What is the cure for man-centered preaching in Myanmar?


Dear friends and partners,

Man-centered preaching scratches itching ears and fits the spirit of our narcissistic age. It is the theological equivalent of a “selfie”!

What this world needs is not an exalted view of itself (which causes so many problems to begin with), but an exalted view of Christ who will save us from our sinful selves. That is why Paul could write in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Tui DawnYe Zaw, a Burmese pastor and professor at the Reformed Theological College of Myanmar, understands this thanks to the Training National Trainers (TNT) program.Ye Zaw has taken what he learned in TNT and has reshaped his whole life and ministry around training others to exalt Jesus Christ while preaching the Bible.

Consider the wide-ranging impact Ye Zaw is having with God’s Word:

  • In his ministry as professor,Ye Zaw is training his students to produce Christ-centered sermons.
  • Another group of pastors in the Shan State had been preaching “their own ideas—whatever comes into their head” due to a lack of training, he started regularly traveling to train them in Christ-centered expository preaching.
  • Over on the other side of the country, Ye Zaw teaches students from his own denomination as well as several other denominations including Baptists and Assemblies of God pastors.

Ye Zaw shares that his goal for all of the training is the same: “Christ-centered textual preaching—the opposite of man-centered preaching.”

God is using Ye Zaw to strengthen pulpits and churches ­all across Myanmar with the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise God! Would you join us in praying that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored in Myanmar (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

Craig ParroIn grateful partnership,

Craig Parro



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40 Quotes from The Challenge of Preaching by John Stott

Below are an assortment of quotes from the abridgement of John Stott’s Between Two Worlds titled The Challenge of Preaching. In the book and many of the quotes below, Stott captures the foundation and heart of expository preaching.

John Stott Quotes from The Challenge of Preaching[Prayer of John Stott before preaching]:
Heavenly Father, we bow in your presence.
May your word be our rule,
Your Spirit our teacher,
And your greater glory our supreme concern.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. (x)

Preaching is indispensable to Christianity because Christianity is based on the truth that God chose to use words to reveal himself to humanity. (1)

All worship is an intelligent and loving response to the revelation of God. Our worship is poor because our knowledge of God is poor; our knowledge of God is poor because our preaching is poor. But when the word of God is expounded in all its fullness, and the congregation begins to glimpse the glory of the living God, they bow down in solemn awe. It is preaching which accomplishes this. That is why preaching is unique and irreplaceable. (9)

The secret of preaching is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions. (12)

There are those who emphasize the historical activity of God but deny that he has spoken. They argue that God revealed himself  in deeds, not words. They insist that the redemption is the only revelation. But this is false. Scripture affirms that God has spoken both through historical deeds and through explanatory words, and that the two belong together. Even the climax of God’s self-revelation, when the Word became flesh, would have remained incomprehensible if Christ had not spoken and his apostles had not recorded and interpreted his words. (14)

We who recognize the authority of Scripture should be the most conscientious preachers. (15-16)

Some preachers love to speak about the mighty acts of God but present only their own interpretation of them. Others try to stick to God’s word but are dull because they have lost the excitement of what God has done in Christ. The true preacher enthusiastically and faithfully conveys both. (16)

We [preachers] are not just miners extracting ore and leaving the landscape desolate. We are skilled mapmakers, carefully observing the landscape of the text so that we can help our listeners see all its features and follow the paths and highways God has placed there. We often speak about ideas to our listeners—just as the Bible regularly does. But we should try to convey to our listeners as much of the tone and feeling, of the impressions and aims of the text as possible. (17)

Spurgeon urged pastors to “so pray and so preach that, if there are no conversions, you will be astonished, amazed and broken-hearted.” (21)

The church is the creation of God by his word and is dependent on his word. (21)

The Old Testament consistently indicates that the welfare of God’s people depends on their listening to his voice, believing his promises and obeying his commands. The health of the church in the New Testament also depended on their attentiveness to God’s Word. (21)

Only by humble and obedient listening to his voice can the church grow to maturity, serve the world and glorify our Lord. (22)

A low level of Christian living is due, more than anything else, to a low level of Christian preaching. If the church is to flourish again, there is a need for faithful, powerful, biblical preaching. God still urges his people to listen and his preachers to proclaim his word. (22)

