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Monday, May 8, 2017

"Power in the Pulpit" (Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix)

TITLE: Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons
AUTHOR: Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (448 pages).

Preaching is hard. Good preaching is rare. Being able to sit through a well-prepared, well-delivered, and well-researched sermon is a tremendous blessing for any Christian community. Many preaching books nowadays try to address the great need for biblical preaching and an appropriate level of delivery that balances theological orthodoxy, biblical faithfulness, cultural awareness, and the cry for help and the hunger for hope. Not many can achieve this. This book hits close to this target. One clue about the effectiveness of this book is the need for a new edition to keep up with changing needs and changing times. First published in 1999, author Jerry Vines had been preaching for over 40 years. Half of that time was when he was pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. At that time, he had a passion for sharing his knowledge and experience with fellow preachers. Knowing the tough demands on the pastoral vocation, he senses a great need to equip fellow preachers with some basic pulpit skills. Basically, it needs to address two things: Faithfulness to the Word; and fruitfulness as the Word takes root in the hearers. During the past decade, many things have changed, most importantly, the cultural shifts that have been occurring in the world we live. Most of the material from the first edition have been preserved. This new edition not only updates the material, it strengthens the expository preaching preparation part and simplifies the delivery. It is also more conversational when compared with the original.

The framework remains the same three parts. Part One is "Preparation for Expository" which looks at the philosophy; the theology; and the life of the preacher. At the onset, the book presupposes all preaching be expository. Expository preaching has biblical roots. It is based on divine revelation. It is about clearly explaining what the Word is. It leads to practical applications and public proclamation. It entails personal confession and intentional persuasion. As the Word of God is revealed to us, preachers play the role of continuing this revelation through expository preaching. The authors show us the four step process: 1) Determining the subject of the text; 2) Process of laying it open; 3) pursuing the Spirit's intended meaning; and 4) bringing it to bear on contemporary listeners. The aim is changed lives. A checklist of preparatory steps helps pull these all together. Expository preaching is not necessarily eliminating other styles like topical; devotional; doctrinal; evangelistic; biographical; and so on. It is about the process of letting the Biblical revelation lead the way from beginning to end. Vines offers some tips on how to avoid monotony; spiritlessness; formlessness; or details overload. On the theological foundations, we are reminded that convictions are more important than techniques. We learn about the foundations on the Word of God; the sensitivity to the calling of God; the willingness to being guided by the Holy Spirit; and the power of proclaiming the gospel. All of these are the foundations for convictions on expository preaching. The preacher needs to have a regular time of worship and devotion. Preaching is worship and it needs to flow out of a preaching who worships. He reads for inspiration. He schedules time with God. The qualities of the heart need to be cultivated toward godliness in all things. Chapter 3 is filled with lots of really helpful resources to assist the preacher not just in preparing the sermon, but in preparing the heart.

Part Two is about the "Process of Exposition." How well one does Part One will have a direct impact on how well one proceeds to this step. One studies the text, to exegete the text and to interpret. Research the background. Consider the literary genre (prose; poetry; historical narrative; wisdom; apocalyptic; prophetic; parables). Read meditatively. The elements of Inductive Bible Study are all included in this process. We adopt key word studies as well as applying the principles of revelation to the texts. Find out the central idea. Move from theological implications to timeless truths, and then to practical applications. Learn to ask the two basic questions:

  1. What does the text teach us to do in relation to what it says about God? 
  2. What does the text teach us to do in response to our own fallen condition?
Organizing the sermon is about putting the work done together. So important is this that two chapters are allocated to do just that. The key thing is this: until one can crystallize each sermon in a clear, brief pregnant sentence, it is not ready for writing out or delivery. This is an important step. It is easy for preachers to be distracted by present needs and fail to stay on track with what the Scriptures are saying. Organizing the material requires lots of wisdom and skills to bridge the ancient with the contemporary; from the introduction to the conclusion; and from connecting with God and with the audience. The clear proposition is the single biggest difference in what makes a good, clear, and crisp sermon vs one that is not. Vines spends considerable time with examples and illustrations to help us do just that. We learn about how to move from the central idea to the proposition. We make purpose statements. We even learn about writing a good sermon title. There is the "analytical," the "key word,""sermonic plot," methods to outline the sermon. I love this part because it gives a really helpful process from introduction to conclusion.

