EMA Starts Today

Pray for the Evangelical Ministry Assembly (EMA)  2012, which starts today in London.

You can download past sermons from this years speakers here:

Christopher Ash Bible Delight Part I EMA 2006
Christopher Ash Bible Delight Part II EMA 2006
David Cook Acts 1:8 – Why will this be good for you? 2001 Sermons on Acts
David Cook Acts 1:1-26 – Will things be different? 2001 Sermons on Acts
David Cook Acts 2:1-13 – How to be fully and forever equipped 2001 Sermons on Acts
Mervyn Eloff Groaning and Glory I – No Condemnation St. James Church
Mervyn Eloff Groaning and Glory II St. James Church
Mervyn Eloff Groaning and Glory III – The Christian’s Obligation St. James Church
Mike Reeves Introducing John Calvin Theology Network
Mike Reeves The Most Valuable Word – Judges 3 South West Christian Unions
Paul David Tripp You Need Understanding What’s so important about the Bible anyway?
Paul David Tripp Dependent for Wisdom What’s so important about the Bible anyway?

Pray for the assembly.

Listen Well

John Piper has a free ebook available on the theme “Take Care How You Listen.”  I’d especially recommend “Take Care How You Listen part two” (From p 17) as a good portion for any church member to read. It offers practical advice in how to hear God’s Word preached.



Recommended reading from a surprising source

A book by Tony Blair’s chief speech-writer might seem a surprising resource for preachers. But there is much in  “The Art of Speeches and Presentations – the secrets of making people remember what you say” by Philip Collins (Wiley 2012) to encourage, help and challenge the preacher.

Encouragement for preachers

How many preachers have (haven’t?) been told that a sermon is an outmoded monologue in an age of mass-media in which people can only absorb 30 second sound-bites? Here is the opening to Collins’ book:

Speeches still matter, even in a technological age. The act of persuasion is ubiquitous in professional life and very many people need to master it. The act of making a speech is a medium that has remained essentially unchanged through the ages.

He sets the scene:

A man steps forward out of the dark, alone, trailed by a spotlight. He walks slowly towards the podium which is the only thing that decorates the otherwise naked stage….He walks into a strange isolation, for he knows, as does his audience, that he is about to beg their undivided attention for at least 25 minutes, probably more. There is no other setting in which we permit anyone to speak, uninterrupted, for so long.

Well, Philip Collins probably isn’t a church-goer! But he is convinced (and convincing) about the enduring power of public speech:

The technological means of transmission is, at once, simple and sophisticated – the medium of speech. Let’s go back to that man who is walking onto a stage. He approaches the podium where he stops, clears his throat and starts to speak. The normal rules of conversation are about to be suspended for the time it takes him to expound his argument. Against all the expectations and regular predictions of its demise, public speech still counts. It always will and it is a skill that needs to be mastered.

Help for preachers

How this skill can be mastered, Collins explains in his book in detail – literally, as he uses the word DETAIL as a mnemonic  (“there is a little known law that, unless your book contains a mnemonic that summarises the case, your publisher is allowed to kill you”!)

Delivery: the speech is written to be spoken. You need to think how you can make your delivery as effective as possible.

Expectations: what do the people you will be speaking to expect from the day? Just as important, what do you expect? What do you want people to do once they have heard your speech?

Topic: what is your speech essentially about? Tell me in a single sentence. If you can’t do that, you don’t know. And if you don’t know you aren’t ready to do a speech.

Audience: who are you trying to reach? Who will be in your audience and what do they think about the topic that you are set to address? Will they be favourable or hostile to your approach?

Individual: a speech should be delivered by you. It should not just be any old speech. It needs to present the best possible version of you, which is subtly different from the hopeless advice to “be yourself”.

Language: use simple terms and say nothing that an intelligent layman would not understand. It is not big and clever to use jargon and vocabulary that nobody would ever use when talking to their friends.

If you follow these rules nobody can promise that you will be a brilliant speaker. But there is a good chance you will not be a poor speaker.

Collins helpfully distinguishes between the different functions of a speech (sermon?)

All speeches can be divided into at least one of the three functions:

1. Information: a speech whose principal function is to leave an audience better informed than they were before you began.

2. Persuasion: a speech whose principal function is to persuade an audience of a case that, before you began, had either never occurred to them or to which they had been actively hostile.

