Review: Explosive Preaching, by Ron Boyd-MacMillan

Subtitle: Letters on Detonating the Gospel in the 21st Century.


Published in 2006 by Paternoster.

I partially reviewed this book several weeks ago.  Please take a look at that “pre-review” (click here).  My opinion of the book has not changed as I’ve finished it.  It is creative, insightful, humorous, challenging and helpful.  There are small moments where you may find it annoying, but better to provoke reaction than to leave no mark at all!

To be honest the third section, on the history of preaching, was decent and helpful, but perhaps not quite as good as I’d hoped for.  Nevertheless, it is worth reading.  The final section, on the life of the preacher, is excellent.  Although somewhat scattered with a feel of “mopping up” the bits that were left over, these chapters were nevertheless worth the price of the book.

I have heard that this book is hard to get hold of in the USA.  If that is the case, then it is a real shame.  Even if you need to order the book from a UK seller on Amazon marketplace, I would encourage you to do so (I order books from the US this way at times, and have never had a problem).

A lot of book about preaching tend to say the same thing again.  This one doesn’t.

Preaching Curriculum

We all have our unique interests.  One of mine is curricula.  I love looking at the curricula of Bible schools, or helping to think through new possibilities for Bible schools (perhaps adding a second year to a one year program, etc.)  So perhaps it is only me that would enjoy the last of the chapters in Explosive Preaching, where the author describes the one-year curriculum he helped to design for a house-church movement in China.  The radical design is worth sharing, not only for those who share my fascination with things academic, but for all of us as a good nudge in our level of preparation for preaching.  Here’s the 66:33:1 curriculum:

66 – Each student, by the end of the year, has to be ready to preach (without notes) a one-hour sermon on each of the 66 books of the Bible.  This sermon is to include an outline of the content of the book, and contemporary application to the individual, the church and the nation of China.  At the end of the year, 3 books would be selected at random, then the student has five seconds to launch into their message.

33 – Each student had to prepare 33 one-hour sermons on the life and work of Christ, each based on a single verse (only 10 allowed from outside the gospels).  His whole ministry must be covered, from pre-existence to second coming (although I’d suggest His ministry extends beyond the second coming!)  Interestingly, students are allowed one page of notes per sermon in this category!

1 – Each student has to prepare an “end-of time” sermon – any length (since time constraints are irrelevant in eternity).  The goal is to help the student consider the whole salvation story from God’s point of view.  Perhaps at the great feast we will get to enjoy such a sermon looking back over it all . . . but would we be ready to give the sermon?

So there it is.  A creative and probably very effective curriculum.  If you had one year to train a preacher, what would you include?

Preaching and Pace

The title today is surely misleading.  A few weeks ago I asked “What font do you preach in?” and received comments with suggestions on the best font to use for powerpoint.  Oops, it is a good idea to read the post before sharing your timely tips!  Nevertheless, I leave today’s title as it is.

I’m going to keep this post short.  Again, it is prompted by one of the last chapters in Explosive Preaching. It is prompted by the importance of preaching out of fellowship with God.  In the book a fantastic conversation is recounted, a conversation between the author and a Chinese pastor kept in solitary confinement for many years.  So much to benefit from that brief conversation – the notion of simplifying life (building a cell), in order to enjoy fellowship with God (the cell becomes a garden, and God becomes a friend).  But here’s the simple quote I want to share, a quote that may touch a nerve for many of us:

Fellowship pace is a lot slower than service pace.

Have we allowed ourselves to grow accustomed to “service pace” – cantering along and expecting God to jog along next to us?  Perhaps we need to make the necessary moves in order to free up the space and slow down to “fellowship pace.”  God walked in the garden with Adam, I suspect many of us are subconsciously wondering why He doesn’t jog in the busy city with us.  Pace and preaching.  Important to get this one figured out.

Is It Wrong to Desire Influence?

Most chapters in Explosive Preaching prompt me to think of several posts.  Hopefully Boyd-MacMillan will forgive my leaning on his book for ideas so often in recent weeks in exchange for my encouragement to others to buy it for themselves.  Chapter 28 in the book is a chapter that stands out as unlike anything I’ve come across in other preaching books (I appreciate that, as I also get feedback that this blog contains things not found in preaching books too!)


