Ten Commandments for Preaching

Sinclair B. Ferguson’s Ten Commandments for Preaching:

1. Know your Bible Better. Be a homo unius libri– a man with One Book. [If there’s ever a book that you need to master, it’s going to be the Bible, not the latest Patrick Lencioni or Larry Osborne bestsellers, as useful as they are.]

“As an observer as well as a practitioner of preaching, I am troubled and perplexed by hearing men with wonderful equipment, humanly speaking (ability to speak, charismatic personality, and so on), who seem to be incapable of simply preaching the Scriptures. Somehow they have not first invaded and gripped them.”

2. Be a Man of Prayer.

Not the kind of prayer you say before you preach but the kind of prayer that you maintain the whole time you are preparing the message.

3. Don’t Lose Sight of Christ.

“The truth is it is far easier to preach about Mary, Martha, James, John, or Peter than it is about Christ. It is far easier to preach even about the darkness of sin and the human heart than to preach Christ. Plus my bookshelves are groaning with literature on Mary, Martha . . . the good life, the family life, the Spirit-filled life, the parenting life, the damaged-self life . . . but most of us have only a few inches of shelf-space on the person and work of Christ himself.”

4. Be Deeply Trinitarian.

Whoah, I didn’t know this has to be emphasized. Ferguson commented that many preachers think that the Trinity is “the most speculative and therefore the least practical of all doctrines. After all, what can you “do” as a result of hearing preaching that emphasizes God as Trinity?”

Worship. The answer is worship.

5. Use Your Imagination.

“Imagination in preaching means being able to understand the truth well enough to translate or transpose it into another kind of language or musical key in order to present the same truth in a way that enables others to see it, understand its significance, feel its power—to do so in a way that gets under the skin, breaks through the barriers, grips the mind, will, and affections so that they not only understand the word used but feel their truth and power.”

How do we do that exactly?

Ferguson further explains: “Only immersion in Scripture enables us to preach it this way. Therein lies the difference between preaching that is about the Bible and its message and preaching that seems to come right out of the Bible with a “thus says the Lord” ring of authenticity and authority.”

6. Speak Much of Sin and Grace.

Sin and grace should be the downbeat and the upbeat that run through all our exposition. We do not, however, make it sound like we are launching missiles from the pulpit to our people.

“We cannot build a ministry, nor healthy Christians, on a diet of fulminating against the world. No, rather we do this by seeing the Scriptures expose the sin in our own hearts, undeceive us about ourselves, root out the poison that remains in our own hearts—and then helping our people to do the same “by the open statement of the truth” ( 2 Cor 4:2).

There is only one safe way to do this. Spiritual surgery must be done within the context of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace. But exposing sin is not the same thing as unveiling and applying grace. We must be familiar with and exponents of its multifaceted power, and know how to apply it to a variety of spiritual conditions.”

7. Use “the Plain Style”

CS Lewis: “Use language that makes clear what you really mean; prefer plain words that are direct to long words that are vague. Avoid abstract words when you can use concrete. Don’t use adjectives to tell us how you want us to feel—make us feel that by what you say! Don’t use words that are too big for their subject. Don’t use “infinitely” when you mean “very,” otherwise you will have no word left when you really do mean infinite!”

JC Ryle: “Have a clear knowledge of what you want to say. Use simple words. Employ a simple sentence structure. Preach as though you had asthma! Be direct. Make sure you illustrate what you are talking about.”

8. Find Your Own Voice.

“We ought not to become clones. Some men never grow as preachers because the “preaching suit” they have borrowed does not actually fit them or their gifts. Instead of becoming the outstanding expository preacher, or redemptive-historical, or God-centered, or whatever their hero may be, we may tie ourselves in knots and endanger our own unique giftedness by trying to use someone else’s paradigm, style, or personality as a mold into which to squeeze ourselves.”

9. Learn How to Transition

This is the weakness of much of doctrinal preaching. We fly so high above the clouds that we forget to land on the ground and help our people apply the Word on a Monday morning. It is said the the preaching of Jonathan Edwards: His doctrine was all application; his application was all doctrine.

10. Love Your People

“John Newton wrote that his congregation would take almost anything from him, however painful, because they knew “I mean to do them good.”

This is a litmus test for our ministry. It means that my preparation is a more sacred enterprise than simply satisfying my own love of study; it means that my preaching will have characteristics about it, difficult to define but nevertheless sensed by my hearers, that reflect the apostolic principle:

What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor 4:5)

We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess 2:8)”