This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series: Preachers and their preaching
- Preachers and their preaching – John Calvin
- Preachers and their preaching – the Puritans
- Preachers and their preaching – Charles Simeon
- Preachers and their preaching – Phillips Brooks
- Preachers and their preaching – C.H. Spurgeon
- Preachers and their preaching – D.M. Lloyd-Jones
- Preachers and their preaching – J. Sidlow Baxter
- Preachers and their preaching – John Stott
- Preachers and their preaching – Fred Craddock
- Preachers and their preaching – Simon Ponsonby
‘A fourth generation preacher, Simon Ponsonby came to personal faith in his late teens. He worked as a butcher, then became an evangelist and church planter, before preparing for ordination at Trinity College, Bristol, where he gained his BA & MLitt in Theology. After serving a curacy in Bradford, he became Oxford Pastorate Chaplain in 1998. Simon took up the position of Pastor of Theology at St Aldates in 2005, a role that combines teaching, travelling and writing.’ (Source)
The sermon I would like to reflect on is this one, which was given at the 2014 Vineyard National Leaders’ Conference.
Joshua 3 verse 5: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.”
Type of sermon
I would categorise this as a textual/topical sermon. There was little exposition of the text in either its immediate or its wider context. Simon does at one point briefly indicate what ‘consecration’ would have looked like in the context of the chosen text.. At another point, he mentions what the ‘amazing things’ would turn out to be (i.e. crossing the River Jordan and entering the Promised Land).
Conservative evangelicals today often favour expositional preaching (which would aim to explain and apply a more substantial passage of Scripture). This sermon was more of an essay in practical (‘spiritual’) theology. In this regard, it was quite ‘old-fashioned’, for something similar was often attempted by Puritan preachers, and also by 19th-Century preachers such as Simeon, Spurgeon and Ryle.
By way of introduction, Simon told his audience that he had been unsure throughout the day about what he should speak on. He had ‘felt a nudge from the Lord’ about a verse and a subject. That verse was Psalm 93:5 – ‘Your decrees are very trustworthy. Holiness adorns your house.’ The church, says Simon, should be holy, like her Lord. Too often, it is dirty and shabby.
The main burden of the message is that we must consecrate ourselves, we must seek and find holiness, if we are to experience the spiritual power and renewal that we long for. Many of us have dark areas in our lives, and these must be brought out into the open, put under the double searchlights of God’s word and God’s Spirit, and then dealt with by God’s grace. Then, and only then, can we expect to experience God’s power in ministry, service, and soul-winning.
1. Consecration brings visitation. Quote from the Kevin Costner film ‘Field of Dreams’ – “If you build it, he will come.”
2. Consecration must begin with the house of God. There’s little point in lamenting the sinfulness of the world. Let us open ourselves up to the searchlights of God’s word and Spirit.
3. We have tried everything except consecration. Our other efforts, helpful as they might be in their own way, have not brought revival.
4. A holy church can create a holy society. We are called to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. Jim Wallis: ‘The social transformation of the world … can only come through a spiritual revival.’ The history of revivals bears this out.
Notwithstanding Simon’s uncertainty, during that very day, about what he should preach on, the sermon was not a last-minute effort. In terms of text, aim, main points and several illustrations, he was re-using material that he had preached at least once (and possibly several times) before. (I am thinking of Excellence in Preaching, by
It may be that this very familiarity with his material meant that Simon only needed to refer to his notes for the quotations and a few other things, and was able to improvise much of the rest of his material.
Simon has a clear and expressive speaking voice. His pace is varied, but always unhurried. He does not cram the sermon with lots of points and sub-points, but rather develops each of the four main points quite leisurely.
Because he looked at his notes only rarely, Simon was free to look around his audience, offering generous non-verbal communication with his eyes, facial expression, gesture and posture. Although Simon eschews ‘visual aids’ (such as Powerpoint), visual impact was enhanced by his ability ‘dramatise’ effectively.
There was a high index of ’emotional intelligence’ – i.e. feelings were expressed, and provoked, that were concordant with the content of the message being communicated.
There was a palpable sincerity and passion about the message. The mood was sometimes lightened, brief, by touches of humour. Some of these were disarmingly self-deprecating.
A number of these presentation features served to emphasise the ‘in-the-moment’ nature of the sermon. There was a sense that ‘this is what God has laid on my heart, and I am asking you dear Vineyard people to respond today.’
One of the great strengths of Simon’s preaching is that it is ‘in the moment’. He is not reading to us what he thought the Holy Spirit was saying to him earlier in the week. Rather, there is a strong sense that ‘this is what the Holy Spirit is saying through me, to you, right now’.
One thing that makes me say that this worked well as a sermon intended to listened to, is that it would not have worked very well as a script intended to be read. Interestingly enough, we are informed that this message did provide the inspiration for Simon’s book Different: Living the Holy Life, but I see in that book little evidence that it contains the substance of the sermon.
Of course, no preacher should imitate any other preacher slavishly. But I have highlighted above a number of strengths which the rest of us might wish to emulate.
But there are also dangers to be avoided.
There are, first of all, dangers posed by textual and topical preaching. All too easily, these can become mere ‘hooks’ upon which the preacher hangs his own favourite ideas. Consecutive expository preaching, although it has its own drawbacks, is usually ‘safer’ in this regard.
Then there are, secondly, the dangers of posed by extemporaneous preaching. If a preacher is reasonably articulate, extemporaneous preaching can become lazy preaching, because the preacher knows that he can open his mouth and something will come out of it. This is less of a danger when a preacher has a fund of well-thought-out theology to draw on, as Simon does. Moreover, extemporaneous preaching can become repetitive, as verbal habits and pet ideas become more an more set in concrete, and more and more predictable. This would be particularly a danger for those who preach regularly to the same congregation.