Book Reviews

Book Review: Small Preaching (Jonathan Pennington)

Jonathan Pennington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at SBTS, has written a small book on a big topic—preaching. His book comes in at a whopping…104 pages? It has twenty-five chapters divided into three parts:

  1. The Person of the Preacher
  2. The Preparation for Preaching
  3. The Practice of Preaching

Why so small? Rather than overhauling your style of preaching and overwhelming you in the process, Pennington offers twenty-five tips on necessary steps to preach better. This is a “a book of small ideas that you can try today” (3). When you diet, exercise, or learn something new, does it help to cut out solid foods for a week to get that beach body? Jam-pack your week with jump squats? Hole yourself away to master the banjo?  No, you would only make yourself miserable. When we make small changes and adjustments in our lifestyle, we more easily keep those changes. They don’t interfere much with our routine, and in the long run this brings about the good results we want to see.

Again, Pennington’s book looks at the preacher, the preparation, and the practice of preaching. Preaching is more than studying the Bible and giving a sermon. You, the preacher/teacher are unique. You are going to do things well, and so you need to handle praise well. You are also imperfect, and it is pertinent you handle critique with care and humility. I really appreciated Pennington’s thoughts here. Instead of shrugging of the critique with the thought ‘If only they knew how my week has been,’ consider each critique “in all its aspects—source, form, and content” (14). Look at the critique from all sides. Some criticisms should be thrown out the window. Others need to be careful thought over. A few questions you could ask would be, “What is true about the content of the criticism? What can I do better? What can I not change about myself and learn to live with?” (15). As well, “Why does this particular criticism upset me?” (15). That will cause you to look inward to consider your fears, worries, anxieties, insecurities. This is important. As Pennington notes, “Humility tills the soil of your soil, and criticism can be the manure that fertilizes robust growth” (16).

As well, you are the conductor. And the conductor, aside from a lot of prep, also needs to listen to his ensemble. The more you listen to your congregants—their fears, worries, problems, joys, loves—you will be able to shape your sermons around the issues actually going on in your church.

I enjoyed Pennington’s chapter “This Sermon Stinks.” I’ve been able to give just over 20 sermons at the church I work at here in Norway, and I can relate to Pennington’s six steps of the creative process.

This is awesome > this is tricky > this stinks >
I stink > this might be okay > this is awesome.

It’s easy yearning to quit the sermon at the “I stink” part. I can’t write a good sermon, and that’s because I’m awful at this. And yes, some sermons just weren’t great. But Pennington writes that the “This sermon stinks” feeling “is the inevitable Steps 3 and 4 of the creative process” (64). They must show up in the process. Creativity is a struggle, and “all writers and artists and other types of creators can testify” to this. It isn’t just you who’s the problem. It’s everyone. Everyone struggles here. And the sermon is both a story (ch 20) and something akin to making music (ch 21). Both are difficult; both are worth it in the end.

Pennington provides very helpful tips on the first and last minutes of your sermon (chs. 15 and 16), as well as how you should be a guide at weddings and funerals (ch. 24).

This a short book that took me only two hours to read. But the length wasn’t what made it easy to read. Pennington’s prose and flow of writing is fun. He is truly easy and enjoyable to read. A must for pastors to learn from.

Recommended?

If you’re a pastor or at least preach semi-regularly, you should pick up this book. Instead of a massive overhaul, Pennington provides something more modest and encouraging—small changes you can actually make to your preaching. Your hearers will thank you for it. I truly believe that if you implement at least some of what Pennington has written, your sermons will be clearer, more careful, and more enjoyable.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Jonathan T. Pennington
  • Hardcover: 119 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 28, 2021)

Buy it on Amazon or from Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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