Pastors & Prayer (Reading Notes)

“The inner action of prayer takes precedence over the outer action of proclamation. The implication of this for pastoral work is plain: it begins in prayer. Anything creative, anything powerful, anything biblical, insofar as we are participants in it, originates in prayer. Pastors who imitate the preaching and moral action of the prophets without also imitating the prophets’ deep praying and worship so evident in the Psalms are an embarrassment to the faith and an encumbrance to the church.” (Eugene Peterson in Working the Angles)

The Reality Of Pastoral Ministry (Reading Notes)

The Christian pastor holds the greatest office of human responsibility in all creation. He is called to preach the Word, to teach the truth to God’s people, to lead God’s people in worship, to tend the flock as a caring shepherd, and to mobilize the church for Christian witness and service. The pastor’s role also includes an entire complex of administrative and leadership tasks. Souls are entrusted to his care, the trust is entrusted to his stewardship, and eternal realities hand in the balance. Who can fulfill  this job description?

Of course, the answer is that no man can fulfill this calling. The Christian pastor much continue acknowledge his absolute dependence upon the grace and mercy of God. As the apostle Paul instructs us, we are but earthen vessels employed for God’s glory. On his own, no man is up to this task. (Albert Mohler in On Being A Pastor)

A Tragedy In The Church (Reading Notes)

“One of the greatest tragedies in the church today is the depreciation of the pastoral office. From seminaries to denominational headquarters, the prevalent mood and theme is managerial, organizational, and psychological. And we think thereby to heighten our professional self-esteem! Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars, and personal example, show that it is not foremost.” (John Piper in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals)

The Holy Spirit & Preaching (Reading Notes)

“In the nineteenth century, a group of pastors were organizing a citywide evangelistic campaign. As they discussed who they should invite to preach, the name of the noted evangelist D. L. Moody was brought up. Reluctant to have Moody preach, one minister protested, ‘Why Moody? Does he have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?’

The question was then followed by a long silence. Finally, another pastor spoke up, saying, ‘Moody, Moody, Moody…does Moody have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?’ One of the others answered, ‘No, but it seems that the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Moody.’

No greater point could be made for any preacher.

God works through His servants in whom His Spirit is mightily empowering. Regardless of a preacher’s resume or ministerial credentials, the Holy Spirit is the One who, ultimately, makes the difference in any preacher’s ministry.

When it comes to your preaching, does the Holy Spirit have a monopoly on you?” (Steven Lawson, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses)

The Preacher As A Herald…Not An Orator (Reading Notes)

“As a preacher, Paul was a divinely appointed herald of Christ crucified. Being a herald is entirely different than being an orator. A herald is judged solely on the basis of faithfully delivering the message exactly as it has been entrusted to him. He is not responsible for the response of the listener. Rather, his job is to faithfully dispatch his message.

While an orator is measured by the response he is able to elicit from his listeners, this is not the case with a herald. An orator is results-driven, whereas a herald is message-driven.” (Steven Lawson, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses)

Pastors… We Must Pray!

The discipline of prayer is a much overlooked and underdeveloped discipline in the Christian life.  This is cause for serious concern especially in light of Jesus’ words, “When you pray.”[1]  He spoke as if prayer is something that should be characteristic of every believer’s life.  Well, what impact does this have for the pastor?  Surely if every believer is expected to pray, the prayer life of the pastor should be exceptional.  Spurgeon said, “Of course the preacher is above all others distinguished as a man of prayer.  He prays as an ordinary Christian, else he were a hypocrite.  He prays more than ordinary Christians, else he were disqualified for the office he has undertaken.”[2]  While this may be the expectation, many pastors rarely find the time to pray.  With the demands of the pastoral office, prayer has taken a backseat to other “more important” matters. This is not a new development; it was experienced by the early church.  When the pastoral duties grew as the church grew, the apostles realized they were unable to attend to every matter.  They declared, “Brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”[3]  They understood that the proclamation of the Word of God was dependent on prayer and they must devote themselves wholeheartedly to this task.

Pastors are expected to juggle many activities today.  These can range from preaching, teaching, visitation, counseling, budgeting, and even administrative duties.  However, the early church realized that in order to effectively feed the sheep, pastors must be primarily concerned with prayer and ministering the word.  E.M. Bounds states,

“Oh, the need there is for present-day preachers to have their lips touched with a live coal from the altar of God!  This fire is brought to the mouths of those prophets who are of a prayerful spirit, and who wait in the secret place for the appointed angel to bring the living flame. Preachers of the same temper of Isaiah received visits from the angel who brings live coals to touch their lips.  Prayer always brings the living flame to unloose tongues, to open doors of utterance, and to open great and effectual doors of doing good.  This above all else, is the great need of the prophets of God.”[4]

The recovery of prayer in the pulpit ministry will bring great power from the Holy Spirit.  In his book What’s Wrong With Preaching, A.N. Martin states, “Preaching has fallen upon bad times, not only because of the failure of the minister in the personal application of the Word of God to his own heart, but also in the matter of secret prayer.”[5]  He goes on to declare that this secret prayer is essential in bringing power to ones preaching.  This power comes in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Piper writes, “The goal of preaching is utterly dependent upon the mercy of God for its fulfillment.  Therefore, the preacher must labor to put his preaching under divine influence by prayer.”[6]  The goal of every preacher is to have the Holy Spirit manifest himself during the time of preaching and this is impossible unless prayer serves as the foundation upon which the sermon is prepared.