Is it wrong to desire it?  This chapter focuses on three very diverse preachers – Billy Graham, Martin Luther-King Jr and Robert Schuller.  The author writes, “They all became influential preachers.  But they all wanted to become influential preachers.  They were not modest in their desire for influence, nor bashful in the way that they sought to extend their influence.” (p237)

He goes on to write under several headings: the sermon, the person, the wave, the moment, the movement, the network, the event.  His conclusion, the lesson he learns from these men is “if you want to be an influential preacher, then don’t just preach a great sermon!” He sees their concern with reception and reverberation.  Reception refers to their making sure that their words were heard optimally.  Reverberation meant ensuring that their words would be heard long after delivery.

I suppose this is a matter of prayerful balance.  We desire to influence others as good stewards of the ministry that God gives us.  Yet we feel very uncomfortable at the suggestion that we should pursue influence (or “success” in any human measurement).  I know this post could prompt a strong reaction.  I suspect it may get a reaction that is unfair to the book that prompted the post.  I would encourage you to read the book.  I would encourage you to prayerfully wrestle with the issues raised in this post.  Fleshly or spiritual, a desire for influence is very real in most of us – let’s not ignore that, but rather prayerfully wrestle with the issue.

How Would Jesus Preach?

I have been impressed and helped by Explosive Preaching (written by Ron Boyd-MacMillan).  I’ll share a couple more highlights and then finish with a final review of the book.

Near the end of the book, MacMillan shares some tips for effective preaching from the example of Jesus.  I won’t go into detail in my words or his, but here is the list (to get the detail, buy the book!)

1.    Great preaching starts with great praying.
2.    Be the word you preach
3.    Mint punch lines and master the two-minute story.
4.    Try the open air
5.    To communicate the gospel, don’t just preach
6.    Remember to be revolutionary
7.    Get over crowds
8.    It’s OK to shock
9.    Preach by dying

Some of these are self-explanatory, others are probably only tantalizing if you’ve not read the book.  However, the concept is important – what can we learn from the preaching of Jesus?  Would you add to the list?  What have you learned about preaching from observing Him preach in the gospels?

When Listeners Aren’t Satisfied – 4

Taking some prompts from Boyd-MacMillan and blending them with my own thoughts, here are a few comments to prompt our thoughts on what to do when listeners aren’t satisfied:

9. Know your own inner landscape. We all have emotional baggage buried inside.  Criticism has a unique ability to slip through, stir up a deep wound and create inner turmoil.  It’s good to know what is going on inside, otherwise we end up taking a beating from external and internal foes.

10. Whatever the justification for the criticism, make sure it improves your preaching! While it may come in a package of intemperate rudeness, there may be a kernel of truth somewhere in there that will help you.  Don’t shrug off all criticism, for a sensitive spirit is critical to effective preaching.  However, be sure to have strategies in place so that rocket-propelled criticism grenades fired by immature or overly upset or “you touched a raw nerve” listeners do not take you out of the spiritual battle of ministry.

That’s not a complete list, but perhaps something is helpful there.  What would you add?

When Listeners Aren’t Satisfied – 3

Taking some prompts from Boyd-MacMillan and blending them with my own thoughts, here are a few comments to prompt our thoughts on what to do when listeners aren’t satisfied:

6. Anonymous feedback is borderline useless. It’s too easy to blast away from the cover of anonymity.  It is better not to dwell excessively on ecclesiastical mortar attacks.  It is much better to seek out genuinely constructive feedback from trustworthy sources.

7. You don’t have to take the hassle. Remember that you have the freedom to pursue representing God and the gospel in another way, you’re not obliged to stay in the firing line as a preacher.  If you choose to take it because He is worth it, great.  If you feel the time has come to hang up your pulpit and serve in another way, go for it.

8. Strengthen yourself with the biblical giants. (I would add the great preachers of church history, but let me quote Boyd-MacMillan for this one…) “All of them dealt with carping criticism, misunderstanding and humiliation.  Let the experience lead you to a deeper appreciation of what Jesus endured to bring the gospel to each of us.  You might even end up thankful that you are not about to be crucified literally for your messages.” (p223)

Final installment tomorrow, I think.

When Listeners Aren’t Satisfied – 2

Taking some prompts from Boyd-MacMillan and blending them with my own thoughts, here are a few comments to prompt our thoughts on what to do when listeners aren’t satisfied:

3. Remember that you answer to God. This is not to excuse bad preaching or oblivious ignorance of helpful critique.  This is to protect us from the unhelpful attacks that may or may not have anything to do with our preaching.  Obviously every sermon could have been better, but can you stand straight before God and give an account for the way you prepared in the time that you had?  Did you walk through the preparation by faith and do your best as a steward of the opportunity?  Our primary goal is to serve Him faithfully, not to please every nitpicker in the pew.

