Hershael York: How I Preach

June 16th, 2014| Topic: aBeLOG, How I Preach | 3

Hershael York: How I Preach

Hershael York: And this is How I Preach …

[I’m happy to present Hershael on How I Preach. A fellow-member of the Evangelical Homiletics Society, he holds up the fort of preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As you will see, he’s one cool guy. I’ve enjoyed being around him, most recently teaching a PhD class at Southern last month. Enjoy his wisdom!]

Hershael W. York
Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
Senior Pastor
Buck Run Baptist Church, Frankfort, Kentucky

Current gig (preaching, teaching, etc.) and years at it:
Teaching preaching at Southern for 17 years.
Preaching most Sundays of the year at Buck Run Baptist Church.

Most used English Bible version:
English Standard Version, but all my quotations come out in King James, which is what I grew up with.

Use of Greek and Hebrew (light/moderate/heavy):
Very heavy in Greek. I had 56 hours of Greek before seminary (classical and Koiné).

[AK: He told me he reads the Greek New Testament like he does USAToday.]

To force myself to gain more proficiency in Hebrew, I have started memorizing the Psalms in Hebrew. Last year I even prayed in Hebrew all of Psalm 118 in the Kentucky Senate!

Current software for sermon prep:
Evernote Premium for the collection and organization of materials.
Logos 5 for Bible study and checking my work across commentaries when I need it.

Who or what made you want to preach:
My father, Wallace York, was my greatest mentor and had the deepest impact on my life. He pastored small churches, mostly in Kentucky, during my childhood, though we also were in Brazil for a brief time. When I was 15 he accepted a pastorate in Detroit. My dad lived life well and had a deep love for people. Being his son gave me a front-row seat to see a shepherd, a preacher, and a missionary at work, and the Lord used that in my life to shape me.

One word that best describes how you prepare to preach:
Intimacy (with the text).

One word that best describes how you preach:

Who are you most indebted to for making you the preacher you are (besides God)?
Other than my dad, Adrian Rogers was a key mentor and motivator. He was perhaps the most magnanimous and gifted man I ever knew, yet he always made himself available to me. I would ask him for 30 minutes and he would give me three hours. Everything he said was significant, helpful, and taught me how to honor Christ and value people. He trained me to be consistent, to never sacrifice integrity for anything, and he even let me into his regrets. Every day of my teaching and pastoring bears his mark.

What tools/aids for sermon prep can’t you live without?
My English Standard Version.
My Greek New Testament (UBS2, though they’re at UBS4 now).
Evernote Premium.
Logos 5.

What does your workspace look like when you are prepping?
I’m a mess. Stuff is stacked all around me on the desk, the desk has two computers, and there are piles of books and materials on the floor.

Illustrations: Where do you go for them and how do you store them?
I love to read things that no one else seems to be noticing: Historical nonfiction (Jon Krakauer), Alison Weir’s books on the Tudors, anything by Malcolm Gladwell.
Personal life stuff.
I avoid books and databases of illustrations—they are universally bad.
I don’t file illustrations except in my brain and in my sermons. If I need to find them again, they are accessible via the MacBook spotlight feature.

Average numbers of prep hours per sermon:
My whole life!
That being said, I probably spend six hours of work per Sunday morning sermon, and less than that for Sunday evening or Wednesday evening sermons. I also frequently use class time at the seminary to work through a text with students that I am planning on preaching, so that yields a double benefit.
Those six hours represent a lifetime of study, preparation, and clear, hard, thinking about the text. At this stage of ministry, I am rarely looking at something for the first time and all the work I have previously spent on the text helps.

What’s your best time-saving trick?
Planning my preaching calendar in advance and gathering material for multiple sermons simultaneously.

What time of the day are you most effective?

Tell us your sermon-prep routine?
I plan my schedule months in adavance, so I am constantly gathering material for sermons that I will not preach for weeks.
Folders in Evernote for each sermon I have planned.
About three weeks out I take a look at the text and diagram it if it is an epistolary passage or one that seems more than a clear vertical narrative-type structure.
Come up with a barebones descriptive outline of the pericope.
The week that I preach I move from that descriptive outline to a full-blown homiletical outline.
Each point contains careful explanation of the text, appropriate illustration, and a restatement and explanation of the application. I usually have that done by Thursday evening, Friday morning at the latest.

Any props used regularly in sermons? Slides? Handout?
Fill-in-the-blank outlines in the bulletin.
(My fellow-pastors and I constantly debate the pros and cons of this, but the value of them having a clear outline to keep and to which they can refer and even teach others is very helpful. As a result many of our small-groups base their teaching time on discussion and application of the sermon.)

No notes/some notes/extensive notes (manuscript)?
Very brief notes. The older I get, the fewer notes I need.

Who critiques your sermon, besides yourself?
My staff (three other pastors and several interns).
And my wife who is my most gracious, brutal, encouraging, deflating, faithful, and almost always accurate critic.

How has your preaching improved over time?
Because I see the connectedness of the whole Bible more clearly with advancing years, I have a greater excitement and passion, a deeper intimacy with the text, and a far greater love for people than ever. Those things coalesce more obviously and wonderfully in my preaching than ever before.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Enjoying my life.
My wife and I have a blast wherever we are, and we go to a lot of exciting places, but we’ve never lost the wonder of waking up together, or of going to the grocery as a couple, or laughing so hard at ourselves that we can’t see.

What do you listen to while you work?
The most eclectic stuff imaginable.
Bach, Dylan, Brooklyn Tab, James Taylor, Etta James, Josh Garrels, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Steely Dan, or whatever else strikes my fancy.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I am an introvert, no question. I’m comfortable on a platform in front of 1000 or more people, but in a room of 20 people I am awkward and don’t know what to do. I usually find a corner chair and spend the whole evening watching my wife work the room while I talk to the other awkward introvert sitting in the adjacent chair.

What are you currently reading?
A series of rock-music biographies: Judy Collins, Graham Nash, David Crosby.
Currently, Lisa Robinson’s There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll.
(I know it’s not very sanctified, but it defines our age and how we got where we are.)

Exercise routine? Sleep routine?
My wife and I are in bed by 10:00 pm, though we may not go to sleep for a couple of hours—that is our connection time.
I get up very early, usually before 5:00 am.

What do you wish you had learned when you were in seminary?
How to be more disciplined in my writing.

Spiritual disciplines?
Reading through the Bible, memorizing Psalms in Hebrew, prayer, journaling.

Favorite food?
I’ve gotten on a Vietnamese kick lately.
But I love Thai, Chinese, a ribeye steak, and southern foods, especially fried.

What you do when you aren’t involved in preaching-related activities?
Travel. We go to Manaus, Brazil, a lot—it’s like our second home and I love fishing for peacock bass.
We adore the Big Island of Hawaii, especially the Kohala Coast.
All kinds of other places around the world.
I’ve taught at a Baptist seminary in Nigeria and plan to go back soon, too.

Fill in the blank. I’d love to see _____ answer these same questions.
Robert Smith.

[AK: Hershael, your prayers have been answered! Watch this space ….]

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life (Prov 4:23).
My dad preached that at my ordination and it was biblical, personal, meaningful, and very true.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There’s never a time I step in the pulpit without an overwhelming sense of joy and anticipation at what God’s Word will accomplish.

[For the archives of this series, How I Preach, see here.]


  1. Teresa Camden June 17, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Dr. York is my friend , brother-in-Christ and my preacher. He and his sweet family are the real deal. They God and everyone they meet. I thank God for the way he and his family live a godly life in all they do.


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