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A Passion for Preaching: An Interview with Steven J. Lawson

Steve Lawson pointing

Tabeltalk (TT): How did you become a Christian, and how were you called to ministry?

Steven J. Lawson: I grew up in a Christian home and was brought to faith as a young boy through the consistent witness of my father and mother. Specifically, it was through the reading of the Bible by my father each night that the seed of the gospel was planted, which God caused to germinate in my heart. Regarding my call to the ministry, I actually began preaching and teaching while in college in various ministries and churches. Upon graduating, I sat under the strong preaching of Adrian Rogers at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., and strongly felt God summoning me into full-time ministry. His bold preaching electrified my heart and served as the catalyst that launched me to seminary, where I would be prepared for a lifetime of ministry.

TT: What are the biggest challenges you have faced during your ministry? How have you faced these challenges?

SL: In my earlier years, the greatest challenges I faced were preaching the doctrines of grace to congregations that were theologically untaught. To say the least, it was difficult and demanding to try to establish God-centered truth and a biblical philosophy of ministry where there had previously been a stronghold of man-centered thinking concerning the work of God in salvation. Though it was obviously a painful process, the only way to meet such an obstacle was head-on, unashamedly preaching the full counsel of God. This required much prayer, pastoral discretion, patience, and perseverance, which God honored. Over time, God established His truth in the minds and hearts of many, though it came at a high price personally.

TT: What advice would you give to a young man who aspires to be a pastor?

SL: First, any man aspiring to the pastorate needs to be sitting under strong expository preaching. He needs a role model who exemplifies what is in his heart to do. Second, he needs a personal ministry whereby he can use what he is learning, test his giftedness, and cultivate what has been entrusted to him. Third, he should surround himself with a small circle of spiritually mature men who can provide wise counsel in helping steer his life and ministry as important decisions arise. Fourth, he must begin to inquire of various seminaries regarding his future theological education. He needs to contact some institutions, visit their campuses, and talk to some of the faculty. Fifth, he needs to become an avid reader of important Christian books, including the spiritual biographies of noted men who have been mightily used by God.

TT: How does a pastor remain faithful to his calling over the long haul?

SL: In order to persevere in ministry, a pastor needs to be, first and foremost, deeply rooted and anchored in God’s Word. The more he studies, learns, teaches, and preaches God’s Word, the greater will be his staying power in ministry. Further, reading Christian biographies of men who have faced great adversity in their ministries provides greater drive and endurance. Reading the heroic accounts of martyrs and missionaries who have faced great persecution should be at the top of his reading list. Likewise, being surrounded by a small group of laymen who will encourage him in God’s work is a necessity. Pastors can be vulnerable to severe bouts of discouragement. Having the edifying feedback of trusted individuals helps him remain steadfast in doing God’s work.

TT: Who has most influenced your preaching?

SL: There have been multiple influences upon my preaching—Adrian Rogers,W.A. Criswell, James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and S. Lewis Johnson. Each of these men has contributed something vitally important to my preaching ministry. Over many decades, John MacArthur has most shaped my approach to biblical exposition. He has influenced me in preaching through entire books of the Bible sequentially. I have learned from him the need for sound exegesis, word studies, historical background, crossreferences, theological precision, sermon outline, and manuscript writing. Moreover, Dr. MacArthur has demonstrated the need for guarding the gospel and teaching sound doctrine.

TT: Why have you focused so much of your attention to the practice of expository preaching and to helping both preachers and laypeople see its importance?

SL: I strongly believe that no church can rise any higher than its pulpit. As the pulpit goes, so goes the church. The deeper the preacher takes his flock into the Word of God, the higher they will rise in worship. The stronger they are in the Scripture, the stronger they will be in the pursuit of holiness. Likewise, strong preaching leads to sacrificial service in the Lord’s work. Strong exposition kindles hearts for the work of evangelism and the cause of worldwide missions. Every great movement of God in church history has been ushered in by a renewed commitment to solid preaching of the Word. If we are to see a spiritual awakening in our day, the church must recover the primacy of preaching. I desire to be used by God to help equip a new generation of preachers and laypeople in recognizing the importance of this primary means of grace.

TT: Can you describe for us what your sermon preparation looks like?

SL: I begin each week by photocopying everything that I need to read in order to prepare my sermon. This includes study Bibles, commentaries, expository sermons, linguistic and historical tools, and the like. I first read the passage and discover its literary unit, determining what verse or verses I will preach. After writing a block diagram and reading the passage in the original language, I identify the central theme of these verses. I then read all of my photocopied information, thoroughly marking it up. I draft the beginnings of a working outline for the sermon. I will start writing the sermon—with a fountain pen, I might add—beginning with the first homiletical point. I then move systematically through the text, creating a manuscript that explains and applies each successive part of the passage. I will then add transitions, illustrations, and quotations as needed. The final step is to write the introduction and conclusion. I will compose this manuscript as though I can hear myself preaching it. At last, I will review my manuscript for length, balance, and quality, praying over its truths.

