Michael Easley: How I Preach

May 8th, 2017| Topic: aBeLOG, How I Preach | 0

Michael Easley: How I Preach

Michael Easley: And this is How I Preach …

[Michael Easley is the Teaching Pastor at Fellowship Church in Nashville, TN, and the host of Michael Easley InContext, a weekly radio program. He is the erstwhile President of Moody Bible Institute. And his pastoral experience spans more than three decades. A DTS grad, Michael is a preacher at heart and pastoring runs in his veins. I had the pleasure of sharing pulpits with Michael at a recent conference and, upon my invitation, the gracious man generously consented to an interview. Here’s Michael …]

Michael J. Easley
Teaching Pastor
Fellowship Church, Nashville, TN

Current gig (preaching, teaching, etc.) and years at it:
I have been at Fellowship for nine years, and rotate through its three campuses.
(I have served full-time at two other churches and at Moody Bible Institute for a total of 33 years.)

Who or what made you want to preach:
Not long after coming to Christ, I was invited to a church in Houston, TX, where the pastor was an expositor. It was the first time I had  heard expositional teaching: it was as if, having never tasted sugar, someone had given me a milkshake! I had to know how he knew what he did and if I could learn the same.
Before long, I was involved in a college men’s Bible study and was invited to teach. You might say that is when others encouraged me in what they called an area of gifting.

Who are you most indebted to for making you the preacher you are (besides God)?
God used several key men at key times in my life.
A college roommate, Bill Pillsbury, was the first person who ever encourage me that I could, in fact, learn to teach.
A surgeon in the college town also took an interest in me, Dr. Rick Hurst, discipling me and moving me toward seminary.
Once in Dallas Seminary, Howard Hendricks, Bill Lawrence, Stan Toussaint, John Hannah—all encouraged me in countless ways.

Most used English Bible version?
New American Standard Bible.
For message preparation, I also try to compare a number of other English translations, knowing that those in the congregation use a variety of versions.

Use of Greek and Hebrew (light/moderate/heavy)?
Moderate.
I use the language every day I study but by no means am a scholar.

Current computer(s)/device(s)/software that you use for preaching prep?
I was a very early adopter to Logos Bible Software.
I have used both Mac and PC.
(Most recently, moved back to a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon machine, running Windows 10 that handles Logos exceptionally well.)

One word that best describes how you prepare to preach:
Slogging.

One word that best describes how you preach:
Exhorting.

What tools/aids for sermon prep can’t you live without (books? software?)?
As noted, Logos Bible Software. IMHO, it is unsurpassed.
(For any who are using it or considering buying it, I highly recommend budgeting for Camp Logos, a two-and-a-half- day training that is offered around the country.

What does your workspace look like when you are prepping?
Clean of distractions; only tools pertaining to study.
I face a wall so that I am not distracted (I was ADD before it was cool).
I compartmentalize (a psychiatrist friend once observed that I had learned compensatory focus without knowing it 😀 ).

Illustrations: Where do you go for them and how do you store them?
This is hard. Obviously, we all read a lot and so I used to spend time looking in everything I read.
Yet I believe you can share your own personal frustrations, failures, temptations …, and it causes people to go, “Huh, he’s just like me.” That connection garners more impact that illustrations you pull from a book.
That said, an excellent quote is powerful. I am not afraid to share an author’s or pastor’s comment, always attributing it to them.
Additionally, with proper decorum, I find that referring to good examples in the church by name, who have taught me something and whom I respect, is very powerful.

Tell us your sermon-prep routine.
It begins with an extensive survey, months prior to when we’ll teach though a book of the Bible.
Since we have a team of pastor-teachers, we try to get off site for a day and do a high level look at the book.
We use synthetic or introductory commentaries like Talk Thru the Bible, or a literary approach à la  Charles Talbert (Reading Luke, for e.g.), to get an overview of major themes.
We then map out the number of weeks we want to target.
Once we’ve done initial broad spade work, we break down the sections, assign each a draft title, look for major themes or topics, characteristics of God, what God wants of his people, etc.

Typically the week or more before I actually teach, I begin reading the English text repeatedly, taking note of the first-blush questions that arise; people in the pew who are probably reading it for the first time may have similar questions.
After that, I begin with a basic Bible-Study-Method approach, asking: Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?
I look for “stand-out” grammar issues (in the English text).
Then I turn to commentaries—synthetic, critical, and expository varieties thereof.
Depending on the passage, I’ll spend up to 30% of my time in the languages, exploring main terms, the basic grammatical outline, etc.; if the passage has been diagramed I will look at that.

