The past year neither set records for the number of books published on the topic of preaching, nor was it as strong a year as some. However, there were a few outstanding books on preaching that warrant serious attention.
Our book of the year for 2012—a selection that will surprise some—is Andy Stanley’s Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Zondervan). As we said in last month’s review: “Deep & Wide is that rare book in which a successful church leader talks about how it all happened—including the flaws—and unpacks the process for others to understand. No matter what your approach to ministry, it is a book that will benefit any pastor.”
Andy Stanley has become one of the most influential church leaders of our day, particularly in the lives of younger pastors and church planters. His style is innovative, not traditional; his approach would (and probably should) not match that of most pastors. However, he is a gifted communicator and a visionary church leader; and what he shares in Deep & Wide are insights that will benefit any church leader. Here are a few excerpts from our initial review of the book:
“Andy Stanley is not your typical church planter. He was born into the home of a successful pastor Charles Stanley, who has served for many years as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, and is known nationally for his ‘In Touch’ TV program. In a major section of the book, Andy talks about growing up in that home, learning about the church and leadership by observing his father. His own entry into ministry was through his father’s church, where he began to demonstrate significant gifts as a communicator.
“The balance of the book describes a philosophy and methodology for creating a church that will attract and impact unchurched people. At the core of the entire book is Stanley’s conviction that most churches have been designed to be comfortable for church people, when the church was created as a vehicle to reach and engage those outside the church.”
He notes, “It’s a shame so many churches are married to a designed-by-Christians-for-Christians-only culture, a culture in which they talk about the Great Commission and sing songs about the Great Commission but refuse to reorganize their churches around the Great Commission. These are often the same churches where members talk about grace, sing about how amazing it is, but create graceless cultures where only those who play by the rules feel welcome.”
Readers of this publication will find the chapter on “Double-Barrel Preaching” to be thought-provoking. Andy notes, “The key to successfully engaging unchurched people in a weekend message has more to do with your approach and your presentation than your content.” Countless preachers, he says, undermine their own purpose by the way they present their message.
“Stanley’s strategic approach to preaching is to “entice the audience to follow me into one passage of Scripture with the promise that the text is either going to answer a question they’ve been asking, solve a mystery they’ve been puzzled over, or resolve a tension they’ve been carrying. Once we are in the text, I do my best to let it speak for itself. I go slowly. I highlight words. I leverage the drama. I roll ’em around in the text till it gets all over them. I bring my energy to a text, and I do my best to uncover the energy in the text. Once they are thoroughly embroiled with the passage, I take one carefully crafted statement that emerges from the point of the text and do everything in my power to make it stick.”
“This is an extremely important book for church leaders, as one pastor openly shares how his church is reaching and engaging unchurched people in today’s culture. No matter what your church model or approach, if reaching people is your goal, you need to read this book.
Among some of the past year’s other outstanding books on preaching:
Preach: Theology Meets Practice (B&H Publishing) by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert is written by a well-known pastor in combination with one of his former students (also now a pastor). Both are committed to the centrality of biblical preaching in the church. The book is divided into three major sections. The first, “Theology,” deals with the biblical and theological foundations of preaching. The second, “Practice,” offers a survey of the work of the preacher in dealing with the tasks of study, sermon development and sermon delivery. The final section includes two sermon manuscripts, one from each author. Preach is a well-written volume that makes a powerful case for preaching that is rooted in and proclaims the truth of God’s Word.
In Preaching Essentials: A Practical Guide (Wesleyan Publishing House), Lenny Luchetti offers interesting and practical insights on a variety of preaching topics. The 42 brief chapters range from theological concerns to practical issues such as sermon length, exegesis, mind mapping, sermon planning, weddings and funerals and much more. Preachers will find much of interest in this volume.
Chuck Swindoll is one of the most engaging communicators among today’s church leaders, and in his new book Saying It Well: Touching Others with Your Words (FaithWords), he offers valuable insights to help preachers and other Christian leaders enhance their own communication skills. The stories he tells primarily emerge from his own years of pastoral ministry and will resonate with preachers. In many ways, it is as much a book about pastoral ministry as about speaking. Saying It Well is part preaching text and part memoir, and both parts will be valued by preachers and other church leaders who draw on this valuable book in becoming more effective communicators of biblical truth.
Inspirational Preaching (Hendrickson), edited by Craig Brian Larson, is an excellent collection of essays on various preaching issues, drawn from previous contributions to PreachingToday.com. The book includes an outstanding series of contributors, including John Piper, Haddon Robinson, John Ortberg, Michael Quicke, Mark Batterson and others.
In Rewiring Your Preaching: How the Brain Processes Sermons (IVP), psychologist and pastor Richard H. Cox guides readers to an understanding of how the brain works and how an understanding of that process can help preachers be more effective. It is a fascinating combination of theology and neuroscience that helps preachers rethink how we can use new discoveries about the brain to communicate divine truth.