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)

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Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.