Why Johnny Can’t Preach (T. David Gordon)

Am I Johnny?  Hopefully not.  Maybe I am.  Even if I’m not Johnny I need to think through the message of ‘Why Johnny Can’t Preach’ just as much as the person who is Johnny.  This book is written by a man who thought this might be his last message and has one simple aim, better preaching!


T. David Gordon is passionate about good preaching.  Unfortunately there is lots of bad preaching taking place in pulpits.  So this short book ‘Why Johnny Can’t Preach’ is his appeal to preachers to do something about it.  And it’s a great book, one of the best that I’ve read this year. 

The book begins by pointing to some reasons why much preaching today is so poor.  Some of the reasons he gives for this is the absence of Dabney’s ‘Cardinal Requisites’, sermons are too long as measured in minutes-beyond-interest of the hearers, ministers are resistant to annual reviews, and because of changes in the dominant media. 

Two areas he then focuses on are how the changes in media have affected the way that preachers read (chapter 2) and write (chapter 3).  

He says that people now read for information and content without an appreciation for how it has been written.  The pace of television and other electronic media puts in danger, close reading of the texts and an ability to apprehend what is really significant.  The effect of this is seen in sermons which lack a close reading of the text and which focus on trivial matters. 

Also he says that speaking to people without seeing them (talking on the phone) has lead to preachers becomes less skilled at reading people’s reactions when they preach.  Sermons are not as carefully composed as they once were because when we speak on the phone we say more words without the unity, order and movement we have when writing a letter. 

The points about reading and writing he makes are helpful but it’s chapter 4 where he really nails the reason why preaching is poor.  The problem he says is that the point of so many sermons isn’t worth making.  The focus of the sermon should be the person, character and work of Christ but this is absent in much of the preaching today.  This is something I need to continually remind myself as I prepare to preach, and his reference to Chapell’s ‘fallen-condition-focus’ is helpful in encouraging me to do this. 

But the situation is not hopeless and in final chapter he suggests things that preachers can do to improve their preaching.  There are ideas on how to improve your reading and writing, the encouragement to make time to reflect on what is significant and to have your sermons reviewed.  Ultimately though, the way to improve preaching is for preacher to exalt Christ from their pulpits. 

I would definitely recommend ‘Why Johnny Can’t Preach’.  He makes load of great points which are worth reflecting on further.  

Why Johnny Can’t Preach is available to buy HERE.  But before you go to Amazon, get in touch with Jonathan Carswell at 10ofthose.com and see if he can do you a good deal on it.

Tim Keller on Writing a Sermon

Tim Keller’s answer to the question ‘How do you write a sermon?’

“So, two weeks ahead I sit down with the text of the passage of the Bible I’m going to preach on and I spent about four hours figuring out what I think the outline of that text is, the meaning of the text, I need to look up what the commentators think about, maybe problematic verses, and I come up with an outline and a basic, you might say an exegesis or an exposition of the passage itself.  I write this up and I send it to my musicians, we’re going to be putting it in a bulletin and then they’re going to be choosing music for it.  I send it to other preachers who some of them are going to be preaching sermons on the same text.  Then, three days before, I sit down with this outline and I spend another four hours turning the bible study into a sermon and they’re not the same thing.  Bible study is more abstract, what does the text say.  The sermon is more life related, what does this mean to me.  So I spend four hours two weeks ahead on the text.  I spend four hours turning it into a life-related sermon and that’s usually on the Friday before.  And then on Saturday, I spend another six hours on it just trying to make it shorter, because it’s always too long and so I make it shorter, make it shorter, make it shorter, make it shorter.  So I spend about 14 to 16 hours a week writing a sermon and I spend all day preaching it because I speak four times on a Sunday.  And so I actually put in about 25 hours a week into producing and delivering one public speaking presentation before I do anything else in my job.”

(from Big Think)

Seven blessings of consecutive expository preaching

Seven blessings of consecutive expository preaching

  1. Consecutive expository preaching safeguards God’s agenda against being hijacked by ours.
  2. Consecutive expository preaching makes it harder for us to abuse the Bible by reading it out of context.
  3. Consecutive expository preaching dilutes the selectivity of the preacher.
  4. Consecutive expository preaching keeps the content of the sermon fresh and surprising.
  5. Consecutive expository preaching makes for variety in style.
  6. Consecutive expository preaching models good nourishing Bible reading for the ordinary Christian.
  7. Consecutive expository preaching helps us preach the whole Christ from the whole of Scripture.

