- Paperback: 112 pages
- Publisher: Evangelical Press (August 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0852347480
- ISBN-13: 978-0852347485
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #932,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How Sermons Work Paperback – August 1, 2011
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The biblical, theological, and pastoral foundation of How Sermons Work is one of the many reasons I heartily commend David Murray s ministry. David s fruitful experience as a preacher and his faithful pastor s heart oozes from every page of this book. It is written with a precision that will immensely benefit both young aspiring pastors as well as the most seasoned preacher. I commend this practical guide to all who seek to evaluate their preaching with an aim to grow more faithful in this divine calling. --Brian Croft, Senior Pastor, Auburndale Baptist Church
About the Author
Dr. David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church.
He is the author of Christians Get Depressed Too, How Sermons Work, Jesus on Every Page, The Happy Christian, A Bundle of Joy: Six Books On Christian Happiness, The Christian Ministry, The Christian Life, and God's Mobile Home: Stories of Grace from the Tabernacle. He also blogs at HeadHeartHand.org.
He is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 2 to 19 years old. They love camping, fishing, boating, and skiing in the Lake Michigan area.
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I find it hard to believe – in my context – that I could get anyone to read this book. The impression I have is that they don’t care so my as want it to be shorter and shorter still.
Murray begins by talking about what men are called to preach (ch 1). Then he explains how to choose a text and the importance of varying texts in a preaching schedule (ch 2). From there he explains how a text is exegeted – amidst prayer (ch 3).
Murray rightly emphasizes that sermon preparation is not merely skill, but reliance upon the Holy Spirit for understanding, preparation, delivery, and effect of the sermon. I question his stating that with all the a pastor has to do, sermon preparation has to be limited to 8 to 10 hours (38). It seems to me that the Scripture supports preaching being the primary work of the pastor, and it should take primary amounts of time.
In the fourth chapter, he explains the value of varying sermons among the Old Testament, Gospels, and Epistles – and I would add, as someone who preaches through books – between shorter and longer books. He also looks at different types of sermons – apologetic, controversial, practical, etc.
In the fifth chapter, the pastor is ready to begin writing the introduction. He explains what an introduction is not and should not include and how different types of introductions may be constructed.
In the sixth, he organizes the sermon and stresses simplicity relative to the congregation one is preaching to – as a sermon is not a seminary paper and the preacher wants to have God’s Word exegeted remembered and practiced.
Murray continues the organization of the sermon in the seventh chapter, looking at the use of types of words as well as styles of presentation – historical, apologetic, questions, etc.
Then he moves to application in the eighth chapter showing that the application is necessary to the sermon, or the people will walk away with nothing and change nothing in their lives. He explains that we ought address the practical part of the sermon to “you” – the congregation – something I agree with and was taught never to do in seminary! He ends this chapter arguing that the sermon must be Christ-centered – always connecting to Christ and His Gospel in order for it to be a true sermon. The pastor will do this in different ways and to different degrees, depending on the text, but preaching on David and Goliath, for example, with no reference to Christ, will likely become moralism which one could get from a preaching of the text by any religion.
The ninth chapter continues the application by looking at twenty different ways one might apply the text. He presents each of the methods, then gives a short scriptural example and a corresponding sermon example. This is very helpful in understanding what he is suggesting.
The final chapter looks at preaching the sermon itself. He begins by arguing that the pastor ought to be right with God before he ascends the pulpit – he ought to be in prayer before, during, and after the sermon – first praying the sermon to oneself for correction and repentance. He argues that the pastor ought to preach like himself (not mimicking another), standing aright, speaking clearly, passionately – believing what he is preaching, plainly that he might be understood. He argues that one should be minimally tied to paper that he might me focused on God and the congregation, though as one who uses a full manuscript, I would argue that some have need for a full manuscript for a variety of reasons, and one can learn and practice to become interactive with a manuscript.
I find this a very good primer – it was encouraging to me and re-emphasized areas that I need to work more on, and some that I hadn’t been doing – such as praying for the work of the Holy Spirit on the congregation after I return home – which makes sense to me.
As I said in the beginning, I’m not sure anyone in my congregation would be willing to take up Murray’s book to understand what goes into sermon preparation, but I do think it is valuable for those who preach.
My one other comment is that I find it very curious that, despite having references for many of his quotes, he has an equal amount of quotes which are not referenced. For example, on page 107, he quotes Al Martin, but there is no footnote as to where this comes from – and this occurs through out the book. It concerns me that so many quotes are left unreferenced, not just legally, but there were times I wanted to follow up by reading more of a text, and there was no reference to follow.
This is the best book on sermon preparation I've read. Murray approaches preaching as a skill that can be learned, not a mystical talent delivered from on high to a select few. While it is true certain men are more suited for ministry than others, it is equally true that having a "calling" to ministry does not negate the need to learn good sermon preparation techniques. Murray makes it clear that a man called of God to deliver His word has a responsibility to put in the time necessary to become good at what he does.
The book is very logically organized with chapters on how to select a text, how to organize the information and how to apply the text in a way that is helpful to the listener. Never having been to seminary, the most helpful part for me was the chapter on exegesis. I found the list of exegetical questions particularly helpful. I've created a template of these questions and have begun using it to prepare Bible lessons.
While a systematic approach and simplicity are the book's strengths, Murray doesn't assume those are all that's needed to teach God's word. He has an excellent chapter on preparing to preach that emphasizes the importance of prayer and familiarity with scripture as prerequisites for God-honoring, life-changing preaching. He also emphasizes the importance of character in one who teaches the Bible, quoting Al Martin:
"Next to the presence of Christ, there is no greater companion to the minister than that of a good conscience. To have the Lord at your side and a peaceful conscience in your breast - these are the preacher's two greatest companions."
The only complaint I have about the book is not about the content but the Kindle version I read. There was no active table of contents, in fact, no table of contents at all. I find the table of contents helpful both in getting a feel for a book before reading it and in gathering my thoughts about it for things like this review after I've read it. With that in mind, you may want to consider the print version of this book unless that has been changed in the Kindle version.
If you teach the Bible either as a pastor or otherwise, this is a book to read and add to your library. Like William Zinsser's On Writing Well (which interestingly Murray references in his book) this is a book I will review periodically and keep handy as a reference.
Murray's book is very good. It's a fast moving tour of the many approaches to preparing, delivering and then reflecting on a sermon. He lays out all of the different approaches to different types of preaching, draws extensively from many of the great preaching men of the past and gives very down to earth and helpful advice on engaging our congregations with God's word in a way that will truly help, challenge, build up and disciple them. All of this is aimed at the glory of God in the church, the proclamation of that glory to the world and the transformation of God's people into the image of Christ through the preaching of the word.
I was especially helped by Murray's recommendations of what to do after a sermon is preached. Get alone and think through what has been proclaimed. Apply the truth we have proclaimed to our own hearts. Wrestle with the challenges to greater holiness in our own lives and guard against feelings of either pride or failure. I've not read them all, but I am pretty sure that Murray's book is the only preaching book that speaks to the preacher about what to do after one preaches.
I highly recommend this book as a valuable addition to your library and hope it will encourage you as a preacher.