One of the joys of my current ministry situation are the relationships I have been able to establish with a few pastors in the neighboring communities. Once a month, there are three of us that get together to encourage each other in the faith, pray for each other, and spur one another on to become better shepherds. At our meeting in June, we spent time evaluating and talking about our preaching. From that conversation, we decided we wanted to read a book on preaching together. We decided to read a new book by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell called Saving Eutychus.
If nothing else, this book is cleverly titled. Eutychus was a young man who fell asleep while listening to a sermon that Paul preached in Troas (Acts 20:7-12). As I'm sure you have experienced, people fall asleep all the time during the sermon these days. But let's give Paul a little credit. It was probably the last time he would see these people and he had much to tell them. Because of that, his sermon went past midnight. Eutychus was sitting in a third-story window, which means when he fell asleep, something terrible happened. He fell to his death. That has never happened when I preach. Don't get me wrong, people fall asleep all the time. But I have never had someone fall to their death because of my sermons. Paul, though, went outside and raised this young man from the dead. I've never done that either. Millar and Campbell wrote Saving Eutychus to help preachers know how to preach and keep people awake. But it's even more than that.
"Saving Eutychus doesn't just mean keeping him awake. It also means doing our best to keep him fresh and alert so he can hear the truth of the gospel and be saved" (15).
As a general summary, I did enjoy the book. There were certain parts of the book that convicted me. For instance, one of the opening chapters was on prayer. I realized as I started thinking about my own life and heart that I do not pray enough for my sermons. I do not pray enough for my listeners. I do not pray enough that God would help me keep people awake and alert so they can hear the truth. And I do not engage others to pray for me enough. Their observation that we pray "more for my Aunt Nelly's next-door neighbour's friend's daughter than we do for the proclamation of the message of Jesus" (22-23) is so true. Don't you think?
In addition, their insight that we work towards the key text was helpful. What they say is that when you quote a verse or read a text, we should be helping the listener out by setting it up before we read it rather than after we read it.
"Instead of quoting it then explaining it, do the reverse. Explain and then show. Prepare them for the logic of what they're about to see for themselves in Scripture by raising the question the text is about to answer, or by building the logic of the argument that the text itself is about to resolve, or by explaining anything complex that they'll need to understand to make sense of it. Then, let the words of Scripture close the deal" (60).
That is a helpful thought that I plan on investigating further as I continue to grow in my preaching.
As in any book, I'm not totally sure I agree with everything in the book. This is where I am really trying to evaluate my heart in the matter. But the one thing that did rub me the wrong way was when they say that an effective sermon should only be around 23 minutes (Campbell) or 25 minutes (Millar). Their argument is that preachers should stop a minute or two before people start wishing the sermon was over. They believe that is enough time to introduce a text, build to a main idea, illustrate and apply that main thought. And it might be. The sample sermons they give at the end of the book are biblical. They are practical. But to me, they don't seem to go very deep into the meaning of the text of Scripture.
When I say I have to evaluate my heart on this matter, I mean that I never want to be the guy who says that a sermon must be 45 minutes to be a "deep" sermon. That's not true. I just wander with the amount of text they tried to cover (almost 2 chapters in Acts), you can only stay on the surface. But I am very quick to say that I am an amateur at this preaching thing. I need to continue to learn and am thankful for most things in this book.
At the Parkside Basics Conference, Alistair Begg said that this book was one of new favorite books on preaching. I'm not so sure I would go that far, but it is helpful to give a good introductory thought into how to help listener's listen to the preaching of God's Word.