All true Christian preaching should be expository…The expositor opens what seems to be closed, makes plain what is confusing, unravels what is knotted, and unfolds what is tightly packed. (25)

Just as a bridge makes it possible for traffic to flow from one side of a river or ravine to another, so our preaching must make it possible for God’s revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures and into the lives of men and women today. Both ends of our bridges must be firmly rooted if we are to be able to show that Christianity is still relevant today. (31-33)

[When engaging potentially polluting aspects of culture like theatre or cinema] It must be clear that we are not cooperating with the spirit of the age but trying to understand it so that our preaching can be relevant. (46)

We have to study both the ancient text and the present scene, both Scripture and culture, both the word and the world. It is a huge task, demanding a lifetime of study. (47)

…if we look back at the great men and women of God, we shall find that their lives were disciplined, allowing much time for prayer and study. So we need constantly to repent and renew our determination to discipline our lives and our schedules. Only a constantly fresh vision of Christ and of his commission can rescue us from laziness and keep our priorities straight. Then we shall make time to read and think, and our preaching will be fresh, faithful and relevant, yet simple enough for people to understand. (50)

The best sermons we ever preach to others are those we have first preached to ourselves. (54)The best sermons we ever preach to others are those we have first preached to ourselves. —John Stott

A sermon, unlike a lecture, should convey only one major message. Students are expected to take notes because lecturers provide so much information during the class. A sermon, however, is quite different. As a living word from God to his people, it should make its impact on them then and there. (58)

“No sermon is ready for preaching…until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting and the most fruitful labor in my study…I do not think any sermon ought to be preached, or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.” —J.H. Jowett (59)

An unstructured sermon is like a jellyfish, all flesh and no bones. However, a sermon whose structure is too noticeable is like a skeleton, all bones and no flesh. Neither jellyfish nor skeletons make good sermons! (60)

The golden rule for sermon outlines is that each text must be allowed to supply its own structure. The skilful expositor allows the text to open itself up before our eyes, like a rose unfolding to the morning sun and displaying its previously hidden beauty. (61)

Every preacher must be constantly on the lookout for illustrations. Not that we read books and listen to people only to collect sermon material! Yet we would be wise to write down ideas which come to us, as well as the best quotations from every book we read. (65)

It is on our knees before the Lord that we can make the message our own, possess or repossess it until it possesses us. (73)

The whole process of sermon preparation, from beginning to end, was excellently summed up by an African American preacher who said, “First I reads myself full, next I thinks myself clear, next I prays myself hot, and then I let go.” (73)

Preachers must mean what they say in the pulpit, and must practice what they preach when out of it. (75)

Preachers must mean what they say in the pulpit, and must practice what they preach when out of it. —John Stott

Nobody can be a good pastor or teacher of others who is not first a good servant of Jesus Christ. (77)

One of the chief proofs of genuineness is the willingness to suffer for what we believe. The faithfulness of the true servant of God is proved when opposition comes (2 Cor. 6:4, 5). Paul even spoke of his sufferings as his credentials or qualifications (2 Cor. 11:21-33; 1 Thess. 2:1-4; 2 Tim. 3:10-12). (79)

Earnestness goes one step beyond sincerity. To be sincere is to mean what we say and to do what we say; to be earnest is also to feel what we say. Earnestness is the deep feeling essential to preaching. (80)

The New Testament makes it clear that combining the mind and the heart, the rational and the emotional, can bring our listeners to faith and obedience. (82)

Dr. Campbell Morgan, minister of Westminster Chapel, London, told his students of three essentials of a sermon: truth, clarity, and passion. (83)

Humor [in the pulpit] has to be used wisely at the right place and the right time. (85)

The Christian pilgrimage begins with bowed head and bent knee at the cross; there is no other way into the kingdom of God. (90)

Like John Newton, the converted slave-trader, we must aim “to break a hard heart and to heal a broken heart.” (92)

It is possible to seem humble while constantly longing for praise. At the very moment we are glorifying Christ, we can actually be looking for our own glory. (94)

Christian preachers are to be neither inventors of new doctrines nor editors who delete old doctrines. Rather, they are to be stewards, faithfully handling out scriptural truths to God’s household. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. (96)

The most moving experience a preacher can ever have is when, in the middle of the sermon, a strange hush descends upon the congregation. The sleepers have woken up, the coughers have stopped coughing, and the fidgeters are sitting still. No eyes or minds are wandering. Everybody is listening, but not to the preacher. The preacher is forgotten, and the people are face to face with the living God, listening to his still, small voice. (97)

Related Posts:

Preaching to Make the Bible User Friendly

Preaching in a Way that Trains Bible Readers

Have you ever listened to a sermon and thought, “Wow, I could never get as much from that Scripture text as he did”—as if the preacher was a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat?

