Teaching 123 John
The first of our two new titles is now available. Mervyn Eloff has written a superb volume for us on Teaching the epistles of John. These are a rich seam for preachers (although 2 and 3 John are normally overlooked). Mervyn steers a careful course and helps preachers and teachers grapple with the text.
As with all these volumes, these are not full commentaries, but neither are they books of sermons. Rather they are books written by preachers and for preachers to help those whose task is preaching and teaching the “wonderful word of the Lord” as the hymn writer puts it. They’re written at a level that will serve you as a preacher, but also be accessible for, say, small group leaders if you’re doing a Bible study series.
Marriage and ministry
The more I speak to married ministers and their wives, the more I realise that marriage and ministry is not the glorious union that it ought to be. Rather, for many, it is a painful, tense set of pressures that are often unresolved and unmentioned. If preaching is to flourish, then it’s critical that ministry marriages flourish. We asked what we could do to help, and alongside some input at our key conferences, we now also run a 24 hour getaway for couples.
This year, Wallace and Lindsay Benn are hosting one at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire and Mrs R and I are hosting one at Malmesbury in Wiltshire. They are both on 24/25 October. That’s half term, you cry! You’re right – deliberately so as couples with kids told us it was easier to organise child care in holiday time than in term time. Spaces are very limited. One husband last year surprised his wife by bringing her along as an anniversary present. We don’t recommend this approach for most people – but we do think it’s worth coming. Here’s some feedback from Malmesbury last year:
“Absolutely brilliant schedule”
“We enjoyed how much time together we had as a couple”
“Please keep on doing this – so helpful”
“Too much food”
I couldn’t resist that last one! Book now, while there’s space and you’re fired up!
The preacher’s praying agenda
What’s on your prayer list? Who’s on your prayer list? And – just as importantly – how do you pray for them? I’ve been thinking about this all this week as I prepare a sermon on 1 Timothy 2.1-7. I’ve been using Angus MacLeay’s excellent volume in our Teaching series, Teaching 1 Timothy. It’s been a real help. However, along the way, I’ve found lots to challenge me about my own prayer agenda.
Paul – fighting against a legalistic and Judaistic false teaching – urges the church back to gospel order (not to be despised, by the way). In order to do that he encourages the church away from its inward looking attitude (which, incidentally, false teaching nearly always promotes) to a more gospel focused outwardness.
This manifests itself in prayer: deep, rich, varied, consistent and continued prayer. Prayer, in fact, for all people – including those in authority and for the church (by implication in v2). His agenda is challenging. This is what our prayer agenda tends to look like:
Praying for rulers: we tend to be focused on particular laws or issues: abortion, marriage and so on. These are important, but not the burden of Paul’s focus.
Praying for believers: we tend to be focused on people’s needs: work, health, education, that kind of thing.
Praying for unbelievers: I hope we do this, but pastors can get caught up with people in the church to the expense of those outside we are calling to come in.
Our prayer, to put it bluntly, scores at best 1 out of 3. 33%. Possibly less. Fail.
Paul’s agenda is more gospel focused.
Pray for rulers: for regimes that will allow the church to flourish. This may mean that we are more exercised about the free speech regulations than we are about a number of key moral issues.
Pray for believers: for godly living that will not shame the gospel (a key theme throughout 1 Timothy).
Pray for unbelievers: to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
That’s the preacher at prayer. And it is also the church at prayer. Is this you?
Will you pray for us this week?
This week we have a visa inspection, not unlike an Ofsted with bells on, which determines whether we can continue to sponsor student visas. We’re thanking God for recent confirmation of continued accreditation which makes this possible in part. But we still need to pass this onerous inspection which, in broad terms, treats us like we employ unlimited personnel and have unlimited resources. So we have to be careful to tick all the boxes whilst not being overwhelmed.
It’s important for us to pass, so please do remember us on Tuesday and Wednesday (24 and 25 May). Thank you so much.
So, you’re a church planter…?
I have great admiration for those who undertake the work of church planting. It requires a certain set of gifts and skills, plus the ability to forage and scavenge which many of us in ministry simply don’t have. But I sometimes worry about the nomenclature. It’s there in 1 Corinthians 3, of course, although (arguably) that is a slightly different thing – Paul’s planting is not in its entirety what we would call church planting – his apostolic mission is even more pioneering.
I guess I worry that those who plant churches might be tempted to reduce their work down to “quick in, quick out”, like a commando raid. For the record – please hear this carefully – most church planters I know don’t take this view. All of the best are generally in it for the longer term. But I come across young guys starting out who are excited just about the planting and nothing else. That is more worrying.