4. Prayerfully process feedback. This is true for praise as well as critique.  Process it prayerfully.  Ask what you can learn from it, and perhaps how you should pray for the source of it too (i.e. instead of getting all huffy about a personal attack, why not pray for the person who obviously has some deep hurt and tension within).

5. Remember that happy listeners may mean sermon failure. Our goal is not to make listeners happy with us.  Our goal is to faithfully present, explain and apply the Bible text to their lives.  What if the text convicts, or prods, or pokes, or makes downright uncomfortable? What if it shines a light in a dark place in their life and they don’t like what they see?  What if their dissatisfaction toward you and your preaching is a very positive sign of the word getting through?  Be careful not to misapply this, but sometimes knowing that listeners were offended by your preaching may be the best feedback that you are doing your job well.  Preaching is not about presenting yourself for a popularity contest (even if some churches make it feel like that!)

I don’t want to overwhelm with words, so I’ll cut it off for now . . .

When Listeners Aren’t Satisfied

Preaching is complex. Take, for example, the matter of listener satisfaction. If they aren’t satisfied, it could be a good sign, or a bad sign. Likewise having everyone happy may mean something is wrong. So how do we navigate the issue of listener satisfaction, after all, dissatisfaction expressed is seldom water off a ducks back (for most of us). Taking some prompts from Boyd-MacMillan and blending them with my own thoughts, here are a few comments to prompt our thoughts. This is by no means a definitive list of thoughts, but it is a start:

1. Expressed dissatisfaction is often overstated. Many people find it hard to express dissatisfaction fairly. It’s as if something wells up within and then bursts forth, often with excessive force. Boyd-MacMillan says that Christians “often express criticism in apocalyptic terms.” Instead of simply stating, “I don’t like his style,” they will instead assert that “he betrayed the gospel of Jesus Christ!” It is a good skill to learn to tone down excessive criticism as well as excessive praise (“that was the best sermon I ever heard!!!” probably wasn’t).

2. Recognize that tension fired your way is often nothing to do with you or your preaching. People react to the innocent provocation of pet peeves, or the poking of raw nerves of various kinds. You may become the focus of the critique, but don’t take all critique at face value.

That’s enough for now, more to follow tomorrow. Feel free to comment from your experience and perspective.

Don’t Blame the Wrong Thing

In his book, Explosive Preaching, Ron Boyd-MacMillan delineates two factions in a debate over the place of preaching.  On the one hand, there are those he calls the pro-sermon faction who need to wake up to the fact that their logic is often overdone.  That is to say, in their mind “preaching = sermonizing” and this does not ultimately help their side of the debate.  He marshals the evidence from Scripture to suggest that preaching in the Bible was not the common “sermonizing” of recent history.  (I would add the comment that in his survey of preaching in the Bible he fails to note the book, or perhaps better, sermon to the Hebrews.)

On the other side there is the faction he calls the anti-monolog brigade.  To this crowd he points out that “monolog = boring” is also flawed logic.  Let me quote him (p161):

Don’t go blaming monolog.  Blame boring monolog instead!  Returning home from this conference [where the avoidance of any “talking head” monolog had resulted in meaningless activity without understanding] I wrote in my journal, “I think the greatest problem facing preaching today is the fear of the monolog.”  There’s a lunatic fringe in the anti-monolog brigade that want to banish the sermon completely.  Fat chance.  The monolog will always be with us.  In large groups and even small, it is a communicational necessity.  But the effect of this scaremongering is a bunch of preachers who keep their monolog to an embarrassed minimum and fill up the minutes with film clips, skits, and roving mike questions.  The problem is this – if they are poor at the monolog, they are probably poor at other forms of communication too!  In this conference I mentinoed, one preacher introduced a series of completely banal and boring skits, but you don’t hear anyone calling for an end to drama!  He also used PowerPoint images that were completely off the point, and he had a person wandering around the audience with a roving mike s that anyone who felt led could interrupt the speaker if something wasn’t clear, but it was so staged we were squirming.  One question was, “Would you say more about the theology of the book in relation to the historical period?”  Well, amazingly, it so happened that this was his next segment of material, with PowerPoints ready to go.  A miracle?  Come on.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I do know that monologs are not the problem.  Boring monologs are to blame!