Extemporaneous Preaching

Consider preaching extemporaneously. For 30 years I preached by reading from a typed manuscript, perhaps like the way most UBFers deliver their Sun messages. But over the past few years, I began preaching extemporaneously without reading from a manuscript. After proposing 8 ways to improve our UBF messages, I would like to also suggest and propose that UBFers consider extemporaneous preaching as a way that could potentially improve the way one preaches.

My typed recollection of my extemporaneous preaching. Let me start by saying that there is nothing wrong with preaching by reading off a manuscript. But do let me suggest that preaching extemporaneously has tremendous benefits that I have personally found. After preaching yesterday on The Kingdom of This World Becomes The Kingdom of Christ (9/29/13), this is my typed recollection of a part of what I preached extemporaneously: Eat The Word, Not Spit It At Others. Feel free to critique it.

Below are my random thoughts and experiences. Let me start with some negative sentiments and bias against extemporaneous preaching.

Extemporaneous preaching seems unspiritual to some older UBFers. Those who have  for decades (20 to 45 years) listened to preaching that is being read from a prepared manuscript may find it very hard to listen to extemporaneous preaching. Older missionaries in particular who have listened predominantly to UBF preaching are very comfortable when they listen to someone reading from a manuscript. They feel as though such a preacher is very well prepared, for they have spent many hours in prayer and in preparing their manuscript with much labor. So when they hear someone preaching without a manuscript, they feel as though that messenger is not prayerful nor prepared, since they seem to be primarily speaking off the cuff from a stream of consciousness. They feel as though the preacher is lazy, unspiritual, unprepared or immature, because they seem to be preaching whatever they like without any weight, gravitas or holiness. In brief, those who are unfamiliar with extemporaneous preaching may despise it and demean it and discredit it.

You cannot give “message training.” When someone is reading off a prepared manuscript you can train the messenger to write and re-write their message over and over again until the message trainer is satisfied. But in my opinion such “UBF message training” has caused some UBF messengers to become unnatural and suboptimal communicators, as many recent comments have said regarding our poorly delivered 2013 ISBC messages. Encouraging and helping younger messengers to preach extemporaneously as a part of their preaching arsenal may be a way of raising more natural preachers and effective communicators of God’s word.

Preaching extemporaneously does not mean preaching without preparation. This should hopefully be obvious. I still write out my sermons as my preparation to preach each week. But I no longer read what I have written. I primarily prepare an outline of what I would preach. For instance, my simple outline of my sermon yesterday (which is quite easily memorized) is:

I. The Kingdom of The World: Under Judgment (The most unpopular message of the Bible)

  • Devastation – Devastation of the world (Rev 8:6-12): The first four trumpets.

  • Woe – Woe, woe, woe to those who reject God (Rev 8:13-9:19): The fifth and sixth trumpet.

  • Idolatry – Refusal to repent of idolatry (Rev 9:20-21).

II. The Kingdom of Christ: Under Grace (Nothing can thwart the final victory of God)

  • Prayer – The purpose of God is accomplished through the prayers of the people of God (Rev 8:1-5).

  • Prophesy – The mystery of God will be accomplished (Rev 10:1-11): Take and eat the scroll, which is sweet and bitter.

  • Power – The witness of the people of God, the church (Rev 11:1-14): God’s providence, provision and protection despite devastation and destruction

  • Praise – God will reign (Rev 11:15-19): The kingdom of Christ is the final and ultimate reality of the people of God.

With this outline I preached extemporaneously for about 40 min.

Some benefits of preaching extemporaneously:

  • I depend on the Holy Spirit more than on my well prepared notes.
  • I share things on the spur of the moment that I did not think of during my preparation.
  • I speak conversationally, rather than lecturing others.
  • I share stories, rather than speak down to others.
  • I am like my audience, and not above my audience.
  • I can gauge my audience’s response better and speak longer or less.

A reason you might not want to preach extemporaneously. It will scare the living daylights out of you the first time you walk to the podium to preach without any notes! The first time I did so, I felt as though the ground would open and swallow me alive.

Would UBF messages and the teaching of Scripture be helped by learning and practicing how to preach extemporaneously?


  1. Joe Schafer

    Ben, the difficulty that I see with extemporaneous preaching is that it requires the speaker to have his own thoughts and convictions. He has to speak from his gut, which is really hard if you have been de-gutted. It requires him to have some awareness of his own identity, which is difficult for people who have been trained to think that expressing their own independent identities is automatically a sign of pride and selfishness.

    • Joe, I am happy to report that your “gut” (which I call emotions and conscience) can grow back, though slowly and not all at once. After being de-gutted by 20 years of ubf message training, I found that my emotions grew back rather quickly after I threw off my ubf entangelments (anger was the first emotion to come back). My conscience took about 2 years to come back, but it has come back and still needs to keep growing to get to a healthy state.