I have.

When the preacher is biblically faithful, this can be a beautiful demonstration of God gifting the church with shepherds and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). It may also expose a flaw: the preacher may not be training his flock how to read the Bible through his preaching.

Preachers need to see the preaching event as a key moment in church life that makes the Bible more “user friendly” for congregants. This will deepen their own time in the Word, growing them as disciples and equipping them for ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Failing to do this will hinder spiritual growth by hindering Bible engagement, and could also leave congregants amazed at their preacher’s vast knowledge instead of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address the importance of this in The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple Making:

In his preaching, a pastor sounds the tuning fork so that the whole orchestra knows in what key to play. He teaches and guards the sound deposit of the gospel so that all may know it clearly and thoroughly (for how else will they speak it?). He shows them not only what the Bible says, but how they can read and speak that truth for themselves. He constantly teaches the sound doctrinal framework that shapes the Bible reading and speaking of the whole congregation. (117)

What does this equipping look like in practice?

This way of thinking doesn’t require an extra twenty minutes of specialized instruction in each sermon.

What it does require is first understanding the text deeply and knowing how God wants to use it to shepherd hearts (often called the transformational intent of the passage). We will also want to know the challenges our congregants face approaching Scripture so we can properly address them (i.e. does biblical poetry confuse them?). Lastly, we will want to model faithful biblical interpretation by using basic hermeneutical principles to explain our thought process and conclusions. Below are several practical suggestions of how to implement this.

Practical Suggestions:

  • Remind listeners the most important question to ask when reading the Bible: What does the text actually say?
  • Walk through the historical, literary, and biblical context of the passage.
  • Explain how to approach the biblical genre that your text comes from.
  • Explain how the individual parts of your text make up the big idea of the text.
  • Make sure sermons are not a mere oration on the subject that doesn’t flow from the text or so detail-focused you lose the text’s big idea.
  • Regularly point back to the book’s main ideas and explain how your text functions in light of the whole.
  • At the start of a new sermon series through one book of Scripture, encourage your people to read through the whole book in one sitting. You could also preach an overview sermon for a book before beginning a new series on it.
  • Fight the temptation to look to another text of Scripture before you stick your nose deep in the one you’re studying.
  • Note connecting words and their functions. How does the use of words like “therefore”, “for”, “in order that”, “then”, “now” help the author communicate his main point?
  • Lead listeners with thoughtful questions that direct them to the text’s authorial intent.
  • Help the text’s surprises jump out at your listeners.
  • Model asking good questions that uncover the author’s transformative intent. “You might notice in verse two, Paul says such-and-such. Now why would he say that here? Let’s look at verse three for the answer.”
  • Zoom out of your text to see its place in the context of redemptive history.
  • Explain biblical theological themes and how your text points to Christ.
  • Encourage your congregation to underline repeated words or ideas in their Bibles.
  • Have application undergird your teaching as a reminder that God means for Scripture to change our lives.
  • When explaining a hard to understand text, remind listeners that Scripture is its own best interpreter, and model how you think through the text.
  • Recommend and give away books that model faithful Bible interpretation.
  • Offer Bible reading classes/lessons or read the Bible more one-to-one with congregants.
  • Encourage equipped members to minister by regularly reading the Bible with others.

Just like people are more likely to embrace technology that is user-friendly, peppering your preaching with these suggestions over time will help your people better engage the Bible, which will nourish their faith, grow them in holiness, and spur them on to bear fruit.

And as that happens, there will be less magic tricks and exaltation of the preacher in favor of more “wow!” comments where they should be directed: God and His glory as revealed to us in Scripture.