 (Christopher Ash, The Priority of Preaching)

Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons (Christopher Ash)

Listening to a sermon is not simply turning up to church, staring at the preacher, then going home.  Listening to a sermon is much more than that as Christopher Ash’s little book ‘Listen Up!’ explains. 


Listen Up! is a practical guide to listening to sermons which by its price (£1.50), length (31 pages), presentation (colourful), and style (very easy to read) is accessible to all, from the youth group to the old people’s work. 

The majority of book looks at what Ash has called seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening (basically seven steps to listening to a sermon).  Each of the seven ingredients begins with an example of a person doing and not doing this step, an explanation of what it means and then some practical steps to take in order to do it.  

Ash then goes on to consider how to listen to bad sermons whether they be dull, biblically inadequate, or heretical before finishing with seven suggestions for encouraging good preaching. 

Throughout the book Ash reminds us that the reason we need to listen properly is so that through His Word, God will make us more and more like Christ.  That’s surely a reason to want to find out how to do this.  Or as Ash writes in the introduction that “the way we listen [to sermons] is a life or death business…it can damage your health or take you closer to final rescue.” 

This is a book for everyone in the congregation to read.  Why not make it the church’s book of month/term?  I think it would also be good to work through with young people especially those who say they are struggling with listening to the sermon. 

Listen Up! is available to buy HERE

Also check out the great deal on this book at 10ofthose.com HERE.

Seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening

Seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening: 

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice! 

(Christopher Ash, Listen Up!)

Discoveries from Robert Murray McCheyne’s life

Some helpful discoveries from Robert Murray McCheyne’s life gleaned from ‘Travel with Robert Murray McCheyne’

Quiet Time: In the mornings, after reading the Scriptures, he prayed in response to them, and engaged in intercession for his flock and friends. 

Biographies: McCheyne read biographies to discover and apply the principles of their godly lives to his own life. 

Study: “All the subjects he studied fed his mind and broadened his horizons.  Later they provided a rich source of illustrations in his preaching.” 

Sermon Notes: He took copious notes of sermons and then wrote them up on a Sunday evening. 

Key for McCheyne’s ministry: Excellent theological teaching, stimulating spiritual fellowship with one’s peers, preachers who provide good role models, and hands-on experience of Christian service. 

Sermon Preparation: Thorough exegesis, looking up the meaning of each word.  Then followed a paraphrase of the verse or passage in his own words.  Pages of notes and observations followed as he pondered the material.  If sermons by others on the passage were available he would read them.  Then he would draw out 3 or 4 main points before writing a full and complete outline.  McCheyne aimed at simple and logical statements. 

Sermon Delivery: He tailored the length of his sermons to the congregation he was preaching to. 

Public Prayers: By his public prayers he unconsciously taught his people how to pray. 

Visiting: McCheyne aimed at visiting between 12 to 15 families in the parish each day he went out on his calls (at one time up to 20).  At visits he gave an invitation to gather in the evening for a meeting.  In addition to this he also visited the dying, injured and ill.  He kept note books recording his visits. 

Letter Writing: Wrote letters for spiritual and pastoral purposes.

Listen to online sermons responsibly

How to listen to sermons in a way that will help us to grow as Christians:

  • Vary your diet of preachers.
  • Be wary of comparing the online preacher to your own God-given pastor.
  • Test everything.  Listen with your Bible open.
  • Don’t let them replace reading your Bible.
  • Listen to sermons in order to put the word into practice. 

(Nathan Walter, iPod, iSermon, iRighteous?)

5 Dangers of iPod Sermon Listening

5 Dangers of iPod Sermon Listening:

  • It’s disconnected from the gospel relationship of pastor and congregation.
  • It’s aimed at a particular group of preaching.
  • It could encourage guru-ism.
  • It may encourage discontent with the regular preachers and teachers that God has given us.
  • Some have replaced personal Bible reading with listening to sermons.

(Nathan Walter, iPod, iSermon, iRighteous?)