Pep up your preaching!

John Delius provides a possible checklist to scare the daylights out of those in the pulpit

pep up your preaching

If you are a preacher, the following is a checklist you may find helpful.

It is not intended to be used by the whole congregation, but to be given to a friend to check out some of the nuts and bolts of your preaching.

The key:

☺ Hearers are blessed.

😦 Hearers are bored.

@ A helpful story or illustration*.

…(to read more click here)

John Delius is a university teacher, who on retirement, with his wife spent several years as a Christian worker in an East Asian country


But remember there can be no good preaching without prayer. Acts 6.4 ‘We will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’

This article was first published in the June issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

The power of love in local church evangelism (July issue highlights)

Coming up in the July issue of Evangelicals Now…

Front cover of en July issue

Front cover of en July issue

• Christian wins discrimination case

• Mez McConnell reflects on the power of love in local church evangelism

• How to pep-up your preaching!

The July issue is out now! Read it online or enjoy the printed paper with your morning cuppa!

You may subscribe to have regular access every month to all of the articles for the ridiculously cheap price of £0.84 a month – £10.00 per year!

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Deep rest for deep ministry

Constant Gardener Trowel

(view original article here)

No pastor wants to ask for a sabbatical.

Sabbaticals are seen by too many as the refuge of the lazy, the weak and the workshy.

If a Christian minister is to leave his post for a period of time, he may think it confirms his church’s suspicions that he’s a sponger, exploiting his congregation’s goodwill.

I for one know very few lazy evangelical pastors. I know dozens who are worn-out, overwhelmed and therefore ineffective in their calling.

These men need a sabbatical, and they and their churches need to understand what that involves, and why it can be such a blessing.

Pastors need sabbaticals

Ministry is exhausting. If you are properly preparing and declaring God’s Word week in week out, it will exhaust you. If you are caring for people, really bearing their burdens, weeping with them as they weep, it will take its toll. If you are making yourself the servant of peoples’ deepest spiritual needs, you will pay the price. Sabbaticals are not luxuries; for most proper ministries they are essentials if the worker and the work will flourish long-term.

What is a sabbatical?

I see it as an extended time of paid leave, when the pastor has no responsibilities in the church he is serving. A month is a minimum, six months is certainly a long time in UK circles, three months is a good length. Ideally, the pastor (and his family) should aim to be away from the home and church for at least some of that agreed-upon time.

What should you do on one?

The answer is, whatever you need in order to get refreshed. Lie on a beach, if that’s your thing; do a course of study, whether that’s your own planned reading, or a seminary module; write an article, or a book; learn an instrument; go and be part of and study another congregation or ministry. Just work out what will refresh and encourage you for the next leg of ministry, and make your arrangements.

Arrangements are complicated.

If you are married, or have school-age kids, then you must think and talk these things through. How will your wife and the children benefit? Three months being dragged off after husband’s / dad’s pet ambitions is a recipe for family strain.

Talk, plan, pray, prepare. And don’t attempt too much. This is to be a rest, after all. The last thing you need on sabbatical is to feel frustrated at how little you accomplish – you’ve got ministry for that! Set realistic goals which don’t over-exert.

Arrangements for the church need time to put in place. The church needs to understand what the sabbatical is, why you’re seeking one, and what the implications are for the church’s life. This needs a series of leadership-level conversations held a minimum of six months before the proposed sabbatical. Pastors, expect the church to be surprised at the request and probably daunted by the implications. Take time to answer all questions from your fellow leaders and church members. At the end of the day your sabbatical must be something they’re enthusiastic about, too.

Never apologise for seeking a sabbatical, if you’re convinced you need one. And remember, it’s common in the secular workplace for employees to have courses, opportunities for exploring other work-experiences, or managed career-breaks. Asking for a relatively modest time away from the burden of ministry is not an outrageous request. It can also do the world of good to a church. The pastor is not the church’s Saviour, simply his servant. It can – and should – do without its Undershepherd for a season every now and then.

Policy in place?

Does your church have a policy of sabbaticals for your pastor? Have you discussed a sabbatical with him? And if not, why not? You and he could be missing out on a highly enriching experience.


Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Get out of town!


Constant Gardener Trowel(view original article here)

Pastors are a strange breed.

We’ve established that. But they’re exactly like anyone else, and no less so than when it comes to holidays. Pastors need to rest, but find it very hard to rest well. Now we’re into holiday season, here are a few thoughts and pointers on taking time out in the summer.

