Philip Ryken: How I Preach

May 16th, 2016| Topic: aBeLOG, How I Preach | 2

Philip Ryken: How I Preach

Philip Ryken: And this is How I Preach …

[Philip Ryken is the eighth and current president of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, and a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and Oxford University. He joined the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1995, and succeeded James Boice as its Senior Minister in 2000. He has been at Wheaton for the last six years (where his father, Leland Ryken, still teaches), succeeding Duane Litfin. Prolific author, speaker, and preacher, he graciously consented to this interview amidst a busy schedule and a tight season in life. Here’s Phil Ryken …]

Philip G. Ryken
Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
Board Member
Council of Christian Colleges and Universities
National Association of Evangelicals

Current gig (preaching, teaching, etc.) and years at it:
I preach once a month in chapel services at Wheaton College, and about once a week at various churches, Bible conferences, and other venues.
I have been preaching regularly for about 25 years, including 15 years at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church.

Who or what made you want to preach:
The clear call of God on my life, as well as the example of many faithful preachers that I have listened to over the course of a lifetime.

Who are you most indebted to for making you the preacher you are (besides God)?
My parents—Lee and Mary Ryken—for their teaching and example in living the Christian life and placing a family priority on the public worship of God.
And also my wife—Lisa Ryken—for her total commitment and encouragement to my calling as a preacher.

Most used English Bible version?
The English Standard Version, as the most literal and elegant version for family worship and public teaching, but it’s not something I feel the need to fight about.

Use of Greek and Hebrew (light/moderate/heavy)?
I am not skilled enough to discover any exegetical breakthroughs, but I want to have a feel for the original context and I need to know the difference between a good argument and a bad argument in a commentary.

Current computer(s)/device(s)/software that you use for preaching prep?
I’m old school, using mainly Bibles and other books with pages.
However, I like to be online to look things up quickly.

One word that best describes how you prepare to preach:
Grueling and exhilarating.

One word that best describes how you preach:
Didactically, christologically, and I hope joyfully.

What tools/aids for sermon prep can’t you live without (books? software?)?
Probably the only thing I can’t live without is an English Bible.

What does your workspace look like when you are prepping?
Well organized.

Illustrations: Where do you go for them and how do you store them?
Mainly from memory and life experience.
However, I save anecdotes in folders for any upcoming sermon series, so I usually have some good material to draw from.
Also, I have thousands of illustrations saved in an electronic database, and sometimes turn there in times of need (not as often as I would expect to, though).

Tell us your sermon-prep routine.
Read a book or passage repeatedly in the days, weeks, months leading up to sermon preparation.
Pray for the help of the Holy Spirit throughout, especially when things don’t seem to be going so well.
Take an hour or so to prepare a clear, detailed outline.
Use tools, including commentaries, to fill out the outline.
Write the sermon from start to finish over a period of days.
Re-read and revise extensively.
Eliminate roughly a quarter of my material so that I don’t go on too long.
Preach as well as I can, remaining open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, especially for application.
Leave the results in God’s hands.

Average numbers of prep hours per sermon?
Ideally, twenty hours per sermon, but in practice more like ten to twelve hours.

What’s your best time-saving trick?
There really aren’t any time-saving tricks.
Preparing to preach is tremendously hard work, and to give my best always takes time.

Any props used regularly in sermons? PowerPoint? Handout?
No—old school.
But also I believe in the unique power of the spoken word, under the Holy Spirit.

No notes/some notes/extensive notes (manuscript)?
Full manuscript, which helps me to be clearer and more concise.

Who critiques your sermons, beside yourself?
No one else critiques my sermons in any disciplined way, which is not ideal.
Most of my sermons end up in print, always after critique from scholars, pastors, and lay people.

How has your preaching improved over time?
In every way, but especially in practical application.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Twentieth century baseball trivia, or else play calling for pick-up football.

What do you listen to while you work?
If I am writing, preparing to preach, or doing other serious intellectual work I prefer silence.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
About in the middle, which is why I generally spend my mornings alone and my afternoons working with others.

What are you currently reading?
American Icon, by Bryce Hoffman
My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk
Strong and Weak, by Andy Crouch

What do you wish you had learned when you were in seminary?
Honestly, nothing.
I learned tons of Bible and theology in seminary, as well as a few practical things.
There are lots of practical things I never learned in seminary, but I never expected seminary to teach me all the things that you can only learn in the life of the church.

Exercise routine? Sleep routine?
When I am at home, mainly basketball or soccer three times a week.
When I’m traveling, I do some running, with only modest enjoyment, at best.
When it’s not too cold, Lisa and I do some cycling together.

Spiritual disciplines?
Mainly, some simple Bible reading and prayer every day, especially first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
Also, family devotions after dinner.
But the word “disciplines” might sound misleadingly rigorous for me.

Favorite food?
Variety is the spice of life.

What do you do when you aren’t involved in preaching-related activities?
Mainly, whatever my kids are doing, including sports, strategy games, and the Food Network.

Fill in the blank. I’d love to see _______ answer these same questions.
Thomas Boston, the Scottish pastor and theologian from the early eighteenth century.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“You’d better tell her that you love her.”
“Don’t try to master [golf]; just try to enjoy it.”
“Do it for the glory of God, and for fun.”

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


  1. Binoy Chacko April 30, 2019 at 11:46 am

    Hi Dr. Abe,

    Extremely impressed by your sermon on Ephesians 1 which you gave at DTS chapel. I am a wannabe preacher. I look up to people who practise the art of preaching with precision. I would like to know, how I can improve my preaching. I really struggle with delivery aspeect and gathering my thoughts. I would be great if you could share some tips.

    In Christ
    Binoy Chacko

    • Abe Kuruvilla May 1, 2019 at 5:36 pm



      First step would be to read all you can about preaching. From my own work, I would recommend a new book coming out later this year, A Manual for Preaching: The Journey from Text to Sermon and an earlier one, A Vision for Preaching: Understanding the Heart of Pastoral Ministry. It would help if you have some senior preacher mentor you through this.

      All God’s blessings on you!


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