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Excellence in Preaching: Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers Paperback – November 18, 2011
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"Many things will help raise the standard of preaching around the world, but one of the most significant--and underrated--is the need for good models. Simon Vibert provides compelling examples of what constitutes good preaching, not that we emulate superstars, but that we learn from the dynamic interplay of the Word, the Spirit, the congregation and the rich variety of human personality. This is an illuminating read for preachers and listeners alike, and I warmly commend it." (Jonathan Lamb, director of Langham Preaching, Langham Partnership International, and chair, Keswick Convention)
"Simon Vibert studies some of today's most effective preachers and shows us what makes their preaching so powerful. These elements, interestingly, aren't always immediately apparent. Yes, preaching is a performance art, 'truth through personality,' but Vibert identifies elements that are transferable from these marquee pulpiteers to the rest of us. Excellence in Preaching gives us 'ears to hear' what we wouldn't have heard otherwise." (Marshall Shelley, editor in chief, Leadership Journal, and vice president, Christianity Today)
"With great insight and evenhandedness, Simon Vibert looks at twelve well-known preachers, culling from their sermons the one thing that they do best. By the time he finishes his survey of the twelve communicators, Vibert has fashioned a compelling case for what great biblical preaching looks and sounds like. We all long for more powerful, engaging and effective preaching in our churches. This book goes a long way in helping us reach that goal. As someone who has been preaching for almost seventeen years, I discovered that my views on preaching were both confirmed and challenged by reflecting on Excellence in Preaching. I am grateful Simon took the time to write this book." (Jim Belcher, author of Deep Church)
"This is an imaginative and encouraging book, demonstrating how the best of the best of preachers actually do it. Fresh, stimulating and constantly challenging, it made me want to start preparing a sermon immediately! I can't imagine any preacher not being inspired to pick up the task with new courage and at the same time to give thanks for the privilege." (John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford)
"Simon Vibert serves us well in this book. First, he recovers a passion and vision about preaching the Bible at a time when some recommend doing away with preaching. Second, his survey of what good preachers do gives us some timely advice and suggestions. Third, he himself models a willingness to learn from other preachers. He's been a preacher for many years but still sees the need to listen, learn and work at his preaching! For these reasons and more, I hope young preachers and experienced preachers alike will read this book to gain a passion and vision for preaching the Bible, to strive to do their task well and to be humble learners and listeners themselves." (Rev. Dr. Gavin McGrath, senior associate minister, Dundonald Church, London)
"Simon Vibert offers a fresh and very helpful resource for preachers. He takes twelve effective modern preachers and analyzes their strengths in order to improve standards in our churches. Highly recommended." (Michael Green, Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics)
About the Author
Reverend Dr. Simon Vibert is vice principal and director of the School of Preaching at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He previously served as chairman of the Fellowship of Word and Spirit and has two decades of experience in parish ministry. As one of John Stotts Langham Trainers, Vibert has equipped pastors in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Serbia and Haiti. He studied at Oak Hill College in London, Glasgow University in Scotland and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, where his thesis was on the preaching of John Piper. He is the author of Lives Jesus Changed and The Diamond Marriage.
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Simon Vibert's Excellence in Preaching is written with the hopes that looking at these twelve men will help
"preachers and their listening congregations have a better sense of why it is that some preachers connect hearers with God, inspiring, encouraging and motivating them to authentic Christian living, and enabling them to leave with a sense that through the preaching they have indeed met with the living Lord." (13)
Vibert looks at the preaching ministry of Jesus and then twelve contemporary preachers: Tim Keller, John Piper, Vaughan Roberts, Simon Ponsonby, J. John, David Cook, John Ortberg, Nicky Gumbel, Rico Tice, Alistair Begg, Mark Driscoll, and Mark Dever. In each chapter Vibert looks at a couple of sermons and tries to discover "What makes ______ a good communicator". He then closes up every chapter with a few bulleted points of application for preachers.
There is a positive and helpful aspect to this book and also one that could be relatively dangerous and unhelpful. We will consider the dangerous first.
The dangerous aspect is not one that would catch Vibert off-guard as he seems to acknowledge this danger in a few places throughout the work. With books like this there is always a danger of starting a "guru mentality or a cult following" (13). John Piper (one of the subjects in the book) has written an entire book decrying the professionalism of ministry, entitled Brothers We Are Not Professionals. Vibert's book toes towards the pitfall of exalting superstar pastors at the expense of the "ordinary week-in, week-out preaching of the local church". (10)
It has been pointed out before that many preachers that got their start in the 50's and 60's are cookie-cutter pastors. The cookie-cutter that seems to be used for these pastors is the Reverend Billy Graham. Some have even commented that these pastors hold their Bible like Rev. Billy and even though said pastor may have never been East of the Mississippi he speaks with a North Carolina accent just like Graham. The danger then in a book like Vibert's is that young pastors will take a shortcut by merely parroting the skills of successful pastors and thereby undercutting the work of the Spirit and neglecting the labor of honing their own unique giftedness. If used in that way then this book is dangerous and unhelpful.
Having said that I believe that Vibert does an adequate job of lifting up these succesful preachers and humbly considering the things that we can learn. Yes, I wish that an entire chapter was given to dispelling the potential for this danger, but as a whole this book could be very beneficial to young pastors just beginning to preach.
One of the things that Vibert does is list the specific sermon(s) that he analyzed for each chapter. Given the media benefits of our day these sermons are readily accessible. Thus a seasoned pastor could easily use this book as a guide for helping a younger pastor get his feet wet in preaching. They could together listen to the sermons and then come up with their own bullet points and things to learn from the pastor under consideration. Then the two could use Vibert's chapter as a helpful launching pad for further discussion.
Any pastor (new or seasoned) could benefit from this book, however. I have been preaching for a little over ten years (hardly a veteran) and there was a great deal that I took away from this book. Some things were reminders but there were some things that I had never really considered before that I think can make me a more effective communicator.
Should You Buy It?
If you take to heart the danger inherent in the work then it could be vastly helpful. It is not a theological treatise on preaching nor is it the only preaching manual that you should have in your library. It is, though, widely beneficial. It may even introduce you to the preaching ministry of some men that you have never heard of before. I would suggest it as a helpful addition to any pastor's library.
I received this book free from IVP. You will have to buy it.