Books on Preaching, Managing Time, and Sports Nanci and I Watch: Part 2 of a Q&A

Today’s blog is Part 2 of an (updated) interview I did a few years ago. (See also part one.)

What books on preaching, or examples of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?

Between Two WorldsSince I’m no longer a pastor, I don’t preach regularly. I do speak on various subjects and texts from time to time, often related to writing I’ve done or am doing. It’s been many years since I’ve read a book on preaching, but I remember appreciating Stott’s Between Two Worlds. I love reading the sermons of Charles Spurgeon, though I wouldn’t recommend the rest of us try his preaching methodology, which was far from expositional. It worked marvelously for him, because he was so saturated in Scripture that it came out his pores as he preached. He was one of a kind! One of my greatest experiences in writing a book was We Shall See God, for which I combed through Spurgeon’s sermons on Heaven and the New Earth, and excerpted the passages I thought were most powerful. Sixty percent of that book is Spurgeon, forty percent is me talking about Spurgeon and further developing or launching off from what he preached. The sixty percent of the book I highly recommend is Spurgeon’s. (Someday I will have to offer a feeble apology to Spurgeon for making myself his coauthor, but since we’ll be in Heaven, I’m confident he’ll take it well.)

What single bit of counsel has made the most significant difference in your effective use of time?

The Tyranny of the UrgentIn Charles Hummel’s booklet Tyranny of the Urgent, which I read as a young Christian thirty-five years ago, he said that what is urgent is often not important, and what is important is typically not urgent. It’s not urgent to spend time with God, talk with your wife, or read to your kids, but it is extremely important. It may be urgent to return someone’s call, go speak at some event, or turn in a manuscript next Thursday, but not important. (The manuscript, for instance, will likely sit in your editor’s inbox three weeks before he has time to open it.)

Years ago I developed a response to the 99% of things I have to decline: I have to say “no” to many good things, and even some great ones, in order to be able to say “yes” to those very few things God has called me to do. I live by this, saying no unless there’s a compelling reason to say yes. My life is very full, but that way I am free to do some things I couldn’t otherwise do (including, in the past, coaching teenage boys and, in the present, playing with my grandkids, hanging out with my wife and riding my bike).

What single bit of counsel has made the most significant difference in your leadership?

No one said it in exactly this way, but several men have said what helped me come to this way of thinking: Care about people but don’t live to please them. If you do, you’ll fail your Lord, and you’ll fail people too. As a young pastor I cared too much what people thought. The best cure for this was twenty years ago when I was repeatedly arrested and went to jail for peaceful nonviolent civil disobedience at abortion clinics. I did it because I believed God wanted me to stand up for unborn children. But it was extremely unpopular in Oregon, to say the least, and even many Christians, including some of our church folk, disapproved. I learned to accept that. We live out our lives before the Audience of One. In the end, His approval is the one that matters. If our goal is to hear others say, “Well done,” we won’t do what we need to do to hear Him say it.

Where in ministry are you most regularly tempted with discouragement?

When I was a pastor, my discouragements were with people who were going nowhere spiritually, neglecting the basic spiritual disciplines, and living unfruitful lives year after year. Then, of course, there were the always-critical or easily-hurt, high-maintenance folk. It could be discouraging because I wanted to mentor, disciple, and shepherd, not change diapers and listen to whiners. (I’m being a bit blunt here. :) 

As a director of a para-church organization, Eternal Perspective Ministries, I’m seldom discouraged in the ministry, as our staff stays on task, has a Christ-centered work ethic, and gets along well. But because I often have to withdraw in order to do my writing I feel like I let them down by not being available as much as I want to be, and used to be. (I have an office behind my home, and they’re at the ministry office nine miles away, where I normally come in only once a month for prayer, sharing and lunch.)

As a writer, especially on the big books such as Money, Possessions and Eternity; Dominion; Heaven and If God is Good…, there have been times at 3:00 a.m. when I’m asking God, “Is this really worth it?” I feel like giving up or not going the second mile in research or doing yet another revision and seeking further critique that will create still more work for me. Sometimes the big projects feel like they will never end. But God graciously empowers me, and I sense his sweet presence with me in those otherwise lonely hours.

Randy and his 5 grandsonsGod usually encourages me by time with Nanci, our kids, grandchildren, and our close friends. And often He encourages me with the emails that come in from people who say God used my books to change their lives. Frequently they come at exactly the right time, causing me to weep and renew my determination to persevere with my current writing.

Do you exercise? If so, what do you do? 

I bicycle three times a week, outdoors in good weather, otherwise on a stationary bike in my office. I also play tennis, usually singles because it’s better exercise than doubles. I’m an insulin dependent diabetic, and the exercise is therapy. If I go two days without exercise, I feel lousy.

What sports do you like to watch?

Alcorns with Webers and TebowsWe watch NBA and MLB when it comes to playoffs, but not regularly. We try to watch the tennis majors when we can, especially Wimbledon and the U. S. Open. The one sport we watch regularly from beginning to end is the NFL. Nanci is a major pro football fan. For years she had our kids and grandkids and our kids’ friends and their children over for Sunday night football every week, fixing up a great meal for the 15-20 who showed up. When I’m asked to speak in NFL chapels, Nanci’s my main reason for saying “yes,” since tickets come with it, and she loves to meet the players. Often during games I’m exchanging texts with family members of a few players we know, or the Seahawks chaplain, who’s a friend. We don’t generally follow college football. But several years ago Bob and Pam Tebow invited us to stay with them in Florida and watch their son Timmy quarterback the Gators. Suddenly we were wearing blue and orange. We had a blast. (That's us in the photo with the Tebows and our friends the Webers.)

What do you do for leisure? 

Tennis, biking, watching a good movie with Nanci. And I read and read and read.

If you were not in ministry, what occupational path would you have chosen?

When I was in the eighth grade, a few years before I’d heard the Gospel, they gave us a survey asking what we wanted to be when we were older. I said 1) an astronomer, 2) a philosopher, or 3) teacher. If I had to answer that today, if I couldn’t be a writer (which would be tough to give up), I would want to be a teacher, maybe at a Bible college or seminary.


Watch photo credit: digital_a via

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries