Mike Stickland writes from England. He is the director of SDA Discover Centre in Stanborough Park, Watford, England.

The use of the writings of Ellen G. White

The Lord used the ministry of Ellen C. White to guide Seventh-day Adventists in a host of ways, and her writings remain a source of blessing, inspiration, and instruction. The Adventist preacher ought to have the Conflict of the Ages1 series on the home bookshelf and read from them deeply. These can be added to as the budget allows. The writings of Ellen C. White, however, should not be misused. They should be used for personal blessing, not to fill up the body of the sermon.

It is a good practice to take a chapter of The Desire of Ages, for example, and read it in conjunction with the Scripture passage on which it is based. Let it inspire you and give insights you might otherwise miss. Apply it to your own life. Put yourself into the shoes of the man born blind (The Desire of Ages, p. 470) and experience what it was like for him as he was healed, what it is like for you when you "see" for the first time in your life. This kind of broad reading inspires your soul, whether or not it is ever preached in a sermon.

Avoid the temptation to take a volume of Ellen C. White into the pulpit and quote lengthily from it. In a prayer meeting, or for a devotional thought at some smaller meeting, it is appropriate to read a passage from her writings, but in the worship service on Sabbath, Adventists preach from Scripture 2. The key is expressed within our basic tenets, as recorded in the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual.

"The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to humanity the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God's acts in history. See: 2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5-6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12." 3

Wide general reading

Read from a wide variety of books, to include:

  • Christian books such as biographies, Bible commentaries, theologies, devotional books, practical Christianity (missions, evangelism, women's ministry, children's ministry, men's ministry, and counseling). Read books from Adventist and non-Adventist sources to provide you with a broader understanding of the Christian faith.
  • Books of general knowledge from a wide spectrum of subjects.
  • Books of sermons by many preachers. (Not with a view of "borrowing" the sermons but to learn to use a wider style of preaching yourself). Avoid "canned" books of sermons and illustrations, not least because you may find that others have used the same material before you!
  • Denominational and other Christian periodicals. The Adventist magazines in general keep you abreast of church activities and opinions throughout the world and keep you in touch with the thinking of denominational teachers and leaders.

Christianity Today is an excellent Evangelical magazine which provides information and discussion of many contemporary issues facing Christianity.

Developing a filing system

As you read, and as you invest time in this general cultivation of the garden of your soul, you will come across information, ideas, illustrations, and themes which you will want to keep tabs on for future reference. There is nothing more frustrating than to distantly remember having seen something somewhere but to find yourself unable to recall just where to find it.

One of the simplest methods to get started with a filing system is to buy an inexpensive manila concertina-type envelope file from a stationery store. Write brief notes on clean A4 note paper and place them in the file under an appropriate heading. Whatever system you use, keep it simple and make it practical. If it is too elaborate, not only will it clutter up space, but you will quickly find you stop using it. An easily accessible drop-file is the best system.

W. E. Sangster, a renowned British Methodist preacher from the 1940s and 50s and author of the book The Craft of Sermon Construction, 4 made the following suggestion to help the preacher preserve and nurture those ideas which flash across the mind so elusively:

When a text or theme chooses you it is because it leaps out at you during your reading, or during someone else's sermon, or from a comment someone makes. A text confronts you and says "Preach me." To capture this creative influence from the Lord; keep a notebook in which you record every idea.

  • Write the idea down at once! Write a few more notes to remind you what you saw in that gleaming moment. Keep each idea on a separate page.
  • Once a week, turn over the leaves of this notebook to remind yourself of each idea you have written. Let this stimulate your thinking. Add any further thoughts or insights that have occurred to you on the same theme.
  • The subconscious mind will sift over these ideas when you are not particularly thinking about them. It will recover from the files of your mind other related ideas or clues to follow up.

Sangster also adds the following comments:

However much the business demands increase upon the modern minister, he is determined, above all else, to be a servant of the Word. He aims at an average of four hours' study a day. 5
[A preacher will not just be a reader, but a thinker too]. After his devotions, the best hour of his day will be the hour given to sheer thinking: assembling the facts, facing their apparent contradiction, reaching up for the help of God and, then, driving his brain like a bulldozer through the apparent chaos to order and understanding at the last. 6
Let a man respect his own preferences here, but let him be sure that he thinks. Books may serve to start the current of his thought, as a little water thrown into a pump can create enough suction to secure a steady flow, but his own thinking is the really valuable thing and will mark all his preaching with the hallmark of distinctions. 7
So much, then, for what we have called general preparation. It is real because it is life: life in its day-to-day events as lived with God; the secret life of the soul; the strenuous life of the mind. 8

Cultivate the habit of making notes

Cultivate the habit of making notes of thoughts and ideas which flash across your mind. They may come while you are reading, working, or even when listening to someone else preaching, and since these moments of inspiration may have come as a prompting by the Lord, they need to be noted and nurtured for later use.

Then when asked to accept a preaching appointment, you will have a seed-bed of ideas which have been gestating and are beginning to take shape as a worthwhile sermon.

Mike Stickland writes from England. He is the director of SDA Discover Centre in Stanborough Park, Watford, England.


1. The series includes Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Desire of Ages, The Acts of the Apostles, and The Great Controversy.
2. We shall spend a lesson later in the series examining the role of Ellen G. White in context of the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist lay preacher.
3. SDA Church Manual (1990), p. 23.
4. The Craft of Sermon Construction (CoSC) was the standard textbook for homiletics at Newbold College and with Home Study International for many years. It is still a valuable tool if you can obtain a copy. This particular summary quotation is taken from chapter seven.
5. CoSC 156.
6. CoOSC 157.
7. CoSC 157.
8. CoSC 158.

Mike Stickland writes from England. He is the director of SDA Discover Centre in Stanborough Park, Watford, England.