Ramesh Richard: How I Preach

August 20th, 2015| Topic: aBeLOG, How I Preach | 8

Ramesh Richard: How I Preach

Ramesh Richard: And this is How I Preach

[Ramesh is one of my senior colleagues at Dallas Theological Seminary (and was one of my teachers, I might add). A solid thinker and writer on matters of preaching, hermeneutics, and apologetics, he is also the president of Ramesh Richard Evangelism and Church Health (RREACH), a global proclamation ministry with significant impact among leaders and pastors in many continents—the man has ministered in more than a hundred countries. Besides serving together in the same department at DTS, we used to attend the same church, too. A good friend and advisor, RR always has wise things to say. About anything! Listen ….]

Ramesh P. Richard
Professor of Global Theological Engagement and Pastoral Ministries
Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas
Ramesh Richard Evangelism and Church Health, Dallas, Texas

Current gig (preaching, teaching, etc.) and years at it:
Teaching preaching at Dallas Seminary for thirty-something years.
Preaching all over the place, as my ministry takes me.
Monthly evangelistic short talks delivered via Facebook and content-sensitive websites.
Long time ago, pulpit pastor of Delhi Bible Fellowship, New Delhi, India.

Who or what made you want to preach:
From my earliest years, I was deeply affected by need—both spiritual and numerical—in the culture-rich and people-rich context in which I grew up in Southern India. From when I was very young, these realities made me want to urgently get out God’s good news and right views. I became an open-market proclaimer (street-preacher?) in my mid-teens.

Who are you most indebted to for making you the preacher you are (besides God)?
In terms of desire to study—my “layman” dad, John Richard, who worked extra hard to prepare.
In terms of pulpit style and impact—my pastor from teenage years, Samuel Kamaleson.
In terms of biblical conviction—my pastor father-in-law who wanted right doctrine and practice.
In terms of method—the whole Dallas Seminary academic process; Howard Hendricks and his Bible Study Methods and Haddon Robinson in his Biblical Preaching.

Most used English Bible version:
New American Standard Bible.

Use of Greek and Hebrew (light/moderate/heavy)?
“Moderate” probably describes me best, but I’m easily able and do desire to delve deeply into a text depending on the exegetical richness/challenges of a passage and when time is available.

Current devices you use for preaching prep?
Smartphone-based resources on the go.
Jotter pad (my second most important tool) for sudden ideas that erupt in the imagination.

What tools/aids for sermon prep can’t you live without?
Almost everything I need (except fine, live, new illustrations) is available on LOGOS software; my peripatetic lifestyle and other leadership roles demand continuous and quick access to study tools that LOGOS provides in its various manifestations.

One word that best describes how you prepare to preach:
Reverential (but without fear).
Reverential in hope and trust about (1) what the text may yield in terms of self-examination; (2) processing, even, revising theological/practical preferences; (3) the obstinacy of the text when I wish to impose my own structure, meaning, or timeless lessons on it; and (4) the stewardship of the preaching moment which affects lives for earth and eternity.
And yet I am unafraid in preparation, because of the Holy Spirit who has inspired the text, quite well anticipating that this stumbling communicator might just be preaching it some day!

One word that best describes how you preach:
Powerful (a description others mention frequently, though I suspect they mistake volume and speed for passion and power !). I wish to add other descriptive adjectives such as freely, authentically, clearly, even expansively or epically.

What does your workspace look like when you are prepping?
Since most of the mechanics of my sermon prep work is done on a computer, the word processing pages themselves look messy and somewhat colorful; my desk space is untidy but not chaotic—I know where everything is! I clean up my desk before heading off on each international trip so my wife can think reasonably good thoughts about me during extended absences.

Illustrations: Where do you go for them and how do you store them?
My best illustrations come from life itself, in terms of variety, people, and their stories. I attempt to find connections to spiritual truths, write them out, take a picture of it, and email myself. Most of my illustrations come from the newspaper, which I rip out, write a caption, and file away. I am usually preparing for the future, even if it is not for a particular sermon, which keeps me looking out for quality illustrations all the time. I often find them on the internet while trolling for something else.

Tell us your sermon-prep routine.
I pretty much follow my “Scripture Sculpture” method found here and here (I wish to practice what I teach!). I spend a great amount of time exploiting textual content first (and as much as possible), before exploring authorial intent in that textual content; and then subsume the theological move (the extent of the text) under textual content and authorial intent.
Most of this routine is not linear, but a dynamic, even instinctive, interaction between these three dimensions.
I then go on to the textual outline (of course taking into account appropriate literary markers, genres, etc.) before establishing the theme and thrust of the passage.
My “purpose bridge” (Step 4 of my seven-step process) receives much attention—and is somewhat explorative in self-conversation, taking into account layers of audience analyses and other pedagogical factors to help in forming the rhetorical strategy of the sermon.
Sermon strategy is critical for me (I wish to study more in this area to protect the text from being a mere “thing” and its theology an “abstraction”), often writing the introduction towards the last part of my preparation. I also work a bit on “sloganizing” my sermon’s central proposition to aid in memory, impact, and absorption.
I seek to place one major illustration at every major sermonic move, especially between major points and at the first level of sub-points. It is not unusual to use illustrations (one-liners and illustrative transitions) at the lower levels too.

