My dear friend Ajith Fernando (Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka) allowed me to post an interview he gave on his approach to preaching. [The content is his … I just did some layout work]
What do you have to say about Expository Preaching?
I’m very committed to expository preaching—that is, going through a passage to explain what that passage teaches. This gets people familiar with handling the scriptures because they see it being proclaimed and realise how alive and relevant it is. It gives practical examples to people on what it means to live in submission to the Bible.This gets people familiar with handling the scriptures because they see it being proclaimed and realise how alive and relevant it is
When you expound passages, you will find a lot of things you would not have talked about; but now you must because they are in the passage you are expounding. Therefore, this is the best way to give people “the whole counsel of God.” You end up teaching things which are part of God’s Word but which you would not have planned to teach on.
But it takes time to prepare. Not only do we get a handle of the text through careful study, we have also to apply it in a relevant way to our audience. This is time consuming. I believe that is the major reason why people are using expository preaching less today. They are too busy to do the hard work of study and application of a passage.
How your prepare you messages?
Once I have chosen a passage, I study it inductively. I usually print out the passage with a lot of space to write notes. I first study the passage without any helps, and only after that do it go to commentaries and other helps. I go to these helps to check whether I may have made a mistake in my interpretation and to discover things which I had not discovered from my personal study. I am so grateful for the two Bible programmes I use: BibleWorks and Logos, which enable me to study even when I am travelling. Through them I have a whole library within my laptop. I start my preparation as early as I can. And I keep adding notes as I go along. Sermons must grow.
I start my preparation as early as I can. And I keep adding notes as I go along. Sermons must growThe whole process is steeped in prayer. I first ask God’s help before preparing, especially on what I should preach about. I pray during the preparation, and when I go to preach. I’m also in prayer while I am preaching pleading with God to help me. I am told that when walking up to the pulpit to preach, with each step he took, Charles Spurgeon used to say to himself, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Our success as preachers does not primarily depend on our hard work or our abilities. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and we do all we can to be in tune with the Spirit. Because of this I am often confessing my sins to God or to others (especially my wife) before I preach. The desperate desire for the fullness of the Spirit brings to mind unconfessed sin. I often repeat sermons. Then my preparation of the content I will preach does not take very long. But I have to prepare myself through prayer.
Our success as preachers does not primarily depend on our hard work or our abilities. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and we do all we can to be in tune with the SpiritI spend a considerable amount of time on application—looking for suitable examples of what I am teaching that are appropriate for the audience I am addressing. I use a lot of illustrations. Some illustrations explain the truths being taught, others apply the truth to their personal life. I will ask people who know more about that audience about how I can best apply the truth to them (e.g. I will ask our Youth for Christ workers or my children when I am preparing a message for youth). I look for stories which come from the books I read and try to use them as soon as I can after reading them, otherwise I will forget them. In the back of the books I read I make a personal index of things I can use in my preaching and teaching. Sometimes I get stories and quotations from books of illustrations. But the best source for application is personal work. Working with individuals helps truth to come alive and become relevant.
How do you continually engage in expository preaching without getting tired and burnt out?
Truth is thrilling! When we spend time with the Word and prayer, we are refreshed. Preparation is wonderful because we’re handling truth, which is wonderful. The sad legacy of theological liberalism has been to take away the wonder of the Word from preaching.Truth is thrilling!If you believe that what you read in the Bible is what God himself has inspired, it would fill you with wonder and passion. In his book Power in Preaching W. E. Sangster describes the steps that lead to a sermon. One of his chapters is entitled, “Glow over it.” We stop to bask in the thrill of the realities we are going to proclaim to the people.
So, I enjoy preparation even though it is always done on the run—giving a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Then when the day is close I will give concentrated times to it. Sometimes, owing to my poor planning or carelessness, I might have to prepare the whole night before preaching in the morning. Then in the afternoon, after having preached, I will have a good sleep! We must get adequate sleep if we are to guard our health.
How do you keep the congregation/audience engaged and attentive to your preaching?
I always take preaching as a conversation in which the audience is also involved. I look at the people eye-to eye and address them as if I was speaking to them individually.
In today’s world getting and keeping people’s attention is a huge challenge. All through the preaching time I am praying and thinking about keeping their attention and getting the message through. Preaching as conversationI need to be fully alert, realising that I am involved in a battle for their attention. This is why I am usually very tired emotionally and mentally after I have preached. Getting the message across is a draining battle.
Of course, I believe the things about which I preach, and I believe in the power of preaching to change lives. So, I am passionate when I am preaching. A statement I heard when I was in Seminary sums up my attitude when I am preaching. Some attribute it to the Scottish preacher, Richard Baxter: “I’ll preach as if I’ll never preach again; as a dying man to dying men.” It is a thrill to realise that we are servants of the most high God! With that assurance, I will battle to win the people to the truth I am proclaiming.