      For 8 years in Detroit, every Sunday, 52 times a year, I “delivered” a “message”. In reality I was regurgitating pre-chewed vomit. I did however spend much time during those 8 years reading other preachers and studying much about how to be a pastor on my own. But my ubf-trained mind rarely added any of that self-learning into the Sunday message. In my mind, such a thing was forbidden still, even though clearly I could have added such things.

      Fear was the driving factor in my decades of message “giving” (i.e. shoving down people’s throats). Message training was sheer terror for me. And standing in front of people was nothing short of an exercise in fear management.

      But now I am my own man. I am myself. I am on the amazing journey of following Jesus myself and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit!

      Now I am driven by grace, not loyalty. Now I am motivated by love, not fear. Now I could stand an speak extemporaneously for hours on end. Now I could preach with no notes and no bible text about the gospel hour after hour. I am SO much more happy now that the Holy Spirit has re-gutted me!

      Love this article Ben!

    • Or I could spend hours and hours writing down my thoughts, blogging endlessly and even writing books. I plan to write a book about the gospel someday.

  2. @Joe, “it requires the speaker to have his own thoughts and convictions. He has to speak from his gut, which is really hard if you have been de-gutted. It requires him to have some awareness of his own identity…” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/09/30/extemporaneous-preaching/#comment-11118 Wow! TBH I did not consider this nor think of it.

    But shouldn’t we do so? Speak from our gut? Relearn and train ourselves to do so, if we haven’t been doing so? (Oops, I asked leading questions instead of making statements!)

    That was a minor point in my sermon yesterday when John (and Ezekial) was asked to “eat” the scroll (Rev 10:9; Eze 3:1). They should not just spit out the scroll for others to hear, but eat it themselves, so that their message does not just come from the scroll but from their very own selves: http://westloop-church.blogspot.com/2013/09/eat-word-not-spit-it-at-others.html

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, you wrote: “But shouldn’t we do so? Speak from our gut?”

      My answer is: Absolutely yes. But it’s not going to be easy. And delivering extemporaneous sermons when you aren’t ready to do so isn’t the best way for a person to find himself. My advice is to take whatever time is necessary to understand yourself, to attend to your emotional health, and to figure out what you believe before inflicting your extemporaneous sermons on a hapless congregation. I used to imagine that, if I didn’t keep preparing and delivering Sunday messages, the world would collapse around me. But now I realize that, if I were to never deliver another message in my life, the world and the church will do just fine.

    • I used to think that Christianity in America would end if I ever left ubf…

      In regard to new preaching ideas, here is how things played out often in my home chapter. Someone brings up a new idea. The director says let’s try it. But no time is taken to understand or properly implement the idea. Then the leaders swoop in and revert back to the old way. Then they say “See there really are no better ways to make disciples than the12 point heritage!”

  3. Ben, the same points could be said about someone extemporaneously sharing a reflection on a Scripture passage, rather than spending hours writing a written reflection (testimony). I’ve found that I received blessing from both, but in different ways.

    BTW, I listened to a round-panel discussion with John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and several other pastors recently on YouTube. They discussed their method of sermon preparation. All the pastors said they preach extemporaneously from 2-5 pages of outlined notes. Interestingly, they all prepared their study and notes using pen and paper, and none of the five or so pastors preferred using a computer. The argument John MacArthur gave was that writing with a pen, especially a fountain pen, slowed him down so that he had time to think deeply about a particular idea or verse.

    • Darren Gruett

      Joshua, I saw that panel discussion as well. Personally, I write all my material out using a pen and paper, and I do not write manuscripts anymore and have not for a long time. I have become so comfortable at it that I cannot believe I used to do it any other way.

  4. @Joshua, your comments about MacArthur writing rather than using a PC reminded me of why C.S. Lewis always wrote with pen and ink all his life and would never use a type-writer: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/jack-s-typewriter

    Yes, I agree that sharing a written reflection is not necessarily superior to sharing extemporaneously. I think that this trend of oral sharing is gaining ground, which sadly troubles some older folk–and I might add unnecessarily.

  5. @Brian, “But now I am my own man.” As you know, this is such a “taboo phrase” that is simply anathema in UBF.

    But that’s why I love you as my dear brother. I pray that someday my other brothers who cringe at hearing you say this might also love you for being “your own man” in Christ.

    • Yes Ben I am aware if that taboo phrase. I find it to be a Christian phrase. I do not support anarchy by saying it. And I believe I belong to Christ who respects my personal boundaries. I am my own man and I am happier than ever now that I realize it. Just don’t tell my wife :)

  6. After leaving ubf I preached sermons at home for more than a year weakly. After 2-3 sundays I tried to preach extemporaneously and I asked my listeners which way was better. They all said that to preach extemporaneously was much better, it was easier to listen to and was more natural and dialogue-style. So the rest of the year I preached extemporaneously. I read John Stott’s “I Believe in Preaching” where he shares that he prepared his sermons in writing and then made an outline and then preached extemporaneously. I followed his example.

