The preachings in the Acts were under such circumstances as to preclude any studied preparation. The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons. An old and honoured servant of the Lord, in answer to the question, What shall I study? said, Study well these four words, "The flesh profiteth nothing"! The preachings in the Acts were "water of the rain of heaven"; the streams flowed down in copious blessing. How definitely the Apostles presented Christ as crucified, risen, and exalted at God's right hand! How wonderfully they quoted and applied the Scriptures! How pointed and powerful was their dealing with men! There was a spiritual naturalness, if we may so say, a simplicity, freshness, sobriety and order in all that they said which made manifest that they preached the glad tidings "by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven". All true ministry is in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it tends to promote fruitfulness in the land. (C. A. Coates, An Outline of Deuteronomy, pp. 123–124, emphasis added)
"The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons" – a good friend shared this quote with me many years ago, I mentioned it in passing to Rodger, who did the spade work to dig up the source. (Thanks, Rodger!)
That quote has haunted me for at least a dozen years. I find myself asking, "am I prepared?"
I've had the privilege of fellowship in a couple assemblies where unplanned and unscripted meetings were the rule, rather than the exception. The assembly would have the Lord's Supper Sunday mornings, followed by a Bible Reading. In the evening, there was an "open meeting," where one or more brothers were expected to stand up and give a word. The rule was "two or at the most three" (1 Corinthians 14:26–35). They were never picked beforehand, and it was assumed they didn't have notes. We would gather to hear from the Lord, and whoever felt led to stand up and speak was expected to do so. Unless someone came through town specifically to minister the word, there were no prepared messages.
I've been to at least one Bible conference where there were no planned speakers, but whoever felt led would stand and speak. There was powerful ministry. A whole weekend of unplanned meetings. If I might say so, those meetings were short on planning, but long on preparation.
These days I remember the Lord in an assembly where the speakers are asked beforehand to speak. I really miss those unplanned, unscripted meetings.
It's difficult for me to stand up and speak in the assembly, because I have no fear of public speaking. I was a classroom teacher for several years, and it's all too easy for me to slip back into that mode. The problem is, people don't need to hear me, they need to be drawn to Christ. When we speak in the assembly, it should be as an oracle of God (1 Peter 4:11). That's easier said than done.
I've heard some amazing sermons that clearly took a whole lot of work. But the ministry that has seemed to me to be the most powerful has consistently been "extemporaneous". There is something qualitatively different about ministry that's given with a great deal of thought, but not a great deal of planning.
H. E. Hayhoe gave a talk on Isaiah 5 in 1969 ("Outline of Scripture"). It's worth a listen (or five). He makes a statement to the effect that, "we learn Scripture by meditation, not by study." That statement has affected me deeply.
Notice how it parallels CAC's claim that we want prepared preachers, rather than prepared sermons. It's not that we need to learn, it's that we need to be transformed. Scripture working in my mind and my heart is very, very different from Scripture analyzed and pushed into sermon notes.
It's possible people groan when they realize I'm standing up to speak in the assembly. It's possible they all wish I'd spend more time writing notes and referring to them. But I've made a point of preparing to speak with prayer, rather than with study. (I suppose, in a way, this blog is a sort of a scratch-pad where I can work things out in writing. It's possible I'm being a little less than honest with myself about that.)
Of course I'm not advocating speaking in the assembly without preparation, but I am absolutely advocating being prepared by spending time in the Lord's presence, rather than having good notes. That puts a much sterner responsibility on us: the responsibility of constant prayer and meditation, so that we can honestly say we're always prepared.