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:

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).
In grateful partnership,

Craig Parro

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How to Find the Big Idea of a Book of the Bible


Want clarity in your preaching? Finding the Big Idea of a passage or biblical book is one helpful tool for doing just that. That’s why we teach it in the Training National Trainers program.

This clarity should make others take notice—like the wife of one Indonesian TNTer. She said this about her husband’s improved clarity in preaching:

“Even though you are only preaching a ten or twenty minute sermon [now], the message is very clear. Before TNT, you could preach for 30 minutes to an hour, and the congregation still didn’t understand anything!”

Finding the Big Idea of a book helps us see the focal point around which all of the ideas in the book are organized. It acknowledges that the writer had a message he was trying to communicate through the whole book, not just different ideas in separate passages.

Sweating through this exercise encourages greater fidelity in communicating what God is saying through His Word. What He says will be more clear to us, and we will be less prone to teach our own thoughts and ideas.

How Do We Find the Big Idea of a Book?

Finding the Big Idea of a book is hard work and a long process of working through a text with our hermeneutical principles in mind.

1. Read through the book several times.

There are no shortcuts for the hard work of Bible study. This can’t be a quick surface-level skim, but a deep and curious read.

2. Ask a lot of questions.

Try to understand the questions the book is deliberately raising and answering. We must move beyond the questions we have to the questions that the text is concerned to answer. The questions the text is raising and answering are the important ones for determining the meaning and the Big Idea.

The four questions below will help you discover what the author is communicating:

  • What does the author say?
  • How does the author say it?
  • Why does he say it here? Why in this way?
  • What is surprising about the text?

See more good questions under the heading: Asking Good Questions.

3. Look for clues to the Big Idea in the way the book begins and ends.

Often a writer introduces his reason for writing as he opens the book and comes back to it as he closes. Observing the way a book begins and ends will usually share themes that can be traced through the entire book.

At this point, it is vital to look for clues for the big idea, which is not the same as having a one-sentence Big Idea. That point will come, but there are a few more steps to take first.

4. Break the book into smaller sections and try to summarize what those sections are about.

This step finds the book’s structure and writes a big idea for each major part.

Looking for the structure of a book involves:

  1. the parts of a passage – the units of thought that contain the major ideas of the passage
  2. the connections of thought that hold the sections and major ideas of the passage together

5. Ask: What are the connections of thought between the major ideas of each section of the book?

Understanding how each section relates to each other will help us to see what the author is getting at in the book’s overall message.

6. Look for patterns, like the repetition of key words and ideas.

The repetition of key words and ideas shows us what is important to the author. Contrasts and progressions also aid our understanding of the book and may play a key role in arriving at the Big Idea.

7. Capture the Big Idea by stating it as one complete sentence.

This step pulls all of your thoughts together into one clear sentence. In order to do that, ask two questions:

  • What is this book talking about?
  • What is it saying about what it’s talking about?

Combining the answers to those two questions will help us state the Big Idea.

Below is merely an example seeking to demonstrate this idea and not to be considered the “right answer.” (Perhaps you can come up with a better Big Idea for 2 Timothy.)

What’s 2 Timothy talking about?
Answer: Enduring in ministry

What’s it saying about enduring in ministry?
Answer: That it depends on God’s grace and power.

Big Idea: 2 Timothy is saying that we should depend on God’s grace and power in order to endure in ministry.

How Should We Use the Big Idea of a Book?

  • Work hard to understand how a passage in a book connects to the Big Idea of the book.
  • Allow the Big Idea of the book to shape the message we preach or teach.
  • When preaching, draw attention to the Big Idea regularly. That will bring clarity and power to our preaching.
  • It will also stay with many people as they read the book on their own in the future.

May God richly bless your study of His life-giving Word!

For information on Leadership Resources’ ministry training pastors, learn more about the Fellowship of the Word (US) or Training National Trainers (worldwide) programs.

This post has been adapted from a previous version of our Dig & Discover Hermeneutical Principles Booklet. You can download our latest version in multiple languages.

“Powerfully Effective”—An Outsider’s Perspective on TNT Training in Central Asia

agc-logoMike Erwin, a friend of the ministry and former chairman of deacons at Anchorage Grace Church in Anchorage, Alaska, traveled with us to observe our pastoral training in an undisclosed country near Central Asia.

Here is a glimpse into his experience:

I’m so impressed by LRI’s leadership vision—to empower and support local men to evangelically share the Good News through preaching, teaching and mentoring new pastors in their home country and language. Raising up talent in-country, rather than external/traveling pastors strikes me as powerfully effective. These local pastors live their faith under challenging circumstances so unlike what we’ve considered normal in America.

This workshop provided teaching, training, and encouragement to local pastors with little or no access to seminary or classroom training in their home country. Not only did they receive in-depth Gospel training, but techniques to determine the broader context and message in scripture.

What next struck me is the commitment of local pastors attending the workshop. Several came knowing their homes, churches or families could be at risk during their absence. Many expect persecution… Yet all came with joyful hearts, engaging fully in the workshop, praising the Lord Most High, and enjoying the fellowship of Brothers.

LRI dutifully hosted this workshop on a tightly managed, well thought out budget. Expenses were minimized, nothing was extravagant, and the committed team overachieved on a shoestring budget. After attending the workshop I’m committed to financially support the LRI team and their mission.

—Mike Erwin
Former Chairman of Deacons at Anchorage Grace Church

Browse more testimonials from friends who have witnessed our work first hand.

You and your church can partner with Leadership Resources to train national pastors in expository preaching.

The Word, the Spirit, and How God Speaks to Us (John Woodhouse)

Leadership Resources’ ministry is built upon the fact that God speaks through His Spirit-carried Word.

Understanding the dynamics of this can be a bit tricky. Consider the following thoughts:

Evangelicals seem to spend a lot of time talking about ‘the word of God’. It is one of our catchcries. Are we mistaken in having this emphasis? What is the place of experience and the Spirit? Does ‘the word of God’ equal ‘the Bible’?

We have been greatly helped by the work of John Woodhouse, former principal of Moore Theological College.

Woodhouse’s work on the Word and Spirit is available in three formats:

1. Read articles from The Briefing (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

2. Buy the Brief Book from Matthias Media or on Amazon.

3. Listen to the conference audio below or download from The Proclamation Trust.

Description from Matthias Media:

“Evangelicals seem to spend a lot of time talking about ‘the word of God’. It is one of our catchcries. Are we mistaken in having this emphasis? What is the place of experience and the Spirit? Does ‘the word of God’ equal ‘the Bible’? In this stimulating Brief Book, John Woodhouse offers some fresh insights into what ‘God’s Word’ is, and what it means for the modern Christian.”

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