Dr. Ernest Pickering was a great preacher. How do I know that? First, many loved to hear him teach the Word of God. Second, I can remember almost every message I ever heard him preach.
One time I asked Dr. Pickering about his personal message preparation. He was very honest with me. After the visit, I began to follow his pattern. Here it is:
1. He would first read the passage 15-25 times and then sit and meditate on the passage. He said that we are too soon to dive into the passage, seeking to develop the message.
2. He would then let the passage “come to him.” That means that if there was any natural breakdown or progression in the passage that jumped out at him, he would note that.
3. He would check any words in their original language to be sure he was correct in their usage. (Of course, Doc Pickering was a brilliant man and probably didn’t need too much help in this area.)
4. I asked him about outlines. His answer was, “Only preachers like three point outlines.”
5. I asked him about commentaries. His answer was that he might check what others say but only after he had prepared his message.
I found this fascinating. Let me add some of my own observations to this matter of preparing and presenting messages.
1. Early in my ministry life, I spent too much time in commentaries and not enough in letting the message penetrate my own soul.
2. Because some of my mentors used alliteration, I copied them, and I spent too much time trying to find the right word. This was foolish of me, and I know many lay people have laughed or maybe cried, knowing that the preacher was struggling to find the right word JUST TO ALLITERATE. Don’t waste your time on it.
3. The use of outlines is to keep the preacher on course. Personally, I don’t let the listeners know if I am using an outline any more. Why?
a. If you tell them you have three or four points, you have now let the “cat out of the bag” on how long you will be. Every listener loves to hear, “Now for my last point.” Why set yourself up for having people “check out” until you get to the finish?
b. I really want them to get “one point.” Every message should have only one idea. Of course in homiletics, they teach you this. The outline has a subpoint under the one idea, each point building on the other to support the one idea. But how many people listening to the message know that or understand that? I doubt many.
c. By the way, it is interesting to read the messages of Spurgeon, who did do an outline, but his points were whole sentences or more.
4. I was raised in our Regular Baptist circles, and what I have observed by traveling the country for Baptist Church Planters is that many of the preachers in our pulpits have a good understanding of the Bible and know how to develop the text but have little passion or fire in presenting it. I have wondered if this is the result of learning from professors that have knowledge but have not had to present their knowledge so that listeners can understand it and with passion to cause them to want to implement the truth into their own lives. In the past century, many of the Bible institutes were started by evangelists or renowned preachers. The model for the students was a man of God on fire. Many of these old time preachers (I remember them well) had fire in their bones. Perhaps their instruction was weaker than what students have today, but their commitment to the Word of God and their passion to persuade men (something Paul the apostle sought to do) was commendable. MY CONCLUSION IS THIS. DR. PICKERING WAS ONTO SOMETHING WHEN HE SAID, “READ THE TEXT AND LET IT STIR YOUR HEART BEFORE YOU DEVELOP A MESSAGE FROM IT.”
I hope this helps you as you move forward in your ministry for the Lord and to the people.