A Book Review
I’m not a great preacher. When I’m standing in the pulpit my manuscript retains a tight hold on my focus, my delivery is tepid, and my conclusions falter. But wanting to improve gives me a good reason to read books on preaching. Jonathan Pennington has written one such book. It’s called Small Preaching: 25 Little Things You Can Do Now to Become a Better Preacher and out of the many books on preaching I’ve read, this one breaks into my top five. (In the spirit of transparency, I’ve included my top five at the end of this review). If you’re a preacher who wants to improve (and who doesn’t), this book can help you.
Pennington’s premise is that instead of searching for a silver bullet that will transform you into the Spurgeon of the age, you can realistically implement a series of small steps that will improve your preaching. So he offers twenty-five such steps in twenty-five chapters. Each chapter is short, but each deserves careful reading and consideration. There is plenty to consider.
Chapters are categorized into three parts: “The Person of the Preacher,” “The Preparation of the Preacher,” and “The Practice of Preaching.” Part one offers advice on practical matters such as receiving praise and criticism but also devotes attention to a philosophy of preaching. One example of this is conceptualizing the role of the preacher with the metaphor of an orchestra conductor who prepares, listens, and leads. Many of the chapters in this book are built around a profound metaphor. (My personal favourite was comparing the process of preaching to encaustic painting.) Part two encourages the reader on tactics such as manuscripting regardless of delivery style, thoughtful editing, and considering alternative forms for structuring a sermon. And part three includes the expected nuts and bolts details on introduction and conclusion along with a lesson on the value of asking the right questions, building your sermon around a plot, and preaching on special occasions. Almost every chapter gave me something I felt was valuable for helping me improve as a preacher.
There’s something else I like about this book: it’s really well written. Everything is clear. And an impressive level of care must have gone into structuring and balancing the prose of each chapter. There are all these little details. Sometimes you’ll notice a nice use of repetition or some vivid piece of imagery. Truly, it’s a pleasant read—even fun, since it takes its subject seriously without sacrificing good humour. Pennington succeeds in brevity while still giving his readers something of substance.
My only criticism is that Scripture is cited sparingly. I know this is subjective, but for a book written about preaching the Bible, it is surprisingly light on actually referencing the Bible. For instance, chapter twenty-five: “Stealing as Sub-Creating,” makes cultural references to Austin Kleon, Picasso, T. S. Eliot, David Bowie, and Tolkien. Pennington stresses God’s creativity, but a Scripture quotation or chapter and verse directing us to contemplate what God’s Word tells us would have been a bonus. That being said, the content throughout is brimming with biblical and practical wisdom that you can put to use in improving your preaching.
Not every book on the subject of preaching is worth reading. This one is. (It’s in my top five, remember?) Reading this book made me want to be a better preacher in service to God’s people and to the glory of God. And that’s why I can conclude by saying Small Preaching is an excellent book that every preacher should read. It would also be useful for a homiletics course in addition to one of the standard manuals on preaching. What Ty Pennington did to houses on Extreme Home Makeover, Jonathan Pennington shows you can go and do likewise to your sermons, one small improvement at a time.
Special thanks to Lexham Press for a free review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I know.
Also, check out my review of another book by Jonathan Pennington: Jesus the Great Philosopher
My Top Five Books on Preaching
12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching
Preachers and Preaching
Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People
Small Preaching: 25 Little Things You Can Do Now to Become a Better Preacher
Photo by Brent Niedergall.