Book Review: A Little Book for New Preachers, by Matthew Kim
Matthew D. Kim, A Little Book for New Preachers: Why and How to Study Homiletics. InterVarsity Press, 2020. 128 pages.
Preaching, like golf and parenting, is a skill you can improve; but you’ll never arrive. No matter how good you become, you can always go back to fundamentals and improve on the basics.
I found myself re-encountering a lot of basic, homiletical fundamentals I had forgotten as I read through Matthew Kim’s book A Little Book for New Preachers. Kim, the director of the Haddon W. Robinson Center for Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has authored several books on preaching and pastoral ministry.
One of the reasons Kim believes we should study preaching is because academics often look down on preaching in theological education, as though “real” scholars get a PhD in New Testament, not homiletics. But Kim argues we should view preaching as the capstone of biblical studies and theology. He writes:
Preaching is the very cross section and consummation of all other theological disciplines. Effective biblical preaching combines a depth of understanding regarding biblical exegesis, biblical theology, systematic theology, church history, counseling, sociology, psychology, anthropology, cultural exegesis, and all the other disciplines in a seminary education. (29)
A Little Book for New Preachers unfolds in three parts: why we study preaching, the characteristics of faithful preaching, and the characteristics of faithful preachers. Each part has three short chapters that survey topics rather than exhaust them. Aside from the passing nods toward egalitarianism—as when Kim refers to preachers as “he or she”—most 9Marks readers will find the book biblical and encouraging.
THE FRUIT OF DISCIPLESHIP AND A TOOL FOR DISCIPLING
In the opening sentence, Kim states he is “perhaps the last person to write a book on the topic of preaching for new and aspiring preachers” (11). In seminary he first wanted to become a professor, not a preacher. He set his sights on the academy because he felt like “an utter preaching failure” (12), that is until one professor took an interest in him and began to mentor him.
The lessons Kim learned, now recorded in the book, can be passed on to aspiring preachers in your congregation. Every Wednesday afternoon in my congregation, a small group reviews the sermon from the previous week. Sometimes our conversations grow stale. We often need a resource to spark fresh conversation, a book to bring us back to the basics, remind us of what we’ve forgotten, and why we do what we do.
I once led our preaching team through John Piper’s classic The Supremacy of God in Preaching, but the busy grind of week-to-week ministry makes it challenging to assign books the size of Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching, Haddon Robinson’s Biblical Preaching, or John Stott’s Between Two Worlds. Kim’s book, however, is a short, accessible resource for pastoral interns or a church staff to read together in order to spark more meaningful conversation.
THE LEGITIMATE AND ILLEGITIMATE BURDENS OF PREACHING
Perhaps the most sage and encouraging portion of Kim’s book involves his reflections on the burdens of preaching. Preaching, rightly understood, comes with heavy burdens. Preachers must guard themselves from errors on every side, preaching the gospel in a way their congregation can grasp and in ways that shape their moral imagination. For these reasons Paul told Timothy to keep a close watch on his teaching (1 Tim. 4:16). But we preachers often create illegitimate burdens as well—burdens such as comparing ourselves to other pastors and churches. “It can be paralyzing,” Kim writes, “to think that we . . . must preach awe-inducing, inspirational, convicting, humorous, relatable, culturally sensitive, and easily applicable sermons every single week” (34).
Your church preaching context likely emphasizes some cluster of these phrases more than others—whether awe-inducing and inspirational, or humorous and relatable, or culturally sensitive and easily applicable—but most preachers feel the pressure to produce. The paralyzing phrase in that quote to me is “every-single week.”
In this same chapter on the burdens of preaching, Kim alludes to the famous Eric Liddell line to say many preachers feel God’s pleasure when they preach. Indeed we often do—thankfully so. There is, however, another line in Chariots of Fire, one spoken by Liddell’s foil Harold Abrahams, to which many preachers can also relate. Speaking of his 100m sprint, Abrahams feels he has “ten lonely seconds to justify [his] whole existence.” A great temptation and burden to new preachers, and I suspect veteran preachers, involves believing the lie we must justify our existence every time we preach. We believe every sermon—each lonely thirty or forty minutes—must prove we are worth our pay, that we have what it takes, that our sermons deliver the awe-inspiring goods, that we are, well, justified.
Preaching should never bear that burden. Kim notes the unnecessary and sinful burden of comparison, as well as other illegitimate burdens, will cause our “preaching to feel like an onerous, oppressive, even joyless task.” Instead, Kim encourages preachers to focus on preaching’s great joys: the joy of being sent as a messenger by God, the joy of seeing people saved and sanctified, the joy of heralding God’s glory (35–37).
With these aims rightly emphasized, preaching becomes less about justifying our existence and more about God. As Kim notes:
In his sovereign wisdom God has decided upon preaching as an instrument to communicate his being, his character, his mission, his purpose, his will, his desires, his love, his holiness, his wrath, his Son, his Spirit, his pleasure, his displeasure, and all that he is and all that he has done for his people” (43).
This is true; God has chosen the “folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). But we preachers must be continually reminded of this truth, which is why I felt encouraged reading Kim’s book, as I suspect other preachers will too.