    When we joined the Baptist church we saw that all of the sermons were preached extemporaneously there. But they looked very familiar to us after the year of home preaching. And when the pastor asked me to preach it was very easy for me to prepare the sermons and preach extemporaneously. I like this way of preaching, and ubf-style of “delivering the message” now looks not only unnatural for me, but very unnatural and difficult to listen to. I take to the podium my outline notes but I have not looked at them even once.

    At the church who will preach is decided at a meeting 20 minutes before the service. The pastor just told me to be ready every sunday no matter whether I will preach or not, and by now I have been faithful and is always ready :) And nobody has asked me what I will preach about. Just at the meeting someone may ask, “What is the theme of your sermon?”. There is no training, at all. The first time I preached the church listened to me with some “tension” as if asking, “Can we trust this new preacher?”. But after the first sermon people really trust and listen with open hearts. I feel myself a part of the body of the church which does what he was called to do.

    Before I was baptized they asked me, “What gifts from God do you have and which way are you going to serve the church?”. I mentioned preaching among the gifts. And the church blesses me to use the gift and serve with the gift. In the churchI was shocked, you know. For I used to be nothing and nobody, just a subject for the director’s trainings. And even being nothing I was called proud and was given names: sh Humble (right in English!), then sh Humble (in Russian), then Timothy (in order to be a faithful and humble son for the director). But even doing nothing in my new church, taking a back seat and listening I was received very warmly and met many people who came up to me and asked me questions and talked to me as if I was a pastor for them. Many thought I was a pastor from another city (actually I was from another planet) who came to their church as a guest.

    Sometimes people joke about sermon preparation (“What if the pastor gave us a manuscript and told us to read from here till there!? ha-ha-ha”). Then the pastor would say, “This way you may come to the situation as in the organization Vitaly was in”. And they sincerely laugh, and this is though they don’t know all the truth about ubf’s message training.

  7. @Vitaly: “he prepared his sermons in writing and then made an outline and then preached extemporaneously. I followed his example.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/09/30/extemporaneous-preaching/#comment-11126 Thank God who gave you a gift for preaching and teaching.

    This is virtually and practically what I also do in preparing to preach extemporaneously. The only thing I read is Bible verses I have not memorized and quotes by certain people.

    Incidentally, no one else at West Loop preaches extemporaneously other than I. But we are all trying to preach conversationally and relationally with our focus being on the gospel. Recently, we adopted our new catchphrase that was collectively decided upon: “Live out the gospel in life and community.” Hopefully, our preaching will bolster our gospel living.

    • Once a ubf shepherd didn’t prepare a friday night message. To train him the director told him to speak extemporaneously. Usually this shepherd was trained even during the conferences because his “messages were always bad”. He didn’t sleep many nights before the conferences and during them. And at the end of the training he was usually given a message of the director (which was usually in a very poor Russian) and the shepherd didn’t even correct a word. The messages sounded awfully. Everybody saw the messenger didn’t understand what he was speaking himself, literally. But when he spoke extemporaneously at the friday meeting it was beautiful. Everybody smelled the Holy Spirit. But the director stopped him at the half of the message and said the message was bad. Then the director spoke on message preparation and on laziness and unfaithfulness of all Russians and about how to make the city steets clean and the like (nobody knew what and how to do and only the director knew).

    • Sometimes I was also given the director’s message to deliver and I did my best to correct it. Still I didn’t succeed in making the messages mine. I couldn’t preach for I pronounced words and sentences and even intonation (and content of course) that were not mine. I just used to “spit out” the message which was neither God’s word, nor mine. And I agree with Ben that the role of the preacher is to eat the word of God and then speak it as the word of God accepted by the preacher. I was not able “to feel” that I speak the word of God, that I pass it through myself to people. I was “trained” to just perform well, or rather “powerfully”. And after “delivering the messages” I felt unsatisfied, even though I performed well at times.

      When I prepared messages myself (in ubf) still I was not natural at times when reading the manuscript. I believe that it is good to preach when you have what to say, and you have it from God. Then it is better to just say it. Then the true satisfaction comes. I listened to McArthur and Francis Chan and both of them say that perfomance and “practice before the mirror” are not what a preacher should care about. I read Spurgeon and he wrote that even too good suit is not a good thing for a preacher because the preacher should bring people to God and not to himself. And Stott wrote that the preacher should be “invisible” for people and make God visible for them. I just want to say that satisfaction after preaching comes when you know before God that you did what you should have done (not how “powerfully” you have performed).

  8. @Joe, regarding speaking from our gut/heart, I remember how that was strongly emphasized during the years where I participated in “message training.” What happened in translation, I think, was that speaking from our heart/our gut became a practice technique (gauged, assessed and evaluated by the message “trainer”), rather than availing ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit.

    One of the saddest results of years and decades of “UBF message training” is that those born in the U.S. are no longer able to speak SAE, which is Standard American English! Sometimes I even wonder whether or not such faulty and defective ways of speaking English is possible to be unlearned and corrected.