Not taking full holiday

Many pastors (I include myself) don’t usually take the full allocation of their holidays. This is true. They are usually conscientious, we love the job, and sometimes we are just not organised enough to take off necessary and entitled rest. If you’re a Christian leader and this is your habit, then you need to address this fast. Don’t listen to that nonsense which says, ‘I’ll take a holiday when the Devil takes one’. And don’t think your skimping on rest tells everyone that you’re tough and godly. You may be tough and godly at the moment; the chances are that you’ll join the casualty list of the fallen if you don’t take proper holidays. It’s an overtired, joyless vulnerable you who will be your church’s next disaster. Get out of town!

Tips for the pastor on holiday

Pastors often have the grumps on holidays. Ministerial exhaustion seeps out and colours everything. Sometimes, very sadly, it spoils everything. I almost always collapse in tears at least once on our holidays over something (usually trivial). I discover that all my mental and spiritual energy has been used up in ministry. I need to watch out for all sorts of emotions. Be aware, and remember that forewarned is forearmed.

Holidays aren’t heaven. How often are our holidays spoilt by silly expectations? Holidays can be about sinners attempting to gain the world. That will fail. We Christians are people seeking a bit of R&R on our way to the real rest of heaven. If you expect that a holiday will meet all of your needs, you’ll be disappointed. Relax – it’s only a holiday.

The holiday is for you. Pastor, you are exhausted, you need to rest. Holidays are for going slowly. They are for sleep, and unhurried meals. If you really need to go white-water rafting after a ten mile pre-breakfast jog, then do it. Probably, you don’t, and shouldn’t. Don’t flog yourself to try to give your family a week or two of unforgettable thrills. They need you to be refreshed for the long-term, even if you’re not the 24-7 action dad on holiday.

That said, the holiday is for your family. Enjoy yourself, and do the things you love to do. Don’t feel guilty about the odd morning on your own, if that recharges you. But be as generous as you’re able to be in giving yourself to your family. Don’t resent or get out of family time. Your family goes without you a lot through the course of your ministry year. Holidays are pay-back! Serve them by being all-in on your holiday.

Remember your soul. Plan to feed yourself spiritually. Choose your books carefully before you go. Take something which stretches you spiritually, something which warms and reassures, something you would never normally read, and a novel or something else totally removed from work. Know what you want to read in your Bible, and stick to it. Load your iPod with sermons. And don’t try to read or to listen to everything, it just won’t happen! Go where your mood takes you. Also, aim to get an extended time of prayer, away from everyone else, in the first day or two of the holiday. That has a wonderful way of putting things back into focus before the Lord, so that you begin to rest properly as the holiday unfolds.

Tips for church members

Lastly, two pointers for those who love their pastors:

Insist that your pastor takes his full holiday allowance each year. He will be better for it, and so will his ministry. Elders need to make him accountable to rest just as much as they should encourage him in the work. Does your church have that one covered?

Then finally, how about paying for, or making a contribution towards, your pastor and family going away? And not to a wind-battered static caravan somewhere you got dirt cheap but wouldn’t dream of going to yourself. Give generously, and invest in their rest and together-times, as an act of love. That might be better done anonymously, as a pastor’s job is often harder when he’s aware of particular gifts within the church. However you do it, make him sure that he’s taking a break with your love and full support.

Holidays and rest are a big subject. Over the next three columns we’ll think about burnout, and the place of sabbaticals. For now, remember, you need to go away. And enjoy it, for Jesus’s sake.


Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Neither a shouter nor a whisperer be


Constant Gardener Trowel(view original article here)

Preachers communicate. No, change that. Preachers are called to be, and must learn to be, communicators.

Often, though, we preachers make rather a bad job of it. We want our words to give a particular message, but our faces, voices and bodies are actually giving a very different one. It’s communication, alright, but it’s totally confused, and confusing.

So what are two of the preacher’s biggest communication problems? For my money, it’s shouting and whispering. Many a good ministry has been spoilt by these tendencies. Preachers need to own up to them if found guilty – and learn to change!

Givin’ it large!

By shouting, I mean that tendency in the pulpit to preach at 100 decibels when it’s really not needed. That could mean actual shouting, belting it out as the noise bounces off the walls. It certainly means that strained, overly-intense delivery which assaults the mind, rather than feeds it. The listeners probably won’t be listening, though they’ll be putting up an attempt to fake it. Shouters are exhausting. They exhaust themselves, and those they’re called to communicate to. The sermon is delivered with such volume that they’ve long since stopped communicating.

I was listening to a Reverend Shouter last year. He said very little that was new, and nothing stimulating. Yet he worked himself into a frenzy of exhaustion, straining and sweating himself into a torrent of unedifying verbiage. All fireworks, but no fire. And no edification. Let’s be clear: preaching is an urgent business. It’s a living word from the living God. But heaven give us the wit to see when it’s the preacher who’s set himself on fire and not the Spirit of God. Shouting may impress, but it is not gospel communication.

