Editor's Note: Today's post is a guest post from Dr Jonathan Pennington who is not only the author of Small Preaching but also the Associate Professor of Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He preaches regularly at Sojourn East in Louisville, Kentucky and has kindly taken the time to offer this final reflection for the current #LetsRead series.
What is God Saying?
By Jonathan Pennington
I am very thankful for the many readers of Small Preaching and the encouraging words I have received about how it has helped fellow labourers in the great craft and calling that is preaching. In my current role at my church I am preaching more than ever. As a result, more than ever I see how much room I have to grow as a minister of God’s Word. Small Preaching is merely a photo album of snapshot ways that I myself am trying to improve. I am hopeful that it will provide some encouraging guidance for others as well.
This book is dedicated to my wife because, as I say in the note to her, the quality of my sermons is usually directly correlated to whether or not I sought her advice before Sunday morning. While she is very intelligent, she has no theological education nor has she studied homiletics textbooks. But what she provides for me is precisely what I need—a constant reminder to ask what God is saying through the text, not just what Jonathan Pennington wants to say.
It is embarrassing how often I need her to remind me of this! I have lots of thoughts about Scripture and theology. I love being creative and thinking about illustrations and real life applications. I always have pages and pages of notes of things I want to say. I work hard on cutting this down to a manageable size. And I am very intentional about the craft of speaking with passion, humility, and love.
But even in the midst of all of those good things, remarkably, I often fail to stop and think about the most important question. “What is God saying?” she often asks me. And that is the wake-up call moment I need to clear my head and open my heart. I need this question to re-centre my sermon. I don’t need less study or less theology or less labour. But I do need this question to shape, frame, and control my message.
One of my favourite sayings is that on the near side of complexity is simplistic, but on the other side of complexity is simple. This means that if we don’t enter into the complexity of Scripture, theology, and life, we will only be able to offer people simplistic and moralistic teaching. But we must not be content with complexity and we must not head into the pulpit while still wallowing in complexity. Good preachers will press through the complexity to the other side, to the goal—a simple and clear message from God.
And that is the simple word I want to encourage you with today. Do your work. Be diligent to make small steps towards improvement. Fulfil your calling. But in the midst of this, don’t forget the most basic and most important thing—God is speaking grace, kindness, and hope to his beloved world through you.