So my Assistant Pastor bought this for me last week with the quip: “Saw this and immediately thought of you.” He wasn’t laughing so much as I pushed him out of the nearest window when he wasn’t looking.
So, the book. First off, great title or what! I immediately liked the look of it just from that. If a book can hook you on the title alone then the publisher has done a great job. The downside of a tagline that promises to show us ‘how to preach God's word and keep people awake’ is that these guys better be good! Failure to deliver would be an epic fail. Based on the real-life biblical account of Acts 20, this book is only 8 chapters long and contains two helpful appendices at the end (obviously).
It is written by an Irishman (always a winner in my eyes) and an Aussie and it is clear from the off that, although they hold similar convictions, their approaches are somewhat different (the Irishman obviously being the wittier of the two). The strength of this book is its practical applications rather than helping us take apart biblical texts. That has been done often (and far better) by other great theological luminaries. However, I was particularly helped by understanding their process of taking notes early in the preparation process, and the timely reminder to wash everything in prayer. Both men advocate a full manuscript which I do already (because of my alarming propensity to forget what I want to say rather than from some biblical conviction). I am always hesitant to be prescriptive on this topic. My suggestion is, find what works best for you and stick to that. Some people like a full manuscript and some like notes. I don’t think there is a biblical imperative either way (nor is the book suggesting this).
The book’s real strength, in my humble opinion, is working through a couple of sermons and offering some (very gentle) critiques. 9Marks have a similar, more comprehensive, chapter in their book: “Preach (where Theology meets Practice)” where Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert have a (very constructive) go at one anotherss sermon. However, it was immensely helpful and, coupled with walking through sermon construction from start to finish, it offered illuminating insights and gave me pause for thought in my own preparation. Phil’s top ten tips checklist, for example, is a great little tool and one I shall be using in the future (as well as recommending to young preachers).
Any weaknesses? A couple of insignificant ones. I hate diagrams and the book comes with several confusing ones. I have looked at them for ages and I still can’t figure it out. I would suggest that somebody draw a picture for me but that wouldn’t help. Also, the figure of 23 minutes for a sermon was plucked out of the air. I don’t know where that comes from and they did admit that other preachers like Tim Keller could get away with it (but they did state most of us were not Tim Keller). My personal preference is 30–40 minutes, and I work in a scheme! People seem to hang in there. These minor (personal) quibbles did not even come close to spoiling, for me, what is a truly outstanding book. It is a must-read book for any preacher young or old. You must absolutely get hold of a copy. It will only aid your ministry. Thanks to these men for their contribution to the preaching of God’s Word.