Chua Wee Hian was the General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in 1972. He is also the founding pastor of Emmanuel Church, Westminister, London. God has used him to equip and empower many leaders for His kingdom. His is a noted international Bible expositor and author and travels to different countries to inspire future generations.
By Chua Wee Hian November 2017
2017 marks a special personal mile stone. I celebrate 60 years of preaching. On my bookshelves are 42 notebooks, 27 filofax files with handwritten sermon notes. And in my filing cabinet, hard copies ad USB sticks of expositions preached from 2005 to the present. A quick mental note informs me that I have preached to around 500 different audiences in 70 nations.
Recently as I reflected my life and ministry, I realize that I’m most alive and passionate is when I’m expounding the scriptures. In preparing my messages, I find myself captured and captivated by the grandeur and grace of God. I am arrested by His timeless Word and I use every ounce of energy to communicate it with clarity and zeal to my hearers.
PASSING IT ON
Recently, I started a Preaching Fellowship (under the aegis of our church) for budding preachers from three London churches. We shall meet monthly and I shall seek to share with them the riches of His Word and my experience in expounding them. I recall that my journey into preaching began in 1957, with hearing and watching two giant preachers – John Stott and Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
For three years, I listened with rapt attention and marvelled at their content – always biblical, clear, fresh and relevant. When I preached in a parish church in Manchester way back in February 1958, I “borrowed” and adapted two of John Stott’s sermons. I still remember the Vice Principal of my Theological College reminding us that all things are ours (1 Cor. 3:21) and his wise comments that no young preacher can preach original sermons!
My road to preaching was reinforced by the wise counsel of my Principal, Dr E F Kevan who openly shared that his vision for all called to proclaim His Word would be both preachers and scholars. He stressed the need to diligently study the scriptures, to use the finest of tools to interpret the sacred text and to rely on the Holy Spirit and the wise counsel of godly men to apply its eternal truth to everyday life.
Looking back, I’m so thankful to God for the priceless opportunities of listening to gifted expositors. Equally, I’m so grateful for the numerous opportunities I was given to preach in local churches. That is why I’m wary to conducting preaching workshops when pastors do not provide opportunities for novice preachers.
No one can become a “great preacher” overnight. I still smile to myself when I purchased a book in 1957 with the title “Teach Yourself Preaching”. It was well written by the renowned Scottish preacher – James S.Stewart. But in no way can one learn preaching from a manual.
PREACHING IN PARA-CHURCH MINISTRIES
In January 1963 I returned from England, to work amongst students in Singapore and Malaya (Malaysia today) most of my talks were topical. In the local churches, my sermons tended to be textual ones. There is a grave danger in para-church ministries – we can repeat our sermons and our minds are not stretched to dig deeper in the scriptures. Dr Oliver Barclay who was for many years General Secretary of the UCCF once confided, “When we have staff with the makings of top class expositors, I would urge them to leave us after five years of service and head straight for pastoral ministry.” He named a few men who were household names, famed for their preaching. They were once his staff members. I thought Oliver was crazy releasing these high calibre workers and communicators.
When I returned to London in 1972 to assume my posting as General Secretary of IFES, Oliver’s provocative words came back to haunt me. There I was undertaking a global responsibility; the national student movements would most likely be inviting me to preach on specific themes when I visited them.
LINKING THE BIBLE TO THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD
From 1973 onwards, I found myself drawing closer to John Stott because I was involving him in some IFES projects and he in turn, invited me to serve on committees relating to new ministries that he had founded. Spending time with him and accompanying him on several trips convinced me that I must shift to expository preaching. I knew immediately this was a huge challenge. Thankfully, I returned to my former local church in London, and there I was able to preach between 15 to 20 sermons per year. I concentrated on Bible expositions. God’s voice was sounding forth from his word. It was no longer exegesis sharing spiritual truths using selected Bible texts to grace my messages. It was sound exegesis linking the world of the Bible to the contemporary world.
Years later, my forte as a Bible expositor was recognised and I was invited to preach at well know conventions in the UK, North America and larger churches in East Asia. But this development paled in significance, when I saw lives transformed by the word and the Spirit. Disciples were growing; leaders were equipped and motivated to extend the frontiers of his kingdom. Some are currently teaching others in Africa, Asia and Latin America to be expositors.