    • I wanted to throw in Canadian a joke about American English, but the Spirit wants me to practice restraint!

      The loss of SAE among messengers is not only due to message training. Sometimes, it is a matter of our natural tendency to sound like the ones around us. It was interesting to watch my wife’s English revert to a poorer quality when a missionary visited us recently. When it is necessary to speak at a primary level just to be understood, its little wonder that people lose SAE.

      Regarding unlearning/correcting poor English, the best mechanism I’ve found is by reading excellent prose. Modern prose is not always very eloquent and didn’t really help me improve my syntax, vocabulary, and grammar, but I found that Dickens worked. As did crossword puzzles.

    • Joshua, and it was not easy for translators at the ISBCs to translate from Korean (especially in pronunciation) variant of American :) I am sure in this sense “the sheep” (especially in the US) sacrifice more than “the missionaries”. And I am sure it should not be this way.

    • Joshua, “language reducation” is a phenomenon I observerved in my UBF chapter and in others as well. For instance, our Korean members would ask “You have bicyle?” instead of “Do you have a bicycle?” One student in the dormitory seriously felt mocked when he was asked this question by an elder missionary, he couldn’t understand or believe that people on the campus could really speak that way. In the center, such bad grammar or pronounciation was rarely corrected, because it was not appretiated and considered a sign of pride and disrespect by the missionaries. (Most missionaries let their written sogams be corrected by natives, though, before they shared them. However, they never cared to learn from the corrections, and made the same mistakes in the next sogams again.) Also, German word order was pertinaciously disregarded. They would always say “Missionary Sarah is there?” instead of “Is Sarah there?” or “then we go to the campus” although in German the word order is “we go then to the campus” or “then go we to the campus”. It sounds very strange with the English word order in German (as it sounds strange vice versa).

      “Sometimes, it is a matter of our natural tendency to sound like the ones around us.” Sure. But the strange phenomenon in UBF was that the missionaries obviously did not want to sound like the Germans around them, they insisted upon their wrong word order so obstinately that even our “Abraham of faith” started to speak that way. Somehow, native members believed it was more humble and spiritual to speak the reduced and distorted language of the Korean members, and also they experienced that they were immediately understood when they spoke that way, while they often got blank looks when they asked Koreans a non-trivial sentence in standard German. It was kind of the lowest common denominator. Anyway, the fact that the Koreans did not learn the language from the Germans, but the Germans unlearned the language from the Koreans is an indicator for the dynamics at work. The brains of members were kind of hard wired to learn only in the top-down direction of the UBF hierarchy (where Koreans were higher than Germans), and this subconciously also extended to the langauge.

  9. Jimmon-Paul Rubillos

    Thanks for this blog Dr. Ben :)

    As a young messenger, I’ve learned that a preacher should preach with “great passion”, out of the overflow of the joy and grace that he has received from Jesus. If the preacher only reads manuscript while preaching, it would be better for him to photocopy his manuscript and distribute it to the congregation, because there will be no difference..haha..The power of the message will never come from us, no matter how prepared you are, it will always come from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Let us always remember that it is good to be prepared, but it would be a terrible mistake to rely on our preparedness rather than the Holy Spirit speaking through us.

    • “it would be better for him to photocopy his manuscript and distribute it to the congregation, because there will be no difference..haha..”

      Jimmon-Paul, you’re laughing, but this was reality in our UBF chapter. The messages were prepared during the week by the chapter director, the shepherds had to correct the spelling and type them in a computer, then they were printed, the chapter director read them out as Sunday message, then they were photocopied and distributed to the congregation, so that everybody could write their weekly sogam based on this lecture. And then in the weekly sogam sharing sessions, you hat to sit on you chair and listen to people rehash the same statements made in that lecture. To make things worse, you needed to make group Bible study about the same lecture, and many also made Bible study with their sheep about the same lecture. When you hear these same statements for the thousandth time, your mind gives up and you start to believe them and repeat them, too.

  10. @Chris: “Anyway, the fact that the Koreans did not learn the language from the Germans, but the Germans unlearned the language from the Koreans is an indicator for the dynamics at work.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/09/30/extemporaneous-preaching/#comment-11138

    A good point of Samuel Lee is that he was truly trying to learn to speak Standard American English (SAE). Even though he could not speak like an American (since he came to the U.S. when he was almost 50 years old), his passion and desire to learn SAE was highly commendable. As a result, he understood and communicated some nuances of American cadence, intonation and humor, which other missionaries never learned or understood even after several decades. He even gave many missionaries “American English training.”

    This is one clearly highly commendable thing that all Korean missionaries can learn from our beloved founder.

    • “He even gave many missionaries “American English training.””

      You mean giving others training for things that he didn’t even master himself? Didn’t he start learning English already very early in Korea, and wasn’t he even considered an English teacher in Korea? I remember how he bragged that he ate a whole English dictionary, page by page in order to “learn” English. That was typical for him, doing very ineffective and nonsensical things that sounded dramatic, to impress others (well, he probably did not even do this, he just claimed he did it). Much of his “passion” was only show. Personally, I’m not impressed of him, and never was.