3.  Inspiration: a speech whose principal function is to inspire the audience to do something that they had previously not considered doing or had been refusing to do or, occasionally, to carry on doing something.

He points all out that all speeches will have more than one function but one will be dominant, and he states that this should be persuasion. He also adds one other specialised function:

There is actually a fourth type of speech. This is the ceremonial address that commemorates an occasion such as a wedding or the eulogy at a funeral.

In addition, the book covers a variety of topics of interest to preachers such as:

  • being true to  your personality (“The importance of not being Barack Obama”)
  • the preparation of a full text (“Don’t ditch the script. Almost nobody speaks well off the cuff though almost everybody thinks they do”)
  • the problem of jargon (“A dozen dreadful jargon terms, dead metaphors, terrible cliches and assorted horrors”)
  • the ideal length for a speech (“As short as possible…aim for 20 minutes”)

Challenge to preachers:

Obviously, there are some connections between a speech and a sermon that do not match – not least the potential outcome for which every preacher prays – that his message may come “not just with words, but with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction”. None the less, the challenge to strive for excellence which Collins advocates should be all the more compelling for the preacher:

Your job is to do your job as well as you can. It is to be the best speaker on the podium that you are expected to stand at, doing the best speech that you can do on the topic that you have been asked to address.

There in no greater topic than that which the preacher has been “asked to address” (and address every week rather at the occasional special event).

There is one sentence in the book that has stuck in my mind. Answering the question why there are so few great speeches today, Collins writes:

The first and most important reason why great speech is so much harder now is that there are fewer causes that demand greatness.

*The recommended price for the book is £14.99 but you can download on Kindle for £7.12



10 Questions For Expositors – Frank Retief

Frank Retief is currently the Rector Emeritus of St James’ Church, Kenilworth, South Africa.  He has for many years been an expositor and national conference speaker, and also written several books, including “Divorce” and Tragedy to Triumph: A Christian Response to Trials and Suffering.*

You can find Frank Retief’s sermons here.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

In the centre.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

I think too much time is taken to discover gifts.  It can be a very self-centred thing.  I never bothered to discover mine and the older I get the more convinced I have become that I have no special gift.  Rather a jack-of-all-trades.  In any event other people should speak to this question – not me.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

This depends on my subject or passage and how familiar I am with it.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?

One main idea , several supporting ideas.  It is hard to tell how one crystallises it.  Each individual does it differently.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

It is impossible to comment on style.  All have different personalities.  Avoid the projection of self and keep the Gospel central.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

A full outline but not a written script.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

All the perils all Christians face but to a greater degree.  A subtle peril is projection of self.  The greatest peril is to forget there is a judgement coming and a Hell.  This puts urgency into the preacher’s very bones.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)?

It’s a fight that never ends.  But the preacher must just fight that fight.  Ministry is a complicated calling.  The safest way is to determine a routine and stick to it.  Your ability to keep that routine will depend on your determination and the calibre of the other staff around you if you have them.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?

Lloyd Jones, Stott, Charles Bridges are classics.  Many other books too numerous to name.  But to really benefit one should read biographies of great preachers.  It’s their zeal we should emulate, not their preaching styles.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

(This question was unanswered)


* It is worth noting that Frank Retief’s congregation was subject to a terrible attack in 1993, when 11 church attenders were killed.

History’s Great Preachers Tell You A Thing Or Two

Cripplegate has some excellent quotes from preachers about preaching. The quotes support ten principles.

1. Effective ministry consists not of fads or gimicks, but of faithfully preaching the truth.

2. Preaching is a far more serious task than most preachers realize.

3. Faithfulness in the pulpit begins with the pursuit of personal holiness.

4. Powerful preaching flows from powerful prayer.

5. Passionate preaching starts with one’s passion for Christ.

6. The preacher is a herald, not an innovator.

7. The faithful preacher stays focused on what matters.

8. The preacher’s task is to make the text come alive for his hearers.

9. The preacher is to be Christ-exalting, not self-promoting.

10. Faithful preaching requires great personal discipline and sacrifice.

Read the whole post, including the quotations.



The new Unashamed Workman website has been running for about a month now. We’ve been surprised and encouraged by the good numbers of readers who are regularly stopping by.

Please give us any feedback you have!

  • What do you like about the blog?
  • What suggestions do you have for its improvement?

You can either drop a comment on this post, or email us privately.


