“On Preaching and Listening” is the last in a five-part conversation with David Platt, one of the best-known young preachers among evangelicals and pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.
Preaching: If we were to come to a typical weekend service at Brook Hills to hear you preach, give us a sense of what that would be like. I know you’re an expositor, so you have a strong emphasis on the biblical text; but tell me what one of your sermons typically would be like.
Platt: I hope that it would be clear from start to finish. When I get up to preach, the Word is primary; the Word is driving this picture. I don’t say this to be cliché or trite, but I have nothing to bring to the table as the pastor before this people apart from His Word. My entire credibility, any authority I have to speak before them, is based on being tied to His Word. So I hope that if you were to come to Brook Hills, you would hear a Word-saturated sermon.
We would dive into the text, almost always one particular text. We’ll go all over the place to understand what this one text is saying as we look at this particular text in the context of biblical theology. I hope you would see the text as primary. I hope the sermon would lead you to love and enjoy more greatly the supremacy of Christ. This year I’m preaching on different texts each week that we have read through in the week prior, just to see how everything in redemptive history is pointing us to the greatness of Christ.
You’d be there a little while. The sermon would last about 55 minutes or an hour. I give our folks notes they can fill in as they walk through the text. My prayer is that in preaching they would not just see the wonder of the Word but would learn to study the Word in the nature of how I preach it.
I don’t use a ton of illustrations. I don’t feel like I have time sometimes. I probably could do a better job of this to be honest. I think it would be pretty heavy on explanation; and I think once we do end up at an explanation, it provides the platform for pointed application. So I want to do illustration and argumentation along the way that is going to help support that, but I want explanation to be primary.
Preaching: Do you primarily preach in series?
Platt: I do. This year is a little different because we’re walking through Scripture, so I’m preaching on different texts every week from where we’ve been reading this year; but even then, we’ve divided into different series based on different epics, so to speak, and redemptive history. Before that, I preached through James, Ruth, etc. I’ve done a good bit on addressing some issues in the church that I thought pastorally needed to be addressed.
We’ve walked through more topical series but with textual sermons. I preached a series on worship, but we were in one text each week. Each week we’d spend time in one text, look at what this text is saying, then how it forms my understanding of worship. So it wouldn’t be as much of a topical sermon as much as it would be a topical series with textual sermons.
Preaching: Typically how long do you spend preparing for a message? What does your preparation process look like?
Platt: I’ll readily admit that I’m a bit spoiled in this because I only preach one sermon a week. I know a lot of my friends who preach three, four sermons a week. Preparation time can’t look the same for that, but only having to preach one text a week gives me the liberty and the opportunity to spend between 20 and 25 hours—sometimes less, sometimes more—in the text during the week.
To start with, I’ll overview the process, reading through the text, wanting to internalize that text as I pray through it, as I let it penetrate my own heart. Then I begin to work with the various tools in my library, studying different facets of the background of words, phrases, movements and narrative; then working through from there, counter theories and that sort of thing and compiling all that together.
When it comes to the divisions of the sermon or movements in the sermon, my goal is to have an outline for the sermon by Thursday. Then I write from there; from the outline, I write a full manuscript over the course of Friday and Saturday; and on Sunday morning, I take the manuscript and put it into a document that I’ll take into the pulpit with me where I don’t have every single word but have pretty much everything I’m going to say—just kind of shorthand written out. I won’t take a full manuscript with me into the pulpit, but I will take a pretty extensive picture of notes with me into the pulpit.
Preaching: What are some of the most important things you’re learning about preaching these days?
Platt: I would say I’m learning first and foremost to trust the Word of God to do the work. As I look at what God is doing in my own life, as well as the lives of this church that He’s entrusted to me to lead, it is clear that only His Word can bring about transformation and life change. To see that His Word is good for conforming people to the image of Christ, for going into making radical changes in their lives, only the Word can do that—not my opinions, thoughts or ideas, but the power of the Word, the effect of the Word in that wisdom that is found in the Word.
As a young pastor, I’ve got so much to learn; but it’s such a great encouragement and source of confidence to know, “OK, I can try to chart out what to do next for this or that in the church; but if I let the Word lead, guide, direct—and even systematic study of the Word, whether it’s this year just walking through the entire Bible or as I anticipate what we’ll do next year, what vital book we might dive into next—just to know His Word is going to address what is needed in the context of the people I lead.
So a trust, a confidence in seeing the transformative effect of God’s Word, these are the main things the Lord is teaching me right now. He constantly is humbling me in His Word as pastor, and more importantly as a follower of Christ. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m like Solomon in First Kings. I’m really a child, and I don’t know how to carry out my duties, so I’m grateful for the sufficiency and power that’s found in His Word to be strengthened in the middle of my weakness.