In a few weeks’ time, I shall be conducting workshops on hermeneutics (interpreting scripture) and homiletics (preaching) to a school for church planters. Together with the Preaching Fellowship, the vision of men and women heralding and teaching the Word fills me with joy and excitement.
What Is Preaching: “Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! Preaching is the theology coming through a man who is on fire….What is the chief end of preaching? It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.” MLJ
Never Separate Them: “The Holy Spirit” and “The word of God”. We must never separate them or we go astray. Some people put their emphasis only on the word. These are the intellectuals. ‘Ah’ they say, ‘Nothing matters but the word.’ They spend their time reading, studying and they become authorities on theology and doctrine. As a result they become proud of their own great knowledge, and they may get the admiration of others who join in with them but this is nothing but a little mutual admiration society.
Nobody is converted, Nobody is convicted. Heads packed with understanding – useless. Word only.”MLJ
A Dull Preacher: “How can a man be dull when he is handling such (sc.biblical) themes? I will say that a dull preacher is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher. He may stand in the pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher. With the grand theme and message of the Bible, dullness is impossible.”MLJ
True Preaching: “All true Christian preaching should be expository… The expositor opens what seems to be closed, makes plain what is confusing, unravels what is knotted, and unfolds what is tightly packed.” JS
A Bridge: “Just as a bridge makes it possible for traffic to flow from one side of a river or ravine to another, so our preaching must make it possible for God’s revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures and into the lives of men and women today. Both ends of our bridges must be firmly rooted if we are to be able to show that Christianity is still relevant today” JS
A New Generation: “We should be praying that God will raise up a new generation of Christian communicators who are determined to bridge the chasm; who struggle to relate God’s unchanging Word to our ever- changing world; who refuse to sacrifice truth to relevance or relevance to truth; but who resolve instead in equal measure to be faithful to Scripture and pertinent to today.” JS
“IT IS NOT”: Preaching is not a cooking show! When people are hungry, they don’t want the recipe, they want a meal.
“EFFECTIVE PREACHER”: To be effective, the preacher’s message must alarm, arouse, challenge; it must be God’s present voice to a particular people.
“A HALF HOUR”: To preach for more than half hour, a man should be an angel himself or have angels for hearers.
“CHURCH PEOPLE NEED SAVING”: The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do.
PREACHING and TEACHING
“THE DIFFERENCE”: The most helpful illustration of this comes from John Piper. He pictures a herald riding into town, shouting from high atop his horse, “Hear ye! Hear ye! The Emperor has declared an amnesty to all slaves!” That, Piper says, is preaching: proclaiming good news, announcing something that has happened, that completely changes the situation of the listeners. But he then imagines people approaching the herald with questions.
What does amnesty mean?
When does this announcement take effect?
Does that mean I can leave my slave master now?
Will compensation be paid to masters?
And so on. At that point, Piper says, you have to start teaching: explaining the implications of the news, helping people with concepts and ideas they don’t understand, and telling people what they need to do in response, given their various situations.
In other words, the difference between preaching and teaching is not shouting versus whispering, or illuminating versus bamboozling, or revealing versus informing. In a nutshell, it’s the difference between heralding and explaining. Andrew Wilson
ALONE and SILENT: Each of us needs an opportunity to be alone and silent, or even, indeed, to find space in the day or in the week, just to reflect and to listen to the voice of God that speaks deep within us. . . . In fact, our search for God is only our response to his search for us. He knocks at our door, but for many people, their lives are too preoccupied for them to be able to hear. Cardinal Basil Hume
In the Bible, Sabbath rest means to cease regularly from and to enjoy the results of your work. It provides balance: “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:9–10). Although Sabbath rest receives a much smaller amount of time than work, it is a necessary counterbalance so that the rest of your work can be good and beneficial.
Thus Sabbath is about more than external rest of the body; it is about inner rest of the soul. We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves—to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have. Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10). Only then will you be able to “walk away” regularly from your vocational work and rest.
Sabbath is the key to getting this balance, and Jesus identifies himself as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27– 28)—the Lord of Rest! Jesus urges us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29). One of the great blessings of the gospel is that he gives you rest that no one else will. Tim Keller