  11. Mark Mederich

    recently is started sharing every other saturday daily bread extemporaneously because they wanted everyone to keep it short (when i write i get longer) & because i’m busy (meditating on passage during week, then sharing main points is working)

  12. One of the rewarding characteristics of extemporaneous preaching has to come from the potential for appropriate dialogue between a pastor and a congregation.

    Messages as we know from UBF can be done anywhere, anytime, and in the midst of any dramatic action in the world. There could be severe weather affecting the region or maybe some crisis around town that draws the attention of the community, but the UBF message will still be transfixed upon the only thing it was programmed for – campus mission. The passages are always a backdrop to the main theme of mission on the campus and inviting or teaching students. But we have talked about that many times.

    Speaking on impulse and inspiration allows itself to be affected by what you heard on the radio that morning. Maybe a brief conversation you had with congregants before stepping up and getting started. What if there were dramatic losses in your life or even in your congregants? What about victories? I am addressing that the simple dynamic is much stronger here.

    There is no guilty feeling that you did not cover the group mandate – duh – there is no mandate. It is just simply the Holy Spirit. Basically the atmosphere in the church is allowed to have a greater impact on the messages when they are not planned and rehearsed. Heaven help us if the messenger breaks the thread of prose and deviates from what the “trainers” were expecting to hear. There is much more meaning in a spontaneous and unpredictable sermon. But UBF styled messages become so boring after a while because we can all recite them in our sleep.

  13. @gc, This is “almost” funny (forgive my odd sense of humor!): “There could be severe weather affecting the region or maybe some crisis around town that draws the attention of the community, but the UBF message will still be transfixed upon the only thing it was programmed for – campus mission.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/09/30/extemporaneous-preaching/#comment-11148

    • Ben, I appreciate your humour. :-)
      I was subtle with the example but it is really true about the calm, forward motion of UBF messages which are devoid of any reality that some people may discuss once they leave the church.

  14. John Martin jr.

    I really enjoyed this discussion because it’s something I have been thinking about, researching, and experimenting with. I like Joe’s comment on speaking from your gut and also believe Jimmon-Paul that one should preach from what he was received from Jesus. Another way of putting it is that the preacher should not speak beyond his experience or beyond his or her revelation. I used to write what I thought were good messages because they had great quotes and great ideas but so many were copied and beyond my personal revelation. But I began so see a change when God convicted me to be authentic in my preaching. This changed my attitude that my main job as a preacher is to seek God and his heart, believing that he already has something to say to me and learning to shut up and listen. As I did this I saw more of the Spirit’s work in speaking and began to speak more extemporaneously. I think depending on style and gifting it varies how people speak. But this is a very important conversation to have, because even my definition of a good preaching has changed a lot. I used to see Biblical preaching as a good exegesis of scripture but now I believe that unless the preacher becomes the message and learns that his or her goal is go get out of the way of God and be free to be a vessel (even though God absolutely does speak through the personality and experience of the preacher) than the ministry of preaching is nothing more than a good commentary.

  15. Good points JohnM. I too have enjoyed this discussion.

    I think there is a question we should be asking as first priority however, before we think about improving messages or speaking with or without notes. That question is this:

    Should this person be a preacher?

    It is taught in ubf that everyone must preach, and anyone who is loyal enough can be appointed as a preacher at any given time. Where is the annointing by the Holy Spirit? Where is the ordination process to qualify Christian preachers? Why does ubf continue to publish such shallow lectures that amount to weak bible text analysis? Why aren’t the “1 star” messengers called out? Why are obedience and loyalty the measures of who is chosen to be conference level messengers?

  16. Dear friends,,,it has been a while…I am enjoying healthy Bible study and true freedom in God’s love and grace….the 29 years in UBF destroyed my family and my marriage and almost my life despite all the successes I had as well in the ministry…When there is no love and no respect for family nothing lasts..as far as the topic of preaching without notes…I have done this as well along with the written messages…I think either way is great because I love the word of God and the truth no matter how it is delivered..the church I go to know the preacher uses notes…his preaching is much like the way I preach and his life I can relate to because he went through some of the things I have went through…UBF style is not bad…it is a great way to start but the problem lies in the bad theology and lack of love for people and family in UBF…I pray that God will give me the strength to finish my latest book, “The year the world ended” It is not a story of UBF bashing but of love and freedom…now days I am studying the word of God with a new found love and freedom that I have never experienced in UBF…I spend my days praying for my 8 children and loving my wife as Christ loves me and having balance in my life and really listening to the Holy Spirit without any agenda or trying to manipulate people to join UBF…I found when you live in love that God works powerfully…I enjoy this site because I can see that I am not alone…there are many who left UBF who have experienced the same thing…I do not want to label UBF as a cult but they are darn close unless love and freedom are given to its members…Christ never manipulated or twisted the truth in order to win followers…He lived in love…so whatever way you preach…do it in love and seasoned with grace… we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God…

    • Hi bigbear, welcome back. Glad to hear your update. I’m willing to help with your book in some way, endorsing, contributing, etc.