TT: What is the purpose of OnePassion Ministries and how does it seek to accomplish its goals?

SL: OnePassion Ministries was created to help bring about a new reformation in this day. It has a website in which most all of my preaching and writing resources are found (www.onepassionministries.org). We are hosting conferences both nationally and internationally in order to train preachers, teachers, prospective pastors, and interested laypeople in the art and science of expository preaching and teaching. I want to define what it is, what it is not, and show how to effectively carry out this divine calling. I desire to help take people to the next level in their skills of handling and ministering God’s Word. Also, I want to motivate those who attend our conferences to be fully committed to preaching the Word expositionally. Moreover, we want to host conferences for all people in order to introduce them to Christ and encourage them in their Christian walk. Finally, we will be hosting church history tours in which I will take people to important historical sites around the world.

TT: Why did you decide to establish the book series A Long Line of Godly Men, and what other men do you hope to profile individually in this series?

SL: The Long Line series was birthed in my teaching ministry at the church that I pastor. As I was teaching the men of my church sound doctrine from Scripture, I wanted them to see that what we believe in the doctrines of sovereign grace has been the mainline position by great men and movements down through the centuries. Out of this Friday morning teaching series has arisen these books so that these essential truths may be made available to a wider audience around the world. There is much instruction and inspiration to be drawn from this profile study. In the future, I need to write volume three of the larger books, which will move from John Knox to this present hour. In the smaller books, there are other key figures who I want to address such as William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and, yes, R.C. Sproul.

Steven J. Lawson is founder and president of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to bring about biblical reformation in the church today, and former senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. He has served as a pastor in Arkansas and Alabama for twenty-five years and is author of many books, including The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield and In It to Win It: Pursuing Victory in the One Race That Really Counts. He is a teaching fellow for and serves on the board of Ligonier Ministries and the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies, and is professor of preaching at The Master’s Seminary.

Source: www.ligonier.org (June 1, 2014)

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Dr. Zack Eswine’s Sermon Preparation Help For Preaching in a Post-Everything World

 *Adapted from Appendix 1 in Zach Eswine’s outstanding award winning book

Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons that Connect with our Culture (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker, 2008).

Use the Four Stories in Six Steps

 

^Day/Hour – (explanation: Some might use one day for each step. For these preachers I have broken steps down into days. Others might use each step in one day. For these preachers I have broken the steps down into hours.)

 ^Monday/Hour One – Step One

 Story #1 – Goal = What does this text teach me about God?

Identify the textual manner (word type and mood).

Locate parrot words. Connecting words, and divine comments.

Interrogate the big idea with questions (who, what, when, where, why, how)

Show and tell from the text.

Identify the echoes of redemption (armor, promise, fruit, gift, diaconal, miracle, community, divine silence, himself).

Find the illustrative path (picture, sensory, and creation words).

^Tuesday/Hour Two – Step Two

 Story #2 – Goal = What does this text teach me about people?

Identify echoes of creation (worship, relationship, vocation, conscience)

Identify echoes of the fall (fallen, finite, fragile, faltering)

Identify idol noise (superstition, skepticism, suspicion, stardom, stealing, squandering, sophistry).

Expose my moralistic responses to fallen echoes and idol noise.

Locate the vine.

^Wednesday/Hour Three – Step Three

 Story #3 – Goal = What does this text teach me about life under the sun?

Identify the Context of Reality (COR) (life situations, life seasons).

Discern my expository bans (censoring, muting, equivocating, evicting).

Expose my simplistic response to life under the sun.

Account for the accents of my hearers (memoir, marketplace, lore, land).

Translate cultural connections with biblical redirection (“You have heard it said…, but I say to you…”).

Describe the third way.

Account for the consciences of my hearers (hard-hearted and soft-hearted).

Bring echoes of heaven and hell into these features as appropriate.

^Thursday/Hour Four – Step Four

 Story #4 – Goal = What does this text say to me?

Receive instruction (grieving and quenching the Spirit).

Locate the vine.

Seek repentance.

Find forgiveness.

Give thanks and praise.

Testify.

^Friday/Hour Five – Step Five

 Goal: Place the four stories into a deductive or inductive sermon form

 

^Saturday/Sunday/Hour Six – Step Six

 Goal = Pray the four stories

Pray for illumination = Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

Pray for a message = Ephesians 6:19, “and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.”

