Peripatetic Sermon Prep
Discussions about sermon preparation tend to gravitate towards subjects involved in the formal processes of moving from the text to the sermon. There is no shortage of books, chapters, or articles in which one will find the various exegetical, theological, practical and homiletical elements of preaching. Among those works from which I have most benefited over the years are Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Preaching and Preachers, D.A. Carson's Exegetical Fallacies, Sinclair Ferguson's "Preaching Christ from the Old Testament," Edmund Clowny's Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, Hugh Oliphant Old's The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, J.W. Alexander's Thoughts on Preaching, Dennis Johnson's Him We Proclaim, Charles Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students, and Don Kistler's Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching.
Ministers should also make use of a broad array of commentaries in their sermon preparation. I always seek to use one homiletical commentary and one exegetical commentary. For instance, the Kent Hughes ed. Preaching the Word series and the Reformed Expository Commentary series (on both the Old Testament and New Testament) yield great homiletical assistance to the minister's sermon preparation. However, every minister ought also to give himself to a diligent use of the exegetical commentaries available. If a minister is working through an exposition of a book in the New Testament, the NIGTC series--in which is included G.K. Beale's The Book of Revelation--aids the minister in his wrestling through the exegetical aspect sof sermon preparation. There are also plenty of beneficial, older exegetical works on New Testament epistles. For instance, John Eadie wrote a number of exegetical commentaries on Pauline epistles. These give the preacher trustworthy Reformed exposition, experiential applications and scholarly exegetical reflections. His commentaries on Ephesians and Colossians are among of the most treasured commentaries in my library.
While the list of helpful resources available to assist the pastor in his sermon preparation is seemingly endless, there is yet another invaluable element of sermon preparation to which we ought to give more serious consideration--namely, engaging in sermon preparation in community with other ministers.
I count it one of the great blessings of my life to have many thoughtful, gifted and godly friends who serve in ministry. An "iron sharpening iron" element occurs in the process of working through a text with other ministers, in anticipation of preaching on the Lord's Day. I happen to be one of those people who likes to pace, when I talk with others on the phone. This has led me to title the collective sermon preparation that I engage in with friends--while on the telephone with them--"peripatetic sermon prep." The peripatetic school was a school of Aristotle's disciples. It was termed the "peripatetic school," because, apparently, Aristotle paced back and forth when he taught his students. They, in turn, walked around with one another--musing on the philosophical speculations of their day. It was believed that the best results were done while walking and talking together.
Here are a few of the benefits that a minister can expect from engaging in peripatetic sermon prep:
1. A better grasp on the context of the passage.
I have several friends who help me see things in the immediate context that I might not have seen on my own consideration or through commentaries. I have long benefited from the collective feedback on any given passage on which I am planning on preaching.
2. A greater understanding of the redemptive-historical relationship to the meaning of the passage.
One of the greatest benefits that I have experienced in dialogue on a particular passage of Scripture is how it fits within the larger redemptive-historical setting. I have several friends who are skilled in redemptive-historical observations. I will often bounce off them the general direction in which I am heading when I am preparing a sermon. They will frequently either refine or reject the direction in which I am heading. Sometimes they will explain why a typological reading of an Old Testament passage doesn't stand the test of the immediate purpose of the passage. At other times, they will acknowledge the general direction and develop it for me. There is an enormous benefit in having theologically knowledgeable friends assist in the preparation of this aspect of the message.
3. Clearer insights into the difficult parts of the passage.
The benefit of doing sermon preparation in community with gifted and knowledgable friends is that you will have their help when you come to extremely difficult parts of Scripture. I cannot count the times when I have talked through a particular passage with another minister, especially when I am not entirely sure what the passage is saying. I have often found it to be the case that those friends upon whom I call for assistance have either preached through the passage personally or have worked on the various meanings of the text. It makes the work much easier to listen to their rationale for coming to a settled understanding of the meaning--especially when there are numerous possible meanings.
4. A more refined applications the passage.
Gaining more appropriate applications for the sermon is sometimes the most beneficial aspect of a peripatetic approach to sermon prep. On many occasions, I have been working through a passage in dialogue with friends only to have them offer some potent applications of the text to the congregation. Their own pastoral experience bolsters their ability to do this naturally. Most of the men with whom I dialogue during my preparation are constantly thinking of their own congregations and how they can apply the passage to the needs of the flock. When they begin to help me work through a passage, they automatically offer applications that they would make to their own congregants.
5. A more articulate delivery of the exposition.
Finally, I have personally benefited from the collective, dialogical approach to sermon preparation in the area of concise, potent verbal communication of truth. The way in which we articulate truth is nearly as important as the truth we are wishing to articulate from God's word. We have to work at putting things into clear, simply and direct ways (sometimes even with a catchy or punchy wording) in order to better convey that which we are conveying. The Puritan pastors, such as Thomas Watson, were masters at putting truth in short summarily memorable ways. When we articulate an idea to a friend for feedback in the process of our sermon preparation, we are--whether we know it or not--inviting them to help us repackage how we say what we are wanting to say.
There are many other benefits that we can accrue from engaging in an intentional peripatetic approach to sermon prep. However, these should suffice to encourage other ministers to find thoughtful and gifts friends in ministry in order to seek out their assistance in your own ministerial labors.