Part Three is about Presentation. By now, most of the heavy lifting of preparation and process would be complete. What remains is the use of preaching styles, using various preaching varieties, connecting with the audience at the head and heart; and to physically deliver well. If the first two part of the book are about the science of sermon preparation, this last part is about the art of sermon delivery. It is very comprehensive indeed. They include:

  • Careful choices of words that are effective rather than dull
  • creativity, imagination, and illumination
  • learning to write out the sermon
  • to identify with real life examples
  • using vivid language
  • learning the difference between persuasion and manipulation
  • Five cardinal rules when using humor
  • Enriching one's vocabulary
  • Using the voice and maintaining a healthy speaking ability
  • Understanding the physiological aspects of the vocal mechanism
  • How to protect the voice by recognizing the seven tensions
  • Improving voice skills through appropriate breathing, articulating, integrating, etc
  • Making the connection with love for people; and a call for heart preaching
  • Keys to effective sermon delivery.
There are so many good things to say about this book that I don't even know where to start. One gets excited not about the wealth of knowledge within the pages of this book but about the potential of preaching to touch lives, beginning with the preacher. People often ask me about what is the most challenging aspect of being a preacher. My answer would be: The heart. That is why I naturally gravitate toward books and chapters that talk about preparing the heart. In fact, the heart's readiness to preach is always the work of God, whether we feel it or not. The whole book is very well laid out. The Preparation is the first step of sermon preparation. It begins with the Word of God and the conviction behind the preaching. This is important because everything a preacher does is about God's Word. His task is not to invent something new. He is to keep revealing God's Truth and the Holy Spirit will use the Word and transform listeners. Believing that it is God who works will take the pressure off the most eager-beaver preachers just starting out and wanting to make an impact in people's lives. The work is always the Lord's. A good sermon is not how it interesting it is but how it impact listeners. The word that preachers would love to hear is "I will do something about it"rather than mere "That's a good sermon." That said, let me offer three reasons why readers, especially those interesting in preaching ought to read this book.

First, it is comprehensive. Rather than having a book that comprises of a compendium of different experts on the different areas of preaching, this is by far the most comprehensive single-author treatment of the topic on preaching. Imagine not just the outlining of the preaching process, it even covers the physiological aspects of the human voice projection and protection. The organization of material is superb, with clearly derived steps to help readers move from one phase to another. Even the appendices are full of resources to help one prepare to study the Bible passage, to prepare the heart, and to deliver the message.

Second, it is about expository preaching. This is to be stressed as all biblical preaching must be expository. This is not restricted to verse-by-verse. Rather, it is being faithful to the texts as much as possible in preparation and in delivery. This prevents preachers from being too practice-oriented or overly applications-centered. All applications must be Word-centered. By adding in various creative ways to be Word-centered throughout the entire process of sermon preparation, this expository method is central throughout the entire book.

Finally, it is a great resource for all preachers and preachers to be. While it is unrealistic to expect preachers to learn all of the material within a short span of time, it is a powerful resource to refer to frequently. Depending on the passage, the contemporary need, or the preaching calendar, different parts of the book would be more appropriate. If a person is new to the preaching cycle, the part about learning how to choose a passage is important. For those who suffer from the preachers' equivalent of the  "writers' block," the ideas within the book could rejuvenate the creative juices. For those who have trouble with the delivery and presentation aspects, Vines's guide is immensely helpful.

All in all, I am glad to be able to read this book. This may be a revised edition, but I believe that over the next few decades or more, its timeless principles would still be applicable.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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