  17. Terry Lopez

    It should be noted that perhaps one of the most influential messages in America, Jonathan Edwards, delivered his message “Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God”, using a manuscript.

    He preached in a weak, squeaking, monotone voice and held his tiny manuscript so close to his face that people could not see his expressions. When he preached, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in his weak, squeaking, monotone, people had to strain to hear him. It is said that he preached powerfully without the energy, eloquence, or theatrics some modern “evangelists” depend on. Strong men gripped pews and pillars as if they felt themselves falling into hell. Judgment day had dawned and they were desperately holding on to life until the altar call.

    For three days before he first preached that sermon, he did not eat or sleep. Claiming New England for Christ was the only thing that mattered to him. Prayer was important to him. Food and sleep were not. Nothing distracted him. I am certain he did not intend it, but people passing his room heard his weak, squeaking voice as he sobbed, “God, give me New England! Give me New England!”

    He finally rose from his knees and made his way to the pulpit. He was so weak, he could barely prop himself up. Before he opened his mouth, great conviction had already fallen on the congregation.

    I think extemporaneous preaching or reading from a manuscript is not a either/or situation. I think it depends on the person.

    I personally think that the messenger must first and foremost receive God’s Word for themselves. He must be convicted by God’s Word, before he can exhort others to listen, whether it be to rejoice, repent or anything else.

    Here is a YouTube video that sums up what I think about serving as a messenger. Please be patient, the ‘punch line’ comes only at the end.

    • Terry,

      As I read more and more of the Christian greats in history, I find that I’m not taking a liking to Edwards. If he really felt as you say, then he should not have given that sermon. I find that sermon to be lacking in many ways:


      Did it have an impact with that sermon? Yes. But was it a healthy impact inspired by the Holy Spirit? I’m not convinced. I think Edwards has a lot to do with the “Judaism 2.0″/American Empire building/fear mentality that is so harmful and entrapping and is not tied to the gospel Jesus preached.

      But that’s just the 2 cents of Hereticman, so take it with a grain of salt. Or a lot of salt actually…

    • Terry, I love the video!

      “Do what is best for you”

      If only ubf message training incorporated that simple point! YES I AM MY OWN MAN.

    • Terry Lopez


      I think I understand what you are saying about Jonathan Edwards. When I first read his “Sinners” message, I have to say I was shocked, it was scary! But strangely i was also moved by it. But I have to honestly say that the message never helped change me. But if I was to be real honest, I have to say no message has ever changed me… :-(

  18. Thanks, Terry. I agree with everything you wrote. Prayer and preparation are clearly of utmost importance in preaching, or in doing anything else to advance the kingdom of God. I had no idea that free throws were shot any differently in the past–underhandedly.

    I wrote this blog because virtually everyone in UBF was only taught one way to prepare and deliver a message. I never thought of any other way to do so. But when I “discovered” another way, I found that it much more suited me and much more fitting to my personality style. Likely, it might be suited to many more UBFers in the coming years, as long as they know, realize and are informed that “there is more than one way to skin a cat” (as long as it’s not one of my three cats!).

  19. Terry Lopez

    I fully agree with what you write also Ben. There is no ‘right’ way, but whatever ‘works’, the point is to ‘make it’ :-). Honestly, I was asked many times to use powerpoint slides and to memorize my manuscript so that I would look more ‘natural’, but very honestly that doesn’t ‘work’ for me. I have the worst memory :-) and easily lose my train of thought. I like to write down everything because I really try to digest it for myself and the points I want to make, I don’t want to miss sharing. Also, I don’t like power point because it takes away for me the time I want to spend thinking about the passage. Other’s in our chapter do a marvelous job doing so, but it’s not for me. But again, I no longer give messages from a podium. I’m very glad you are finding the best way for you to be the most useful and effective in communicating God’s Word to His people. :-)

    That doesn’t mean I don’t still give messages, I do so almost everyday. I give them to friends and neighbors and students and so on, as much as I am ready and able to do.

  20. Terry Lopez

    It’s crazy about the free throws :-D I thought I should bring a little sports to the academic conversations most people have around here… :-D I’m a sports fanatic. I know Brian likes football, I do to, I just don’t get to watch games. I don’t have a TV (well I do, but it’s analog and I never converted it to the HD-so we watch only videos).

  21. Terry Lopez


    I promise I wont ‘skin’ any of your cats, if you promise not to eat my dog… :-D

    • Terry, When I was in Manila, some friends bought dog meat for me, and I became nauseated and couldn’t eat it (even though Chinese people are known for eating anything that moves)!