Softly, softly

But what of the whisperer? I’m not thinking here of actual whispering. Of course, the preacher must be audible, and clear in his speech. A preacher who can’t fill the room with his voice needs urgent help. I’m thinking more of the man who preaches everything with a very English reserve, poise, and quietness. Nothing is urgent, nothing is pressed on the congregation. It’s a ministry full of propositions, even encouragements. But there are no ultimata, no clear ‘turn or burn’ challenges. The pulpit of the Reverend Whisperer never shocks, never shames, never argues, never rebukes, and never, never, raises its voice.

Imagine a preacher who preached hell with no obvious sense of dread and horror, and heaven with no brimming emotion? Instead, he just gave us ideas, factually accurate truth about them. How nice. But how awful. It should be unthinkable. Pulpit communication means handling each truth with the right emotion, to help the hearers feel the weight of the truths, and to give them the space in the sermon to process them. They need rousing, and stirring, and, on occasion, pulpit tears may be the Spirit’s gift to bring truth home. They also need compelling Bible logic, clearly delivered as they work out the Bible’s message for their lives.

Let me offend everybody!

I’ll stick my neck out, and tell you where you’re likely to find these preachers. The shouter’s a Baptist, more than likely (his Celtic cousins may be Presbyterian ministers). After all, Baptists have always been a largely uneducated lot, so they probably need a good shout (and might even enjoy it). The whisperer preaches to his Anglican parish, in moderate, dulcet tones. His people are educated, of course. They probably know their Bibles, so his business, he reasons, is to remind them, and invite them to believe what the Good Book says. Exceptions abound, but the rule, I think, applies.

So, sermon hearers, help your preacher. It’s not wrong to help him think about how he could communicate more effectively. Do it with care, and spoonfuls of tactful love, and you are doing him a great service

And, my dear brother preachers, look at yourselves. Better still, listen to yourselves. Go on, I dare you! Listen to a recording of yourself preaching, and identify how you could communicate God’s Word better. And please don’t think you’re safe because occasionally you ask a trusted congregant, ‘what did you think of the sermon?’. Instead, pluck up the courage to ask them, ‘how did I communicate in my sermon?’. Find out what your communication bad habits are. Learn to change, while you can.


Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: We live to preach


Constant Gardener Trowel(view original article here)

I love preaching.

It is a great joy, as well as a daunting responsibility. I’ve been preaching now for about half my life. I can barely remember a Sunday before regular preaching duties. I don’t want to think of a retirement without preaching. Please don’t misunderstand me: preaching is not my self-justification. I happily listen to other preachers. I don’t ‘need’ to preach. It’s just that preaching is the consuming reality of my life.

The cost

It’s also the hardest thing I do in my week. Nothing gives me so many worries, frustrations, such a huge sense of disappointment in myself, and such a sense of inadequacy in front of my church. I would so often rather visit, administer, do leadership tasks, tidy my study, even do door-to-door evangelism! It’s honestly the hardest part of my ministry.

People in evangelical churches occasionally catch glimpses of the work and cost of preaching, and they’re almost always surprised and often shocked. ‘It takes you how long to prepare your sermons?’ Ask a promising younger man in church if he would consider preaching his first sermon, and his breezy confidence is soon exchanged for a careworn, weight-of-the-world expression as the appointed Sunday comes into view. There have been happier faces going to the guillotine. I know men who’ve worked in big business and who’ve had high pressure jobs who are now in full-time Word ministry. They tell me how the responsibilities of handling God’s Word brings a quite unique strain, week in, week out. Perhaps no-one else realises what a heavy responsibility the preacher’s task is except the man in the pulpit. I’m fine with that, but if you’re not a preacher, I think it helps you to be aware of it.

Disciplined preparation

I preach twice most Sundays. That means that sermon preparation dominates my week. And I’m a pastor who loves to be out, seeing people, training the gifted and evangelising unbelievers. I have to discipline myself to be in the Bible and in the books that will help me to preach accurately and thoughtfully. When I’m in the car or doing exercise I will try to listen to sermons on the passages I’m preaching. I’m always hunting out illustrations, scanning the news, mentally playing back conversations – anything which I can use to make my ministry fresh and helpful. I go to bed with sermon prep, and wake up with it. Preaching is consuming. I actually love it that way.

