July 5, 2018

Preaching By The Book

The title drew me to request Preaching by the Book: Developing and Delivering Text-Driven Sermons (Hobbs College Library) from B&H/LifeWay Bloggers. As God-incidence would have it, the book became available right when I needed help – fast!

With no pastor in sight, my church needed people willing to do sermons during the Sunday worship service, and I got volunteered. To be honest, it took no coercion because God had already been preparing me for something. I just didn’t know what.

In a way, preparation begin decades ago when a Sunday School teacher urged me to read the Bible every night. I did, and, as an adult, I kept reading and studying God’s Word. But then, a couple of years ago, God drew me to reading one translation of the Bible after another and another. I wondered why, but with no idea, I kept on reading.

About the time I’d finished reading most of the major versions, our small rural church was informed we’d no longer have a pastor, but we could stay together if we wanted. We did. Although none of us had received theological training, several members agreed to take turns leading the worship service each week until we can become a full-fledged church again. Meanwhile, some plan to give personal testimonies. Some will seek a retired pastor who’s willing to come occasionally. And some will do “Bible talks” during the sermon slot.

Despite my reluctance to get up and “preach it,” I realized God had been preparing me to expound on the scripture readings determined for that week. But how to prepare the talk itself was somewhat a mystery. And then this book arrived.

Divided into three sections, Preaching By The Book covers:

Part I. The Foundation
1. Inspiration
Speaking the Truth
2. Investigation
Surveying the Truth

Part II. The Framework
3. Interpretation
Studying the Truth
4. Implementation
Synthesizing the Truth

Part III. The Finishing Touches
5. Introductions
Drawing Them in
6. Illustrations
Drawing Them Pictures

7. Invitations
Drawing the Net

8. Conclusion
Final Thoughts

Name and Subject Index

Scripture Index

With the Bible and the chapter “Inspiration” as my guide, I read how “the Spirit of God who inspired the Scriptures enables us to interpret them, fills us to proclaim them, opens the hearts of the listeners to receive them, and supernaturally applies them to their lives.”

Edified by those words of reassurance and the statement, “God has always worked through the power of his Word!” I believed God could and would steady my voice and my knees and give me the ideas and examples with which our church family could relate. He did.

As this handbook explains: “If we define theological truths with who God is, doctrinal truths can be characterized by what God does.” With that biblical concept clearly in mind, there’s less danger of presenting a set of lifestyle principles or psychological “how-to’s” as the emphasis remains on what the Bible says and shows us about God, ourselves, and others.

Although I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s called to serve from a pulpit, I do have a couple of suggestions for future printings:

Don’t assume the pastor is a man.

Don’t assume people still come to church as they did for centuries! Instead, be aware that churches are closing because the congregation didn’t go to the people.

Don’t assume an altar call to give one’s life to Christ is the only cause for calling!

The traditional altar call is crucial, of course, in a revival meeting or on holidays when visitors are more apt to come, but Sunday after Sunday, regular attendees may need an invitation to come up for prayer, intercession, or renewed commitment to help in various ministries.

Most important, “Final Thoughts” recollects the seven vital steps discussed in the book and recapped in the paraphrases here:

1. Prepare with prayer.
2. Get very familiar with the scripture you’ll be using.
3. Ask God to give you insight and help you discern the meaning.
4. Examine key words and concepts in the Bible passage.
5. Build a bridge from the historical text to contemporary context.
6. Apply the text in practical steps people can follow.
7. Consider your audience and timeliness of the occasion.

As the “Conclusion” assures us, “God’s faithfulness to accomplish his will in his ways through his Word… provides us with all the assurance we need to proclaim boldly his truth and, by faith, to trust him confidently for supernatural results.”

Count on those words as God’s pledge to you – even if, like me, you would rather be behind the scenes or slinking down in a pew than in a pulpit. Honest!

Mary Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

Preaching By The Book, hardcover

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