As a rookie preacher with a total of two sermons under my belt, I am always keeping an eye out for the best resources on the subject to help my preparation and proclamation. I have read a few other books on preaching in the past, but this is the first book I actually read during sermon preparation. I am thankful to Cross Focused Reviews for the opportunity to review “Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake” by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell.
This book is especially helpful for people like me—”young” guys who are just getting their feet wet. It is immensely practical and very helpful with regard to the technical aspect of sermon writing and delivery . Since I’ve never been to seminary and/or attended homiletics courses, I have very little experiential knowledge about preaching. My understanding of preaching comes from Scripture and the faithful men who have both taught me about it and shown by example what it is to preach.
“Saving Eutychus” is named after the young man in Acts 20:9 who fell to his death from a third-story window after drifting off to sleep during a lengthy sermon from the apostle Paul. While “keeping people awake” is one of the results the authors hope to obtain through helping preachers, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Millar and Campbell seek to offer practical advice to preachers in order for them to improve their preaching in a number of ways.
In chapter one, Gary Millar reminds us that preaching is not about the preacher and his own ability—it is about the Lord Jesus Christ and relying on His Spirit. He exhorts the preacher to make prayer a priority; not just in his personal life, but in the corporate assembly of believers in the local church.
Millar then explains, in chapter two, what “preaching to the heart” is and why it is important. After offering several examples of how Scripture speaks to the heart of man through preaching, he presents an argument for expository (passage by passage) preaching: “This approach ensures that your preaching will be both predictable and unpredictable. It will be predictable in the same way that the Bible is predictable. At the core of our preaching will be the same message—what God has already done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. People can count on us, week after week, for the same thing: the Bible carefully, thoughtfully, engagingly explained… And yet, at the same time, our sermons should be deliciously unpredictable. Why? Because we have such fantastic source material, inspired by God Himself, to change people’s hearts.” (p. 39)
Clarity is the subject of chapter three, and Phil Campbell’s advice is excellent. He recommends the preacher master natural scripting. By this, he means to write “exactly the words you’d naturally speak” (p. 45) when drafting the sermon. Cambell then provides his “top ten tips for being clearer” (pp. 50–60… and also in Appendix 2b on p. 168), which is a great resource:
1. The more you say, the less people will remember.
2. Make the ‘big idea’ shape everything you say.
3. Choose the shortest, most ordinary words you can.
4. Use shorter sentences.
5. Forget everything your English teacher taught you.
6. Am I repeating myself?
7. Translate narratives into the present tense.
8. Illustrate the obvious.
9. Talk about real people.
10. Work towards your key text.
Campbell uses chapter four to tease out the implications of “making the ‘big idea’ shape everything you say” and this very well might be the most important chapter in the book. He shares his personal sermon preparation techniques, which I found to be most helpful. He explains, “The big idea of a passage most often emerges when you spot the repetitions in the text and follow the chain of logic between them” (p. 67). After writing out the passage with notes (he dedicates 2/3 of a page to Scripture and the remaining column for ideas that emerge), he takes a look at everything and processes the information. He writes, “I look back over my visual map of the passage and retrace the logic. I try to summarize the flow of the passage by looking through the words and ideas I’ve highlighted” (p. 69). The author closes out this section by offering practical tips for developing application.
In chapter five, Gary Millar encourages us to preach the gospel (with special attention to the Old Testament). He does a great job of pointing out the importance of gospel-centered preaching and offers advice on using a biblical-theological approach:
1. Follow the plan.
2. Move to the fulfillment.
3. Expose the problem.
4. Highlight the (divine) attribute.
5. Focus on the action.
6. Explain the category.
7. Point out the consequences.
8. Describe the ideal human character.
9. Satisfy the longing.
Chapter six, in my opinion, is the second most helpful chapter in the book (although the incessant praise for Mark Driscoll is a bit nauseating). Here, Phil Campbell addresses delivery. I have a feeling I will be coming back to this chapter several times in the future as I continue to mature as an expositor. He introduces what he calls the “delivery sphere” which diagrams the volume, pitch, and pace of the preacher. This imaginary sphere is a helpful mental tool that reminds the preacher to mix things up in order to obtain and retain attention. If there’s one thing that will help keep people awake during preaching, it is variation and agility in the delivery of the sermon.
The last couple chapters of the book point out the importance of critique. In chapter seven, Millar presents common problems that preachers face which make peer review necessary. Included on his list are, “getting the idea wrong” (pp. 113–114), “self-indulgence” (pp. 114), “not preaching the gospel” (p. 114), “not preaching the gospel to people’s hearts” (pp. 114–115), “insensitivity” (p. 115), and “trying to be too clever” (pp. 115–116). In chapter eight, Campbell takes the reader through crafting a sermon, which leads into Appendix 1 (a critique of Phil’s sermon by Gary… and a sermon by Gary critiqued by Phil). The book closes with Appendix 2, which provides the reader with helpful resources for preachers: A sermon feedback form (unfortunately, under the “duration” section, the authors only refer to sermons being too long and make no mention of them being too short), Phil’s top ten tips checklist (which is listed above), and the Dynamic delivery diagram worksheet (referred to previously).
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The authors provide a fair amount of practical advice and technical pointers to help preachers improve their sermon preparation and delivery. As I receive more opportunities to fill the pulpit in the future, I will strive to implement some of their ideas in my own sermon preparation and delivery. This is a book I will be turning to repeatedly as I seek to faithfully preach God’s Word. “Saving Eutychus” is sure to be an encouragement and an exhortation to countless preachers—rookies and veterans alike.
For more on this subject, please visit Matthias Media.
Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.