Average numbers of prep hours per sermon?
20 hours easily (often up to 40 hours for special event sermons, which is unfair to pastors who don’t have that much time allotted to preparation every week) for a sermon with which I want to be satisfied as a steward of the holy text and the audience entrusted to me. This of course leads to the quandary of too long a sermon, and the subsequent inner tension of cutting out large portions of my sermon to fit the time available or audience realities. Time and audience limitations do provide an objective grid to edit down the length of sermons.

What’s your best time-saving trick?
Preach shorter passages, if at all possible—but then I can’t cut down a Psalm or a parable, can I? I have no time-saving tricks, though excellent software is a time-saving tool. I don’t need to haul around all the thick grammatical and lexical aids each time. In fact, I have given away the hard copies of most of those aids.

What time of the day are you most effective?
Morning hours till about 1:00 p.m. Delving into the sermon after my devotional feeding (I try to separate these) during a 3- to 4-hour concentrated period is perhaps the best use of my life/time and brings most joy to my soul. As much as possible, I use afternoon hours for administrative responsibilities—meetings, emails, decisions, etc.

Any props used regularly in sermons? PowerPoint? Handout?
I have creative ideas in presentation, but some one else has to translate them into attractive graphics. I am not afraid to find and use such sermonic supplements, but do not depend on them. I am often in situations where there is no PowerPoint (in one country they assured me of “PowerPoint” facilities and pointed me to the power socket on the wall when I asked for it. ☺), or even electricity.

No notes/some notes/extensive notes (manuscript)?
I have more-than-full notes for every sermon; but do not take them to the pulpit. I learned from early pastoral preaching experiences, that if I took even a simple outline with me to the pulpit, I would simply not be free on the inside in delivering the sermon. Fortunately, no one else knows what I forget to say!

Who critiques your sermons, beside yourself?
When speaking to smaller pre-Christian audiences, almost every body does, whether expressed or not. When speaking to Christian audiences, my wife might let me know that I spoke too fast, or used a story that had the opposite effect than intended! I have sometimes asked seminary peers for weakness or softness after a chapel sermon. They are usually kind in pointing out what could be strengthened.

How has your preaching improved over time?
I think it has gotten worse over time! The academy has tamed me, and made me less spiritual, more self-conscious about performance (in its wrong sense!). I recently heard my own talk from 30 years ago, and it seemed like I didn’t care as much for making an impression then. Now, I am more conscious about how not to come across—a good communication principle. I am slowly recovering from the need to appear erudite or impress people, and part of it is just the spiritual maturing process. What’s gotten better might be specific application drawn from lived-experience.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Was it Plutarch who wrote about “praising yourself inoffensively”? The Bible “let’s another man praise you, but not your own mouth.” Anyway, I am not better than any one else … in anything at all. I might have a more “global” take (i.e., biblically, theologically, philosophically, geographically, ethnically, missiologically, and regarding leadership) on matters that provides some uniqueness to my talks. I believe God has grown me in these areas through formal, non-formal, and informal education over a few decades.

What do you listen to while you work?
Our local classical music station. Till I found a fantastic repertoire of internet radio stations (without commercials!). I some times like to wear those bulky noise-cancelling headphones a friend gave me for Christmas without any music source at all!

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Around the preaching experience (before, during, and immediately after), I probably go into the expressive mode. I love being quiet and inaccessible—especially on the long 15-hour flights—though internet access is intruding into that quietness too.

What are you currently reading?
I just finished Abe Kuruvilla’s Privilege the Text, deliberately interacting with it for common interests (hermeneutics for homiletics) as seminary colleagues. I try to read the Financial Times in hard copy and a few electronic news sources. I hardly watch television.

What do you wish you had learned when you were in seminary?
The spiritual dynamics of preaching—we excelled in its mechanics. I would like to help form spiritually alert preachers who live biblically before they preach biblically. Exegeting culture (in addition to the text) with theological discernment and for evangelistic opportunity. And then of course, leadership which is really only forged through experience, but can be introduced early in concept at least. We cannot force-learn some of these subjects too early.

