October 15, 2007

Interview with Geoffrey Thomas

Andrew Roycroft, on the Men for Ministry Blog, recently posted an interview with Geoff Thomas that I think you'd be interested in reading. Banner of Truth books written by Pastor Thomas include the biography, "Ernest Reisinger: A Biography," and "Phillip and the Revival in Samaria." Roycroft introduces the interview with these words:

Geoffrey Thomas is Pastor of Alred Place Baptist Church, Aberystwyth, where he has served the Lord for over forty years. His preaching and written ministry are deeply appreciated by many of God's people around the world, and he is no stranger to Northern Ireland, having spoken in a number of contexts over the years. We are very grateful that Pastor Thomas has taken the time be interviewed by 'Men for Ministry' , and we trust that his reflections on the life and work of the preacher will prove a rich blessing to all.

Among other questions, Pastor Thomas was asked, "What would you advise those men who are just entering the Christian ministry to do before, during and after the act of preaching?"

He replied,

"[i] Before preaching. Search out for some role models, men in the ministry you admire, whose ministry and life moves you to emulation. Learn from them. You will quickly discover they have feet of clay. They will be colder people, not as smart as you hoped to answer your questions, but they will have insights and advice. Get men in the past to serve this end also, such as Whitefield, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, M’Cheyne, Brainerd, Paton, Carey, Calvin and learn from them all. Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Pink’s Life of Elijah, Watson’s Beatitudes are the kind of books that model interesting popular systematic expository preaching. Even some of James Montgomery Boice’s sermons are useful examples of expository and pastorally responsible preaching, but they do not suit me too well. Go to websites like First Presbyterian, Jackson where you can hear and read the sermons of Derek Thomas and Ligon Duncan. You can also hear the sermons of Joel Beeke and Iain D.Campbell on their websites – find them via Google. This is an extraordinary phenomenon, that at the end of a Sunday in Europe I can hear the morning sermon as it was preached in Heritage Reformed in Grand Rapids. Go to my website and read my sermons.

"When I was beginning my ministry the task of preparing two sermons a week was utterly daunting. I had such high standards and little ability and no experience of relentlessly preparing sermons for a congregation, especially two a week plus the mid-week preaching service. The task was overwhelming with many, many falls. How I wish I had had a resource of written sermons to turn to in order to help me. Saul’s armour did not fit David, but Jonathan’s did. Spurgeon’s sermons don’t fit anyone preaching in the world today, but his whole spirit as he approached the work of the pulpit and the congregation, his ideas, application, entreaties and corrections are invaluable. The sermons of T.T.Shields were not my size either, but they helped make Paul Tucker the fascinating preacher he became. I found Al Martin and Donald Macleod invaluable helps in preaching in the 1970s. I preached their sermons and envied their clear outlines and passion in delivery. Such men helped me to build on the Doctor and my Welsh role models to form me. I have also had Iain Murray as my most consistently helpful counsellor, and consider his friendship and advice the most single blessed support. If there is one man whose books I must read as they appear it has to be the writings of Iain Murray. So all that in answer to your first division - before preaching.

"[ii] During preaching covet an ability to relax the congregation enabling them to sit back and listen carefully and enjoyably to what is to be said to them. I’ve been very struck with that grace as manifest in such men as Ted Donnelly, John Blanchard and David Norman Jones of Tasmania. It comes from a trust in God; a cultivation of that dependence on his enabling to bless the preparation during the proclamation. They have managed to learn to speak humbly and directly to their audience; they are not bullies; they don’t shout, but neither are they perennial smilers (which is just as irritating). They speak interestingly of their theme. They have in their minds a grasp of where this sermon is going and they are determined to take the congregation to that destination. They use judicious illustration, and their humour is safe. I believe that Ted Donnelly is the most excellent sermon illustrator in the UK, and in the USA it has been John Reisinger. I have learned from both of them about illustrating, and from the Puritans from Bunyan and Watson’s illustrations which are quite compressed (and when Owen illustrates, on those rare occasions, those illustrations of his coruscate). So the ability to settle a congregation down to listen to you during the sermon is the great gift to seek from God. It comes from loving familiarity with your theme, and a concern to communicate it to the people, and a determination to honour the Lord of the Word and the Word of the Lord.

[iii] After the preaching? What would I advise? Ernest Reisinger shared this aphorism with me years ago, “It is a sin to preach and not to pray.” Afterwards would be a good time for a group of people to meet, when preaching is over, to pray for God’s blessing on what has been proclaimed, but it is virtually impossible as there are people to welcome, visit with, and also drive home. The preacher longs for men to gather around him after a sermon, especially when he has struggled and found it a barren spiritual exercise, to find then his friends upholding him in thanking God for something they have learned. Alas, it does not happen. After the sermon the preacher is invariably discouraged, especially the older he gets, because he has known some help in exalting Christ and preaching the good news, but there are few sinners present, and those that are there are the familiar people who have been coming for years and remain untouched. Where were the unbelievers? How the preacher needs warm praying after both good and bad sermons, but he is left on his own and he must say, “Sorry, Lord, that I did not do well again.”

To read the entire interview, CLICK HERE.