  22. Brian,

    Every Edward’s scholar that I’ve read lament that most people know him primarily from his “Sinners” sermon, which then turns them off from reading him. They are sorry that this categorizes Edwards as a “hell fire and brimstone” preacher, when in fact supposedly >80% or the bulk of what Edwards writes is not about hell at all, but about the beauty, joy and delight of the Trinity, heaven and the Christian life. Besides his legendary writing and sermons, Edward’s is also a tender-hearted pastor throughout his pastorate, including for native American Indians at the close of his life.

    I’ve began to read Edwards on and off, and it is inspiring and life giving. (It’s more off than on because it’s labor intensive to read him! though well worth it.) His scholarship and brilliance and love of Christ is impeccable. He is truly among America’s “greatest” philosopher, thinker, metaphysicists, Scripture exegete, preacher, pastor and Christian.

    Two friends I know from UBF recently published everything Edwards ever wrote about Romans: http://www.amazon.com/The-Power-God-Jonathan-Commentary/dp/1620320126

    • Thanks Ben. I’m sure Edwards has a lot to contribute; I just haven’t come across his writings in any deep way yet. I don’t write off any of the great influencers, nor do I want to jump on any bandwagon (I follow Edwards! I follow Piper! I follow MacArthur! etc).

      Speaking of being written off… any bets on fire and brimstone rainnig down on me if I read that book in your link by our friend DL? :) I suspect I’d just turn to salt if I read that one!

    • Well, Brian, if you read DL and BW’s Edward’s Commentary on Romans, you might be accused of just reading books and commentaries, and not “studying the Bible.” That is, you are only reading what other people say instead of studying the Word of God in the Holy Bible for yourself. It’ll be “cheap”: it’ll only cost you $10 (Kindle version) to receive such an acclaim.

  23. forestsfailyou

    When I student taught I noticed the older teachers would use no notes while the younger teachers would. I came to realize that spending every day teaching math for years developed this trait. As a first year teacher I have been unprepared a lot, because I have 5 different classes and not enough time to prepare, so I have leaned on my knowledge. I although I know little about preaching I imagine that leaning on God makes anything possible. When I have prepared speeches, I usually write a few key points and expand on them as my train of thought finds fit.

    • Hi forests, welcome!

      Your point is valid and reminds me of my last experience with ubf “message training”. I cannot really call such a thing “training”. It was more of indoctrination of the ubf heritage or some sort of exercise in loyalty.

      My last “training” experience a messenger in ubf came after 20 years of such “training”. Two senior level Koreans (who are both highly honored today in spite of many problems in their chapters) were trying to “train” me. It felt like I was back in kindergarten. It was an exercise in futility. I threw out most of what both told me and gave my own message. This was of course one of my first bold steps on my supposed “trip to hell and rebellious poison”. Be careful about speaking your mind during message training…

      So some people may say “Well ubf is not so bad in 2013. Look how much they’ve changed.” I say, volunteer for message training and then tell me how much “change” has occurred. Better dust off those SLee lectures cuz you’re gonna need them for message training.

      Most of the spiritual and physical abuse in ubf occurs during message training, in my experience.

  24. Terry Lopez


    All the messengers in Los Angeles give their own messages. They aren’t reruns of Msn. Samuel Lee’s at all. Not even close. Tbh, I was never asked to look at his messages. I think a very few times I was given a copy of his message, when I was very, very young and had no idea what the passage was talking about. But no one ever, ever gave me a copy of his message and told me to deliver it. Very honestly, maybe for the first 4 yrs was I given any help with messages and then after that, I would do my own preparation and would only submit it for review, which I took into consideration, but not required to follow.

    • “All the messengers in Los Angeles give their own messages. They aren’t reruns of Msn. Samuel Lee’s at all.”

      That’s good and I’m glad to hear that no one “e ever, ever gave me a copy of his message and told me to deliver it.”

      I hope you can understand or empathize with those of us who had to do such things. And I hope you can begin to understand what happens when a senior ubf “message trainer” dictates the life narratives of the messengers. Why would a Christian pastor do such a thing, if ubf directors are indeed Christain pastors?

      I’m starting to think that the entire LA ubf chapters is in a “protective bubble” from what happened elsewhere in ubf land. But I do know there are similiar problems in LA chapters as there are around the world because of the internet testimonies from former LA ubf members. And because of my new friend Phil2Five who resigned from an LA area ubf chapter just this year. His problems were nearly identical to mine but probably the ubf rumor is just that he wanted to get married in a non-ubf (i.e. worldly, sinful) way (which isn’t true).

  25. Terry Lopez


    I think some of the chapters in SoCal are more like what you and many have experienced… I also know that people left my chapter because they felt too controlled. But I never blamed them, nor did I think they were rebellious for doing so. I know one family recently left, because the husband has a genuine difference of opinion about the role of women giving messages. I don’t fault him at all. I hope he and his lovely family find a church where he can worship with a clear conscience.