Exercise routine? Sleep routine?
Exercise at least three times a week for an hour and with Bonnie, my wife, at a local fitness center with a trainer who frequently helps me discover muscles I never knew existed. I sleep reasonably well, and find 6½ to 7 hours a day are usually enough, as long as I have a 20-minute nap mid-afternoon to refresh me for a long evening. By the way, I find it much harder to overcome jet lag these days, and have tried many ideas to beat the problem (ideas anyone?).

Spiritual disciplines?
Almost always, extended regular times in the Scripture, and with a composition notebook and LOGOS software as I process Scripture devotionally. I possess over 25 years of such notebooks, which mark my journey with the Lord and his word. I hand-write with an array of fountain pens of varied quality and ink colors. Each notebook features these words on the cover: Personal: Do Not Open Until Death. (My wife assures me that she will not open them even after I die because of the frustration of illegible handwriting! My handwriting became poor, she notes, when I wrote my first dissertation.) We also pray together frequently.

Favorite food?
Hmmm…. I possess one omni-attribute—omnivorous. I have eaten some exotic foods that you might not care to know about. If I have to choose, broadly speaking, I am more pescatarian than carnivore. Since all foods are ethnic, I don’t have ethnic preferences. I must, for obvious reasons, include (original) Indian food. Thai and Indonesian food combines the best of Chinese and Indian for my palate, methinks.

What you do when you aren’t involved in preaching-related activities?
Serving as the leader of RREACH, an organization that has run parallel to my professorial responsibilities at Dallas Seminary. The latter has greatly encouraged me to provide a global footprint for the ministry initiatives God has birthed in me.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Spiritually, my dad (and my late mother) kept teaching and modeling humility of heart, mind, and lifestyle. Organizationally, my late mentor Fred Smith, taught me that leadership is not a position, but merely a function of servanthood. That is, I am to serve as leader, much like others serve in many other ways.

Fill in the blank. I’d love to see ________ answer these same questions.
I’d like to provide the names of a few outstanding younger preachers, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, personally to Abe, usually products of RREACH’s Global Proclamation Academy, both from here in Dallas, as well as from nations across the world.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I am presently immersed, really submerged, in preparation for the Global Proclamation Congress for Pastoral Trainers, where, the Lord willing, up to 5,000 pastoral trainers are to gather in Bangkok, Thailand, June 2016. This is a part of a decade-long human capital campaign by RREACH to accelerate church health everywhere and then to deliver spiritual health to large numbers of individuals worldwide. There is no church health, without pastoral health. Please read more about it here.

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


  1. Joy John November 28, 2015 at 5:19 am

    Dr. Ramesh Richard was my professor in the early 90s. He taught me theology proper and a course in Missions as a visiting faculty in Asian Christian Academy. I have enjoyed his sense of humor, choice of vocabulary and presence of mind while delivering a sermon or teaching a class. His memory (which is obvious while quoting an author or sharing statistics) adds flavor to the presentation. When I taught homiletics in Asian Christian Academy (www.acaindia.org) for several years, I used Scripture Sculpture written by Dr. Richard. In my observation, the story-telling and -hearing culture has helped and influenced Dr.Richard’s sermonic style. Thanks for sharing the journey of a sermon all the way from preparation to pulpit. Great lessons to follow! Thanks Dr. Kuruvilla, for making the platform available.
    JOY JOHN, Asian Christian Academy, India.

  2. Nelson T September 5, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Very encouraging, indeed. Thanks for your effort to introduce such an exemplary preacher of God’s word.

  3. Prof. P. P. Thomas August 22, 2015 at 9:02 am

    I have known Ramesh through UESI (Union of Evangelical Students of India). He might remember me. I was associated with UESI in the 50s and have known most of the first generation of its leaders.

    I am so delighted to see the interview with Ramesh. Indeed I shall be thankful you for sending it.

    P. P. Thomas
    Kerala, INDIA

  4. Michael Karpf August 21, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you for these articles, Abraham. Ramesh was my professor at Dallas Theological Seminary (for Prolegomena and Bibliology, not Expository Preaching!). I’ve been good friends with him for nearly 30 years, and will look forward to seeing him here in Bangkok when the GPro Congress meets here next June. I recently read his book Preparing Expository Sermons, and after my first D.Min class on preaching at Dallas, it’s time to read it again!

    On jet lag; I’ve found whatever works best for you, do that. A friend who is a flight attendant told me it is best to stay up until bedtime on the new time zone. That has always worked well for me on westbound flights. On eastbound flights, I might take a nap when I arrive in the morning for a few hours, then get up and go to bed at the local time. I do take Ambien when I fly (when I go to bed, not on the plane!). I also find it best to rest the next day, and not plunge into work or whatever you are doing. Take it easy and catch up on sleep. Hope this helps anyone who reads this.


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