Pray for an open door = Colossians 4:3-4, “At the same time, pray for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.”

Pray for effectiveness = 2 Thessalonians 3:1, “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,”

Pray for clarity = Colossians 4:4, “that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

Pray for boldness = Ephesians 6:20, “for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Pray for a deliverance = 2 Thessalonians 3:2, “and that we be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.”

*Zack Eswine serves as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Community Church in St. Louis, Missouri. His role focuses his time on setting vision, preaching, spiritual formation and pastoral care.

Dr. Eswine has served in pastoral roles for over twenty years. He served as Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Director for Doctor of Ministry for six years at Covenant Theological Seminary.  Zack’s most recent book, won Preaching Today’s Book of the Year Award in 2009. It is entitled, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons that Connect with our Culture (Baker, 2008).  He has also written, Kindled Fire: How the Methods of C.H. Spurgeon can help your Preaching (Mentor, 2006). His forthcoming books are entitled, Preaching Barefoot: Life and Ministry as a Human Being (Crossway) and Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Handling the Darker Sides of Life and Ministry (Christian Focus).

 

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Preachers: 10 Questions To Ask in Taking Inventory of Your Sermon by David and Warren Wiersbe

(Adapted form Elements of Biblical Preaching by David and Warren Wiersbe, Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986)

(1) Is the message solidly based on Scripture?

(2) Does it exalt the Person and work of Jesus Christ?

(3) Will it meet the needs of the people?

(4) Is the theme a timeless truth worth talking about?

(5) Is the message organized so that I can preach it clearly and the people understand it easily? Is there a concise and clear statement of purpose? Is there a clear plan of development? Is there practical application that makes the message personal?

(6) Are all Scripture references and historical facts accurate?

(7) Is the message real to me personally so that I may make it real to others?

(8) Does the message fit into the total “preaching plan” for this church and into the context of the church’s ministry at this time?

(9) Does the message fit into the ministry of the Church at large and Christ’s concern to save a lost world?

(10) Is the message worth preaching again?

*Warren W. Wiersbe is the Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, Warren Wiersbe is the author of more than 100 books. Billy Graham calls him “one of the greatest Bible expositors of our generation.” Interestingly, Warren’s earliest works had nothing to do with scriptural interpretation. His interest was in magic, and his first published title was Action with Cards (1944).

“It was sort of imbecilic for a fifteen-year-old amateur magician to have the audacity to write a book and send it to one of the nation’s leading magic houses,” Warren says. But having a total of three books published by the L.L. Ireland Magic Company—before the age of 20—gave him a surge of confidence. In later years, he applied his confidence and writing talent to the Youth for Christ (YFC) ministry.

Warren wrote many articles and guidebooks for YFC over a three-year period, but not all his manuscripts were seen by the public eye. One effort in particular, The Life I Now Live, based on Galations 2:20, was never published. The reason, Warren explains with his characteristic humor, is simple: it was “a terrible book…Whenever I want to aggravate my wife, all I have to say is, ‘I think I’ll get out that Galations 2:20 manuscript and work on it.’” Fortunately, Warren’s good manuscripts far outnumbered the “terrible” ones, and he was eventually hired by Moody Press to write three books.

The much-sought-after author then moved on to writing books for Calvary Baptist Church. It was during his ten years at Calvary that Expository Outlines on the New Testament and Expository Outlines on the Old Testament took shape. These two works later became the foundation of Warren’s widely popular Bible studies known as the Be series, featuring such titles as Be Loyal (a study on Matthew) and Be Delivered (a study on Exodus). Several of these books have been translated into Spanish.

His next avenue of ministry was Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church, where he served for seven years. He wrote nearly 20 books at Moody before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he and his wife, Betty, now live. Prior to relocating, he had been the senior pastor of Moody Church, a teacher at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a producer of the Back to the Bible radio program.

During all these years of ministry, Warren held many more posts and took part in other projects too numerous to mention. His accomplishments are extensive, and his catalog of biblical works is indeed impressive and far-reaching (many of his books have been translated into other languages). But Warren has no intention of slowing down any time soon, as he readily explains: “I don’t like it when people ask me how I’m enjoying my ‘retirement,’ because I’m still a very busy person who is not yet living on Social Security or a pension. Since my leaving Back to the Bible, at least a dozen books have been published, and the Lord willing, more are on the way.”

Wiersbe’s recent books include Your Next MiracleThe 20 Essential Qualities of a Child of GodThe Bumps are What You Climb OnClassic Sermons on the Fruit of the SpiritClassic Sermons on Jesus the ShepherdKey Words of the Christian LifeLonely PeopleA Gallery of GraceReal Peace: Freedom and Conscience in the Christian Life, and On Being a Leader for God.

 

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