From and Before God by Sugel Michelen
I tend to read batches of books on themes, and this year one of my themes was preaching/speaking. I read several books by prominent pastors and professors about how to prepare and preach a Biblical sermon. The most popular books on preaching are often those by famous preachers, men that we want to be like and imitate. Often these pastors have large platforms and impressive ministries, with a built in base to sell books. Their public ministry seems to make them an expert in their field.
That being said, I must admit that I had never heard of Sugel Michelen before I got his recent book about preaching. That is probably due to my own ignorance. Michelen is a pastor in the Dominican Republic and is called by some the best preacher in Latin America. It only took a few pages, however, until it was clear that Michelen has a clear grasp on the ministry of the pulpit as well as being able to impart that wisdom to others.
The book is divided into three sections, each of increasing length. The book starts broad and becomes increasingly narrow as it shows us why we preach, what a good sermon does, and how to prepare a Biblically based expository sermon.
The first section starts off broad, explaining that we preach because God speaks. The very first words in the Bible are the words of God, a sermon that is full of such power and force that it creates light itself. He points out that our relationship to God is defined by our relationship to His Word. Before God spoke through prophets, but now through the Word Jesus Christ. We no longer have to wonder what God is saying as Jesus is the perfect expression of His Word.
In the second section he lays out what a good sermon looks like, both through historical examples and examples from scripture. A sermon cannot be considered good without a good biblical foundation, and Michelen gives us one. Christ must the center of every sermon that we preach as He is the center of all of scripture. He also explains the difference in types of sermons, but makes clear that an expository sermon is the best method of preaching. In this method the point of the sermon is the point of the passage.
Michelen does much more than give us a book of theory, however. In the last section he lays out plainly how to prepare an expositional sermon, covering each stage from picking a text to delivering it. While he is adamant about the benefits of exposition, I found the section where he describes the dangers of exposition most helpful. Many pastors are quick to point out all the good things without acknowledging the difficult things, but Michelen points out that when exposition is done poorly, it can be damaging to a church and to Christians. All the more reason for a book that explains how to do it well, like this one. Another section that was helpful was on application. Even for a seasoned preacher like myself it's helpful to think not just what we are doing, but how we are doing it. There were several diagnostic questions that I printed out in order to paste near my desk as I type sermons. These questions will remind me to distill and focus the message in order to get the Word straight to the heart of hearers.
The book closes with an expository sermon, written along the way using the techniques presented in the book. Michelen goes out of his way to be immensely practical, which is helpful and necessary when talking about one of the most important things in the world.
I think that any one who preaches would benefit from this book, both seasoned preachers and young men just starting ministry. There are tools, tricks, application, and more that everyone will benefit from.