While this is the end goal, the presence of the Holy Spirit is needed during every step of the process of preaching.  Heisler states, “We cannot wait until we are in a jam to pray as preachers.  We cannot see prayer as an add-on accessory to preaching that we do if we happen to have time.  Preaching by definition means we listen to God before we speak to men.”[7]  In order to hear from God, we must be in constant communication with him and allow the Holy Spirit to illumine the text, apply the text to our hearts, and prick the hearts of the hearers.  This can only be accomplished by a preacher who constantly prays.  This is most clearly seen in Begg’s statement, “There is no chance of fire in the pews if there is an iceberg in the pulpit; and without personal prayer and communion with God during the preparation stages, the pulpit will be cold.”[8]  Preaching does not begin in the pulpit; it begins in the closet of prayer where the preacher submits himself to the God of the Word.

Prayer is not the spare tire of the preaching ministry; it must be the steering wheel.  The pastor who is constantly on his knees will carry out his mission in the direction God would have him go.  In analyzing the prayer of most preachers Spurgeon states,

“I am afraid that, more or less, most of us need self-examination as to this matter.  If any man here should venture to say that he prays as much as he ought, as a student, I should gravely question his statement; and if there be a minister, deacon, or elder present who can say that he believes he is occupied with God in prayer to the full extent to which he might be, I should be pleased to know him.  I can only say, that if he can claim this excellence, he leaves me far behind, for I can make no such claim: I wish I could; and I make the confession with no small degree of shame-facedness and confusion, but I am obliged to make it.”[9]

Spurgeon goes on to relate a story of a man who rose every morning before four to pray.  This man stated that he was shamed if he ever heard a craftsman at work before he began praying because his Master deserved more than theirs.  We, as ministers of the gospel, should be able to make this same claim.  Our Master deserves the best and our fervency in prayer gives evidence to whether or not we believe this statement.  Prayer must be our business and when we fail to pray we fail in the task God has called us to accomplish.


            [1] Matthew 6:5

            [2] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 42.

            [3] Acts 6:3-4

            [4] E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 91.

            [5] Albert N. Martin, What’s Wrong With Preaching Today? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), 11.

            [6] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 98.

            [7] Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville: Broadman &Holman, 2007), 145.

            [8] Alistair Begg, Preaching For God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), 43.

            [9] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 48.

Book Review: “Power In The Pulpit” (Vines & Shaddix)

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Authors

Dr. Jerry Vines served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida from 1982 until his retirement in 2006. He was educated at Mercer University, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Luther Rice Seminary. Vines also served as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1988-1989. Dr. Jim Shaddix is the pastor for teaching and training at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of The Passion Driven Sermon.

Purpose of the Book

Vines and Shaddix stated that this book’s specific purpose “is to give practical help specifically to the man who is faced with the responsibility of preaching weekly.” They emphasized that pastors who preach on a weekly basis, as opposed to itinerant preachers, have a difficult job before them on a consistent basis. In fact, they stated, “Much of the preaching of our day is dry, irrelevant, and deadening.” Vines and Shaddix both agree that effective expository preaching needs to be emphasized and that is exactly what they seek to do in this book.

Organization and Content

This book contains steps and instructions on preparing and delivering expository sermons.  Vines and Shaddix explained in detail the preparation for exposition, the process of exposition, and the presentation of the exposition.  All three are vital to the work of an expositor.  A main concern of this book is to define the task of expository preaching and the qualifications of one who takes on this task.  Vines and Shaddix stated that this person must be called of God and participate in activities that help build a healthy heart, mind, and body.

Vines and Shaddix also offered a five-step approach to develop expository sermons.  Each step is progressive and the final product is an expository sermon that communicates a central truth, which is applied to a contemporary audience. A major concern for Vines and Shaddix is that many people view expository sermons as lectures, which are often boring.  They stated, however, that the text has a message for a contemporary audience and this must be communicated effectively. A sermon is not complete unless the text is applied to the contemporary audience and Vines and Shaddix emphasized the need for application in expositional preaching.

One of the major aspects of the expository method is the systematic preaching through books of the Bible.  Vines stated, “more profit will be realized by a systematic, book-by-book approach” than any other approach to preaching. They encouraged expositors to approach preaching from a canonical perspective.  Not only did they insist that it is beneficial to preach the whole counsel of God, they also made mention that one should study and preach with an understanding of all Scripture.  They wrote, “You must determine how your passage fits in with the overall context of the book in which it is found, as well as with the total revelation and message of the Bible.” This method, if used, will allow the expositor to preach canonically, draw one central truth from the text, and apply it to the contemporary audience.

Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Vines and Shaddix offer an expository approach that pastors can implement on a weekly basis. Too often pastors stray away from the disciplined study of the text because of the time it takes to faithfully exposit the Scriptures.  However, the method in Power in the Pulpit allows the expositor to follow a step-by-step outline for accomplishing this task.  Scripture states the disciples gave themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Expositors must decide that to fulfill their responsibility, in feeding the sheep, they must be as committed as the apostles and this method offered by Vines and Shaddix gives a great weekly plan to follow.

The greatest weakness of this book is the lack of emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the expositional process.  While there is a great deal of information concerning the specifics of doing exposition, there is little mention that the expositor must rely on the Holy Spirit.  The expositor can only experience true power in the pulpit when the Spirit is upon him.  It would have been extremely beneficial had Vines and Shaddix explored and emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit more in the expositional process.

This book, overall, is a great work for expositors. Those who desire to preach expositional sermons will find it to be a great resource and step-by-step plan to follow. Vines and Shaddix offer encouragement and instruction in a way that the average pastor will appreciate.