Great little title. Punchy and short. Genuinely full of wisdom.
The three things that stood out to me most:
- The very genres of Scripture demonstrate that not all of Scripture is meant to be—or even can be—preached expositionally, in sequence. Think Proverbs. And even Galatians, Pennington points out, just keeps hitting the same point in various ways. Unless you want to preach essentially the same point 12 times in a row, perhaps it’s best to suit the sermon to the genre. I’ll be chewing on this one. It’s a relief, honestly. It’s not that I’m eager to skip portions of Scripture in preaching/teaching in the church; it’s that I sometimes wonder if we’re really justified in doing so, because we all do it. Some portions of Scripture are more suited to topical coverage (Proverbs, again) or to one-off sermons ( respective minor prophets?). It was helpful to hear this advice from a confident and skilled preacher whose homiletically flavored commentary on the Sermon on the Mount I have found immensely helpful.
- When someone praises your sermon, “It is not humility to dismiss or deflect the compliment.” That hit hard. Pennington says that to say, “Oh, it’s not me! Only God gets the credit!” is to “dishonor your gift and God’s structure of the universe. When someone thanks you for your sermon, receive this good and beautiful gift, completing the cycle of giving and receiving that God has created.” He suggests saying: “You’re very kind. Thank you for taking the time to encourage me.”
- “The unexamined sermon is not worth preaching.” This is tough for a small church assistant pastor whose only feedback basically comes from his wife (not to denigrate the value of that feedback; I treasure it). But Pennington says that in order to improve and to be sure you are serving people well, “You will need to regularly seek out intentional and meaningful evaluation of your preaching by others, uncomfortable as it may be.”
Little things that also stuck with me:
- The first and last moments of your sermon are perhaps the most important and memorable. Don’t waste them by fumbling to a start or apologizing to a “close.”
- It’s not extra holy to refuse ever to preach to the cultural calendar, things that are happening right now, from Mother’s Day to Veteran’s Day.
- Sermons should have a narrative arc, a feel of push toward a climax and a denouement.
- Writing is often the best way to think. You should manuscript at some point in the homiletical process, even if you don’t take the manuscript into the pulpit.
This short book is full of lots of great little pieces of advice like this. It reminds me of H.B. Charles’ book, On Preaching: Personal & Pastoral Insights for the Preparation & Practice of Preaching, also a Lexham Press title! I really appreciate short books, I do. I haven’t read a great many preaching books, but I feel certain that there are plenty that contain less wisdom and yet more words than Jonathan Pennington’s Small Preaching.