When I was in my first year of Bible college, we had to buy and read this book for our preaching module. But I have to admit that I obviously didn't think that this book could make me a better preacher because I didn't bother to read it. (In my defence, I was trying to read the entire Bible through for the first time in all my spare hours!) It wasn't until my third and final year at the college that God brought me to my knees, because I had just preached one of the worst sermons of my life. I pleaded with God about this. Stuart Olyott's book was the answer. It was in the house I was staying at. So I picked it up and began reading. The following week I preached again at the same church. We all noticed a surprising difference. I had improved considerably in just one week and the people completely understood what I was talking about and were really blessed. Even a 16 year old lad came up to me and told me how much he had enjoyed listening to me and that he had understood me. So Olyott can help even the worst preacher in the world to really improve in a small time!
His book is short, simple, clear and focuses on the bare essentials of good preaching. He begins the book by seeking to answer the question 'What is preaching?' (Part 1). This is an age-old question, but Olyott puts forth his answer. This is an engaging opening chapter.
But the real substance of this book is found in Part 2. Here, Olyott shows us exactly what it takes if we wish to preach well. He looks at the following.
1. 'Exegetical Accuracy' - preachers need to be very careful as they seek to discover exactly what a biblical passage means. What principles should govern us as we seek to find out the true meaning of a passage? And how can we improve in this? A foundational chapter and the start of all true, God-honouring preaching.
2. 'Doctrinal Substance' - our messages should be rich in biblical teaching. Olyott proves this by showing what happens when sermons are not filled with biblical substance. In short: the church perishes. Spurgeon told his students: 'Sermons should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial, and abundant ... we cannot afford to utter pretty nothings.'
3. 'Clear Structure' - many otherwise good messages never reach the minds of the congregation because they are all over the place. A message needs one clear point, which should be the main point of any given passage. Also, the sermon needs to be broken up into clear headings which accurately and fairly explain the meaning of the passage or text. This makes the message easier for the people to follow. We want a sermon to be as easy as possible for people to understand.
4. 'Vivid Illustration' - I have recently become incredibly aware of how important and useful illustrations and stories are in preaching. Stories are memorable, they excite the imagination and they bring the truth to life. Olyott shows us of their value and how to prepare illustrations. Spurgeon again told his students: 'Our Saviour ... took care to fill His speech with similitudes [illustrations], so that the common people heard Him gladly: His example stamps with high authority the practice of illuminating heavenly instruction with comparisons and similes.' We dare not avoid this section. (For further study, I strongly recommend Spurgeon's 24th chapter in 'Lectures to My Students', on 'Illustrations in Preaching'. In fact, the following few chapters are all excellent in this respect. Find them on the internet and have a read.)
5. 'Pointed Application' - Now many preachers can do all of the above, but fail at this point. They don't get under the skin of the people; they don't question the congregation, challenge them or test their faith. It's as though the passage has nothing direct to say. But Scripture is supposed to be for the purpose of application: 'All Scripture is ... profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that those who serve God might be thoroughly equipped for every good work ... Preach the Word! ... Reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching' (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2). A preacher is useless if he hasn't sought to try to change people on the basis of what the Word of God teaches in any particular place.
6. 'Helpful Delivery' - Olyott speaks here of such things as our spirits when we preach, our language, our appearance, our time, etc. A helpful section, but I think obviously the least important.
7. 'Supernatural Authority' - One of the most significant sections and this is why it comes last. A preacher needs to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit, which means he needs to be praying for 'unction' regularly. The force of Olyott's argument comes especially from some biblical quotations which prove that the Holy Spirit needs to come upon the Word of God if there is to be 'much assurance' and real, lasting change in the hearts and lives of the people (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
Part 3 is almost an appendix. It has two chapters. One looks at how Stuart Olyott himself seeks to go about preparing sermons. There is some really useful stuff here. For example, when he has finished preparing a message, and has gone over it a few times, Stuart will get on his knees and pray over the completed notes. He writes: 'This is a million times better than rehearsing your message!' This is a strong rebuke to those of us who neglect prayer and the help of the Spirit in our preparation and delivery. The final chapter is a small biography of the life and ministry of Hugh Morgan. I personally didn't get much from it and I think Olyott has only put it in because of the impact Morgan had on his own life. Certainly by the end of Part 2, Olyott has said all he really needs to say.
In conclusion, the book is excellent for any preacher at all, whether he's been preaching for 5 weeks or 20 years. You are bound to find something of value in here. However, it is obviously especially helpful to those who are beginning this great work of preaching. This book is a super starting point and if you put into practice much of what is said here, God will bless your preaching. In it's own right, it's the best book on preaching around, because it touches every aspect of preaching. Yet it won't overload you with too much information.