Published October 9, 2008
The Index recently interviewed Jerry Vines, former SBC president and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., on the art of preaching. Vines has been referred to as an excellent model of expository preaching throughout his ministry and his book, “Power in the Pulpit,” is an excellent textbook on the preparation and delivery of expository sermons.
Index:You are known for your advocacy and example of expository preaching. Why are you so committed to preaching expository sermons?
Vines: Expository preaching is not merely preaching about the Bible but preaching what the Bible itself says.
We have a command to preach the Word; and expository preaching is the only way to effectively proclaim the Word. The faithful pastor will make a serious and sincere attempt to unfold the actual grammatical, historical, contextual, and theological meaning of a passage.
Expository preaching feeds people. They learn what the Bible says. Preaching the Bible book by book will also change the life of the preacher.
Index: How do you prepare an expository sermon from a spiritual, intellectual, physical, and logistical standpoint?
Vines: From a spiritual standpoint, I try to maintain a morning devotional time for soul nourishment. My goal is to get rightly related to God before I ever attempt to start my sermon preparation. I read through the Old Testament starting either with Genesis or Job while I am also reading through the New Testament.
Sometimes I use my Greek New Testament to read that portion of the Bible. Sometimes I supplement my Bible study by reading devotional books by men like Charles Spurgeon and A. W. Tozer.
From an intellectual standpoint I read on a variety of subjects. I read fiction, classics, current events, and historical novels as well as theological books. I occasionally reread Grudem’s “Systematic Theology,” Carson and Moo’s “Introduction to the New Testament,” An Old Testament survey book, Latourette’s “Christianity Through the Ages,” and some book on gospel hermeneutics. Every year I also try to read a different Greek and Hebrew grammar.
From a physical standpoint I keep a running program going. I try to run 3.5 miles three times a week. I also have a two-day-a-week workout regimen on a weight machine. All that helps build stamina.
Every preacher also needs to take good care of his voice. We must all be careful not to abuse our voices. Some preachers say, “The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” and yet abuse their bodies. How can we preach in the Spirit if we are abusing the temple? Will the Spirit abuse his own temple?
From a logistical standpoint, every preacher needs to have a good study with good lighting. I like to have a good workplace with everything I need at my fingertips. The pastor’s study should be quiet, but sometimes I study with soft, orchestrated music in the background.
Index: How do you go about organizing an expository sermon?
Vines: I select the paragraph or passage from the text of Scripture I want to use. Then I look at the structure, the leading thought, and the main divisions. Most texts are like a log with grains of wood. I look for those grains of wood to see where I need to split it or divide the text to formulate my outline.
For example, Paul’s epistle to the Romans has three major divisions. Chapters 1-9 are doctrinal, chapters 9-11 are parenthetical, and chapters 12-16 are practical. Furthermore, Romans 1:14-16 is clearly divided into three sections. In verse 14 Paul says, “I am [a] debtor. In verse 15 the great apostle insists, ‘I am ready’; and in verse 16 he avows, ‘I’m not ashamed.’” The divisions there are obvious.
Index: You always seem to be able to aptly and effectively illustrate the points in the outline of your sermons. How do you find appropriate illustrations?
Vines: I am always in search of illustrations. I find them everywhere. I get illustrations from listening to other preachers. I get illustrations from my reading, but I seldom find one from books of illustrations.
To me that is the least fruitful source of illustrations. The best source for illustrations may be found in other preachers’ sermons, but use personal integrity and don’t make someone else’s story or anecdote your own.
Index: You seem to always preach without notes. You must think preaching without notes is important. Why?
Vines: Early in my ministry I used extensive notes when I preached. I had developed the unfortunate habit of looking up and down from my notes. The effect was something like a chicken drinking water. I had a preacher friend who suggested that I should develop habits of preparation and study that would free me from the use of notes in the pulpit.
I took his advice and discovered that preaching without notes gives more spontaneity and better eye contact with the congregation. However, it is good to learn to do both. Learn to preach without notes, but if you are presenting a sermon that involves much technical information it might be best to use notes. However, remember that good expression is dependent upon good impression.
Index: Is there some way to prepare the people to hear the message? And how is the best way for a preacher to connect with his people?
Vines: If a preacher is going through the Bible book by book he can tell his people to read ahead, pray, and come to worship with an expectant heart. The preacher gathers his preaching material in his study. Then he sets it on fire in the pulpit.
If this happens consistently, the people will come expecting to see the fire and electricity that flashes between the preacher and the congregation.
Index: Obviously, a sermon is made up of words. Why is the choice of words important?
Vines: The power of words cannot be overestimated. Dr. [W.A.] Criswell used to say the choice of words is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. The right word is important in order to be precise.
Remember, your purpose is not to be impressive, but to communicate. Every preacher must use language that can be understood.
Index: How do you prepare the invitation?
Vines: I start with the invitation. I have the invitation in mind from the very beginning of my sermon preparation. I also always try to give an evangelistic twist to the invitation. For example, if I am preaching on tithing I would conclude the invitation by saying, “You know, God doesn’t primarily want your money; He wants your heart.” One Sunday I was preaching on tithing in Jacksonville and we had over 40 people who made professions of faith.
Index: How can a preacher incorporate passion and persuasiveness in his preaching?
Vines: Adam Dooley at Red Bank Baptist Church in Chattanooga did his dissertation on the preaching and pathos of a text and suggested we need to get in the text and find out the pathos of the text and preach it. Aristotle’s rhetorical approach to communication included “logos,” or the content of the message; “ethos,” or the character of the message,; and “pathos,” or the passion of the message.
Index: I know that you continue to maintain a busy preaching schedule. What else is on you plate at the present time?
Vines: Well, I am particularly excited about the John 3:16 Conference our ministry is hosting at First Baptist Church in Woodstock Nov. 6-7. We have a great list of speakers including Johnny Hunt, Paige Patterson, Charles Stanley, David Allen, and Richard Land. This is not a “Let’s bash the Calvinist” conference, but a biblical and theological assessment of and response to 5-point Calvinism. I think lay people as well as preachers will profit from this conference. People who are interested can get more information at: jerryvines.com.
I am also developing a Sunday School/Bible study curriculum through the New Testament that will enable a Sunday school class or small group to go through the New Testament (excluding Mark and Luke) in a four year plan. The material will come from my sermon notes.
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