10 Questions For Expositors – Christopher Ash

Christopher AshChristopher Ash is the new David Jackman.  Seven years ago he took on the mantle from the latter as Director of PT Cornhill (a training course with the primary aim of training preachers).

As you would expect for a man in his role Christopher is an excellent preacher in his own right. His expositions are clear and his applications are cutting.*  If you haven’t read his book, The Priority of Preaching, you really have missed a trick.

Today we interview Christopher Ash about his preaching. His thoughtful answers are some of the most detailed and helpful we’ve received.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

I feel so strongly about this that I’ve written a short book on it (The Priority of Preaching). If I give a short answer you won’t read the book…

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

I’m not sure that I did, but I guess other people might have done. The first time I gave a talk at a summer camp, the man who started the camps asked me afterwards if I had toothache. I was very nervous! Gradually it seems my talks got less bad, and then I was asked to preach from time to time in church. It was very hard work, but people encouraged me to keep at it and in due course to get some training and go into pastoral ministry. So in the end I did.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

In one sense, each sermon takes me all my life, since all my understanding of the bible and such knowledge as I have of God and human nature feed into each sermon. But in a more immediate sense, it depends on how familiar I am with the bible book or passage. If it’s an unfamiliar text, I might spend three to six hours working at the text and then a further three to six hours thinking about structure and application, and then writing the sermon. I find I need to start early, as mulling over it slowly, while going to sleep, while on a bus or going for a walk, often leads to insights that I never got when sitting at my desk. So it’s more like ten or so hours spread over at least a week.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?

Robin Weekes has answered this for me. It’s not that a passage necessarily has only one main or driving idea (although many do), but that a sermon that tries to pick up and convey too many of the motifs in a passage ends up conveying very little to normal hearers, who are bemused and uncertain what the preacher has been saying. Even if my ‘theme sentence’ is provisional (as it always is) I find that a provisional one (my best shot at the big idea) is better than no coherent theme at all.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

We want to speak with a genuine, unforced style, which expresses the bible’s truth through the medium of our personality. It is such a help when a preacher speaks naturally, not in a ‘churchy’ manner, not in a high-falutin’ intellectual style, but in a down-to-earth way that communicates with all sorts of people. When J.C.Ryle found himself ministering to simple country folk, he wrote that, ‘I crucified my style’, by which he meant that he simplified it and made it straightforward.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I usually have a full script but do not read it. I find preparing a full script, in sentences rather than just headlines or bullet points, disciplines me to think clearly. With notes or bullet points, I may think I have understood it; but it is only when I put it in English that I realize I haven’t yet got it clear and logical! I go through it with a highlighter and then speak more freely.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

(a) The more competent we become at exegesis, sermon construction, illustration, etc, the easier it is to produce a ‘correct’ sermon where the text has not impacted my own heart. This is a particular danger when we are under time pressure. I find that it is when I have prayed the truth into my own heart, so that my mind, my affections and my will have been gripped by it, that I can preach with conviction.

(b) It is so easy to slip back from the grace of God in the gospel of Christ, to a moralism that simply exhorts. We think that proper ‘application’ must mean telling our hearers to do something, when in fact it is wonderful application to be gripped by the wonder of the gospel of grace.

(c) In particular, the Old Testament must be preached through the lens of Jesus Christ. It makes no sense without him.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

With great difficulty. I try to make sure I do some bible preparation early in the day if I can. Even if the day is then swamped with other responsibilities, the fact that I have started helps me begin to get to grips with the text. Sometimes I manage to get away for sustained preparation in a different place; that is a wonderful blessing. But even then I have to fight the addictive power of e-mails, reading interesting blogs (like this one), dipping in and out of social networks etc etc.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?

John Stott’s I believe in Preaching was a tremendous stimulus to me some years ago. The essays in When God’s Voice is Heard (eds C.Green and D.Jackman) did me good, especially Jim Packer’s superb essay on the value of systematic theology for preaching. I love dipping into the sermons of John Chrysostom – so courageous and with such wonderfully vigorous illustrations! Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students – full of practical wisdom and great humour. I trained in ministry under Mark Ashton in Cambridge and learned much from him about application that challenges and gets under the radar defences of the hearers.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

I guess this is my job at PT Cornhill. I spend most of my life trying to do this and am glad to be doing so


* Some of the best sermons I have ever heard were given by Christopher at the EMA in 2006 (on Psalm 119 – Bible Delight). You can also listen to more of Christopher Ash’s sermons here and here.