief Shepherd as to why we neglected one of the commands in Scripture to study (2 Tim. 2:15). 

Another part that I found useful was how they mentioned the various ways that other preachers did their work.  For instance, it was related of one minister how he would take a plain sheet of paper and write down each single verse at the top left and right corners of the page.  He would keep all of the notes for that verse on a single page and if he needed to add to his work, this method insured he would not get his work out of sync and a hodgepodge of notes to rifle through. 

Chapter 5, Tell Me the Old, Old Story is written by Iain Duguid and is incredibly helpful for those who are bi-vocational.  His advice along with Ajith Fernando who wrote Chapter 7, Sermon Preparation on the Run, is also a very good chapter because it speaks to the time constraints that all preachers have to respond to in ministry.  In fact there are at least to other chapters that are very helpful in laying out a schedule for one to glean ideas from to help them with their preaching. 

As a final point, every chapter that has instruction is then followed by a sermon that has been put together by the particular writer.  I think this book is good book to spend some time with if you are endeavoring to become more expositional in your preaching. 

Thanks for reading. . .

Philip Harrelson      


Good stuff. Thank you for your review. I'll be picking this one up! God bless you!

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