The most difficult aspect for me is moving from an exegetical outline to an expository outline.
For some reason, after 30+ years, I still struggle with writing out the first draft of outline points.
Once I get the first draft of 3, 4, 5 or so main outline points, then I begin writing.

Perhaps the most important thing for me is to keep in mind the “end-hearer.”

Average numbers of prep hours per sermon?
Fifteen to thirty hours.

What’s your best time-saving trick?
As noted above, the synthetic overview, identifying major themes and doctrines, and laying out the passages that we will teach weekly.

What time of the day are you most effective?
Varies.
If all I did was study and teach, early mornings.
With meetings and other responsibilities, it is whatever I can carve out.
In a perfect world it would be 6:00 am until lunch time.

Any props used regularly in sermons? PowerPoint? Handout?
No. Our culture loathes PowerPoint.

No notes/some notes/extensive notes (manuscript)?
I use what I call an “extensively annotated outline.”
Generally after the second time I have taught the passage (we have four services at our main campus) the notes are just a safety net or a good one-line summary.

Who critiques your sermons, beside yourself?
My wife is my best critic.
A couple of the elders are good at encouraging as well as asking me things like, “Was that needed?”

How has your preaching improved over time?
Learning my cultural context is still an art. I need to keep in mind that the audience, God’s people, needs to hear from God’s word, not merely my take on things.
I worked so hard for so many years on everything I learned in seminary only to discover that 90% of the people in the church couldn’t care one iota. They care about their marriage, money, sexual temptations, parenting kids, health concerns, a new home, fear losing their jobs, getting caught in some sin, ….
Too often I’ve preached to the maturing believer forgetting that most folks have a very limited understanding of salvation, much less discipleship.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Humility? 😉
Hmm …. How do I answer this? I suspect people would say I’m “real.” What you see is what you get.

What do you listen to while you work?
A playlist of music I’ve created.
No lyrics. Some classical, some soundtracks, some quiet “white noise” music.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I used to be more extroverted. As I’ve aged, I’ve become introverted.
(Part of this is having less to prove and part of it is due to being weary.)

What are you currently reading?
Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman.
Luther: Man Between God and the Devil by Heiko Oberman.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester.
About seven different commentaries on the Gospel of Mark. [Editor’s query: And the best is …?]

What do you wish you had learned when you were in seminary?
I suspect I’m odd in this regard. I have no complaint as to what seminary did not teach me.
I think seminary prepared me for what I could not or would not learn on my own: theology, languages, Bible study methods, history.
Things like leadership, communication, polity, discipleship, philosophies of ministry … can be learned post-seminary, IMHO.

Exercise routine? Sleep routine?
Prior to four major back surgeries I was very disciplined, exercising three or four times a week. Now, unfortunately, I’m pretty sedentary.
Sleep? I take what I get. Generally 4–6 hours.

Spiritual disciplines?
I try to be in the word each day for myself, reading through Scripture.
I make my way through several guides including Ken Boa’s Handbook to Prayer, Arthur Bennett’s Valley of Vision, Michael and Sharon Rusten’s The One Year Christian History.
One of my disciplines over the years has been to write out prayers. Here is one I wrote in recognition of the daunting task of preaching His word.

Favorite food?
All things Mexican.

What do you do when you aren’t involved in preaching-related activities?
My wife, Cindy, and I lead a two-year marriage mentor group that meets weekly in our home. We take attendees through several tools, including Living by The Book text and workbook by Howard and Bill Hendricks, and The Moody Handbook of Theology, edited by Paul Enns. I then work with the husbands on a rotating basis, one-on-one. Essentially it is a discipleship process.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“The reward of work is not the end of the work but the work itself” (my father, Joseph R. Easley).
“You overestimate what you can accomplish in one year and underestimate what you can accomplish in three” (personal letter form James Montgomery Boice).
“Be free of the fear of men and full of the fear of God” (Bill Lawrence).

Anything else you’d like to add?
Pursue great men.
I have made it a practice all my life to seek out older men in business, ministry, medicine, men with great marriages, who are great disciple-makers and great counselors …. Never stop learning. Even now, at 60, I make new relationships with older Christian men regarding what I should be focusing on, for His kingdom and His glory, for the next ten years.

[For the rest of this series, How I Preach (couple of years’ worth), see here.]

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