Letters To My Students, Volume 1, On Preaching, A Review

“As we do, the first thing to remember is that, when it comes to biblical interpretation, context is king. Every first-year seminarian has been taught this lesson, and rightly so. You cannot accurately interpret a text, much less rightly preach it, unless you consider its context.” (p.57).

Jason K. Allen, President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, has written not just a gem of a work in his recently published “Letter To My Students, Volume 1 On Preaching”, it’s an outright goldmine for preachers of all ages and levels of experience. Dr. Allen, who is an avid basketball player (and I think is the only seminary president that can dunk a basketball) brings the reader back to the fundamentals. In sports, the mastering the fundamentals helps bring ease to the more technical part of the game; in the same manner, the preacher must master the fundamentals of sermon preparation and delivery. The quote above, regarding context, is one of the most basic fundamentals of sermon preparation and preaching. If someone falls away from the context of a passage, the preaching, and through that, the church, will suffer. Fundamentals matter. Fundamentals must be learned, practiced, and (as close as we can) mastered.

Certainty In Your Calling

Dr. Allen breaks the book into three sections: Preparing to be a Preacher, Preparing your sermon, and Growing in your preaching. He writes not only to pastors, but also to those who aspire to be a pastor and green pastors alongside those very seasoned, veteran pastors. He begins with one having “Certainty in Your Calling”, and moves on from there, steps to take and read about and know before one really starts preaching. As I read through the first seven chapters of the book, I really began to wish he had published this book and sent me a copy sometime in early to mid 2017, before I began my journey of preaching pulpit supply, eventually leading to the pastorate I am at now. However, with that said, I am greatly encouraged and edified by Dr. Allen’s work.

Preparing Your Sermon

He continues on to “Preparing Your Sermon”, with chapters eight through thirteen, addressing the process of sermon preparation, covering every aspect of the process. While everyone does sermon preparation differently, we must remember that these aren’t rock-solid steps that one person must take in order to produce a good sermon. These are the fundamentals that everyone does need to incorporate into their preparation time each and every week. Honestly, this section would do well for anyone in ministry, not just pastors. Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, para-church ministries, and so many others would benefit from this work, as there is alway some sort of sermon/lesson/etc. preparation going on in ministry. This book is amazing.

Growing In Your Preaching

As Christians, we are called to be everlasting students, students of God’s Word. Since pastors spend much time in the Word and proclaiming the Word, we are especially sensitive to growing in His Word. So, we must also grow in our preaching. Chapters fourteen through twenty cover a range of topics, from culture to maturity and ranting to persevering, pointing out the obvious: We must grow in our preaching. I was once told (or read somewhere, I don’t remember which) that a pastor’s first 200 sermons will be bad (not ineffective, just bad), and it’s through that time the pastor grows and grows. The point must be made, however, that a true student and minister of the Word will always be growing in the area of preaching/teaching Scripture. I was recently told by a member of the church that my preaching gets better and better every Sunday (I’ve been pastor here since December 2019), and that she really feels God’s hand is upon my when I preach. I nearly cried, but I praise Him because it’s affirmation that I am growing, something I strive to, and so should anyone and everyone who reads Dr. Allen’s “Letters To My Students”.

In Conclusion…

In conclusion, this is a book that I plan on buying many copies of and giving them to everyone I may mentor/disciple and have them read. This is a valuable resource that is going to be on my shelf of books to read at least once a year. I hope you do the same. I am thoroughly enjoying reading through this a second time, taking stock of my methodology and where the basics of sermon preparation and delivery, and everything else, fit into the process. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, as it is a masterpiece for up and coming preachers, veteran preachers, and everyone in between.