My Sundays now are fuelled by two things – grace and adrenalin (caffeine doesn’t count). I wake early on a Sunday with that churning, ‘why aren’t I a postman, or a marine biologist, or just about anything else?’ feeling. I get to my study early to pray and work through my notes. I preach at church just as well as I’m able, grace allowing. After I’ve preached again in the evening I frequently feel on a high, relieved at the close of another Lord’s Day, so grateful for the privilege, cheered by signs of engagement from my hearers, and eager to start the work of prep all over again for next week.

Blue Monday

Mondays are the pits. Ask any preacher. In the cold light of day we see just how far short we fell from what we wanted and hoped for. As we review our sermons (or get others to), we realise how much clearer, kinder, more interesting or accurate we should have been. We see the many ways our preaching failed – again. We ask the Lord for forgiveness (we sometimes feel like asking the congregation for theirs, though I don’t think that will help things). The best thing to do on a Monday is to believe the gospel, get humble again, and get into the study to start work on Sunday’s ministry.

There’s a famous old statement on preaching which we preachers love. The American pastor Phillips Brooks famously said, ‘If any man be called to preach, don’t stoop to be a king’. I love these words, because I know how they affirm the preacher’s task. I passionately believe that preaching is the highest and best calling this side of glory.

Two things to do

Two requests for church members: firstly, please, please encourage your preacher. He needs to know that you’re listening, taking in the Word, growing, and following the Saviour as the fruits of his ministry. Please don’t assume he knows you value his ministry. On his worst days he probably thinks you don’t at all, and can’t bring himself to ask you. Send him an email, buy him a book, find fresh ways to express your appreciation, beyond ‘thanks for that’ as you hurry out of church. Build him up, so that he can build you up, week in, week out.

Secondly, pray for your preachers. Pray for them as they prepare through the week, and as Sunday comes. Pray for them once they’ve discharged their duties. Preaching is, after all, hard work, and heavenly work. A church’s praying will be the power of the pastor’s preaching. Believe it, and expect it.

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Editors commentary: Be a pirate preacher!

 pirate-preacherWEB(view original article here)

A new generation of preachers is being trained.

There is a stream of advice that young preachers should only preach dazzling sermons which are all their own work. They have to be completely original.

I beg to disagree. I feel that this advice is not only unhelpful to these men but is actually damaging churches. I am not calling for plagiarising sermons from the internet or books, by-passing any preparation. But I do believe that sparkling originality can be an unnecessary burden.

Reasons for disagreeing

First, even the writers of Scripture copy one another sometimes. 2 Peter and Jude are almost word for word identical in large sections. Who uses whose material? Isaiah quotes from Micah. Or is it the other way around? We don’t know. Theories of how the Gospels were written posit common material which originated we do not know where – except that the Holy Spirit used it in the work of more than one writer.

Second, the emphasis on originality in all their pulpit work can easily foster a preacher’s pride rather than humility. And while unspiritual hearers always desire to hear ‘some new thing’ (Acts 17.21), it is preachers who are keen to be innovative and novel in their interpretation of their texts that are most prone to straying from sound doctrine.

Third, feeling they must come up with unique insights and brand new ways of handling a Bible passage means that some young ministers spend their whole week in the study. Other essential pastoral duties like visiting the flock and spending substantial time in prayer, get neglected. Or if they do give time to these duties they find they can only possibly produce one sermon a week. This is leading to the downgrading and even the closure of evening services. I know of one church in London where the morning service is simply repeated in the evening. If ever there was a signal that said, ‘Don’t bother to be in church twice on a Sunday,’ this is it. In some places the evening service is reduced to a cup of tea and a discussion. The Puritans would have gone nuts!

Something peculiar

This ‘originality’ advice is, in some ways, peculiar to the contemporary scene. To assist young preachers the great Anglican Charles Simeon published Helps to Composition; or six hundred skeletons of sermons; several being the substance of sermons preached before the univer- sity. The university he refers to is, of course, Cambridge and the work became popularly known as Simeon’s Skeletons. He defines the skeleton of a discourse in the following way: ‘It should be not merely a sketch or outline, but a full draft, containing all the component parts of a Sermon, and all the ideas necessary for the illustration of them, at the same time that it leaves scope for the exercise of industry and genius in him who uses it.’* Simeon looked for young preachers to use his sermon headings and ideas so as to learn the art of exposition and to mature as preachers. Similarly, when C.H. Spurgeon published his voluminous work on the Psalms, The Treasury of David, every exposition ended with ‘Hints to the village preacher’.

It’s fine if you have original ideas. But equally, dear preacher, if something from another writer or preacher has blessed you, then pirate it for the good of your congregation. You are not called first to be original but to be helpful.

* A helpful booklet on Simeon is advertised at

John Benton

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper or subscribe for monthly updates.