    • Terry, why can’t there be more leaders in ubf who display your good attitude? Maybe you should start your own CME training :)

    • Terry Lopez


      For me personally, I have to say when I was young I really thought I was not that ‘bad’ a guy. I thought very honestly that I was pretty much ok. But only after studying the Bible, slowly I began to see how far off I really am from what God has called me to be and created men as. I shared about my trauma, and very honestly it was very hard, some may even think it is extreme (or maybe not); but my sins that I promise I will share when I finish writing them, will show just how great a sinner I really am. Very honestly I am such a WEAK man, a very powerless man, I’m not like some who can point to this or that and take pride in something that they’ve accomplished. I tried real hard to be ‘better’, I made numerous vows, promises; determined to be more ‘spiritual’ and so on, but nothing has honestly ever helped me. I’m just as great a sinner, as when I first started studying the Bible. Nothing has changed, very honestly. I needed Christ then and I need Him all the more now.

      I’ve never been one who could ‘hide’ his sin very well. Very honestly some of my sins disgust me and I used to despise and even hate myself, before I really experienced God’s sin forgiving love. Strangely, today I see my great weakness as almost a gift. I can’t ‘pretend’ before God; I can’t even ‘pretend’ to myself, it’s just too obvious-I’m a great sinner! Because of that I have no room to genuinely judge others (but strangely, at times I still do…).

      I remember when I first came to this ministry, and started studying for a while, I really began to think I was somebody and I was ‘better’ than others. Because I did a few small things, I began to think I was ‘now alright’. I was so (I really wanted to elongate that so…) blind and deceived myself. I tried to hide my ‘real’ self behind the many activities we do (which honestly aren’t bad in themselves, actually I’ve benefitted greatly from them), and by doing so I thought I was ‘repenting’, and slowly becoming better; but honestly it wasn’t true. And my sins became so obvious that everyone could see them. There was no way to deny them. I feel a little bad for some people who actually, outwardly look like they’ve got it ‘all together’, I really know now that in truth NO ONE DOES, not me, nor anyone else.

      I see ourselves on the Titanic, some of the passengers are high up near the bridge, while others like myself are down in stowage. There’s no escape for me, but those ‘higher up’ are still in the same predicament I am in. We all need Christ; we are all sown in Dishonor, it’s only when we are raised that we will be clothed in His glory.

      I really thought for a while that I had like a ‘holy’ vaccination of sorts. One and done. I’m all better now. But today I know all too well that is not the truth. I think there are some coworkers who might be in similar place. Perhaps some, because of their ‘accomplishments’ think they are ‘all better.’ I really pray for them, that they may return to their first love and remember who they really are, who we all really are-children of God, because He alone forgave us, not because of what we have done. But sometimes it’s not easy to see ourselves as we really are. It’s so easy to deceive ourselves, actually it’s our default by our sinful nature.

      Btw, I don’t know much about Pope Francis, but from what little I have heard, I really like him. He is definitely a man of compassion. :-).

      Btw, like many in our ministry, tonight is my wedding anniversary, so I’m going to go now. Have a good night bro. :-)

  26. Terry Lopez

    I wonder if Phil is from the El Camino ministry or one of the other chapters?

  27. I just read this interesting tidbit: “During his ministry in Geneva, John Calvin preached over two thousand sermons. He preached twice on Sunday and almost every weekday. His sermons lasted more than an hour and he did not use notes.”

  28. It is interesting that a missionary who has been in UBF since 1972 (and has left) wrote this not too long ago, which reflects almost exactly my own sentiments over the last few years:

    “A written message can have the merit of thoughtfulness and carefully chosen vocabulary. But it can lack spontaneous character and be poor in communication. A spoken message can have the merit of spontaneous character and good communicability. But it can lack content if it is not prepared well. So in seminary, students are told to write a message thoughtfully in the first stage, and then make a one page outline and then deliver the message, just using the outline. So the message can retain both contents and spontaneous character and freshness. But because of UBF’s heavy written message dependence, when a message was not good, listeners could have a very difficult time.”

    Source: http://exubf.blogspot.com/2007/04/jacob-k-former-chicago-ubf.html?m=1

    • This is quite eye-opening, Ben. I traditionally thought that Koreans were averse to extemporaneus preaching/speaking due to the difficulty of learning American English, which I admit is difficult to grasp as a second language. But this reveals that way back when some were becoming increasingly put off by what they deemed as a dearth of fresh biblical preaching. It also alludes to the fact that SL had others write and follow a manuscript so as to control the content of what they spoke on. So all this time, I was led to believe that Koreans in general were controlling and unyielding when it came to these matters when in fact I was dealing with an unhealthy subset of Koreans who were imitating their unhealthy leader. I apologize for these kinds of generalizations. JK’s letter further reveals that there were indeed some healthy missionaries who came to the US and who refused to be UBF/SLee shills. Very interesting. That reform attempt was very significant and should definitely be a part of UBF’s official written history.

    • forestsfailyou

      I heard of a member who threw away the approved message and gave their own thoughts. I got pictures of the missionary’s reaction it was so good.