I’ve been meeting up with a church planter regularly and we wondered whether the description “start-up pastor” is a better one. It describes the planting and the pastoring component. Some of these gifted guys will only be with the church a few years before moving on and starting over, but they’re still pastors and they should be thinking as pastors, not just those who kick start a movement.
There’s an obvious danger to missing this boat. Churches will be started but not pastored from the outset. That’s a disaster. As I say, all the best church planters I know do this. Some of them do it really, really well. But I believe we’ve got to stand against the commando type church planter who doesn’t want to be a pastor in any way. Perhaps changing the nomenclature is unlikely or even ill-advised. But when we talk about church planting to the young guys beginning in ministry, we’ve got to be clear what we mean.
Application – a question of quantity
One of the most interesting and thought-provoking things to come out of our Spring Ministers conference with Bryan Chappell was about the quantity of application. How much application, in other words, does your sermon need? He suggested that this varied considerably depending on the nature of the congregation. For example, at one extreme, city businessmen, used to being presented with the facts and making decisions, need very little application. They don’t need to be spoon fed and need to be able to work things out for themselves in order for them to sink in. At the other extreme, kids need everything presented to them. Lots of application in other words. And then you can do the maths for all the groups in between.
This has a number of implications for us as preachers.
First, we must not assume that a model of preaching which (in crude terms) has x% application in Place A is necessarily transferable to Place B or establishes a pattern for ministry which is universal. I’m sure we’re all guilty of that thinking at some level! We tend to look down on others because they have more/less application than we do. Surely I’m right!, we say. I know I’ve done this.
Secondly, there is simply no substitute for knowing our people. We cannot assume what they need, we need to sharing their lives with them in order to be able to know whether our sermons are hitting the mark in a way that is helpful and applicable.
Thirdly, preaching to multi-social, mixed congregations is always harder than monochromatic ones. I think most of us in ministry actually realise this already! But here is another reason why it is so. We can react two ways to this. One is to build monochromatic churches. The other is to realise that preaching is hard work, and there is no substitute for careful thinking when it comes to application.
It won’t surprise you to know that I’m in favour of the second of these, not least because of the theological issues at stake (Eph 2/3). I’m not particularly a pragmatist. But I am a realist, and so I know that in my preaching I need to incorporate variety into my sermons and develop strategies for hearing back how my preaching is connecting with those I’ve been called to serve.
Application – a question of quality
Have a think back to your sermon last weekend. What was your application? Here are some questions to help you do some evaluation.
1. Did your application come from the text and the flow of the text? In other words, was it NATURAL?
2. Did your application go beyond the standard stuff – read your Bible more, pray more? In other words, was it THOUGHTFUL?
3. Was your application rich enough to connect with different groups of people? In other words, was it BROAD?
4. Was your application worked out (at least in a few cases) so that you joined the dots for people? In other words, was it NARROW?
5. Was your application grace-filled, rather than legalistic or duty-bound? In other words, was it full of the GOSPEL?
Or, to put it another way, was it QUALITY?
Leadership and staff changes at The Proclamation Trust
The Trustees of The Proclamation Trust have today announced some significant changes to our teaching team. As previously announced, Nigel Styles will be taking up the role of Director of the PT Cornhill Training Course full time from September. His involvement with the Trust has already begun as he begins to hand over his responsibilities as Senior Minister Emmanuel Church Bramcote and as Director of Training for The Midlands Gospel Partnership. We are delighted to welcome Nigel, Lizzie and their daughter Maisie to London.
Stephen Boon will be joining Nigel as full time teacher and tutor, also starting in September. Stephen is currently serving at St John’s Church, Tunbridge Wells, where he will continue to worship. From Janauary the team will be further strengthened with the appointment of Gwilym Davies in a part-time capacity. Gwilym is currently Pastoral Staff Worker with SMU Christian Fellowship, Singapore.
Tim Ward, the Acting Director of PT Cornhill will be joining the faculty at Oak Hill College starting in September. He and Erica and their son Jonathan will be moving to Southgate over the summer. Amongst other teaching and pastoral responsibilities, Tim will be seconded as faculty to Oak Hill’s new in-context training Academy in partnership with the Acts 29 church-planting network.
Jonathan Griffiths, currently teacher and tutor will be moving in the summer with his wife Gemma and their three children to Ottawa in Canada, where Jonathan has been appointed Lead Pastor of Metropolitan Bible Church, a large city-centre church.
Rachel Olajide, our conference manager, will be having a break from the Trust in the summer as she and her husband Ayo prepare for the arrival of a new baby. She will be replaced by Selina McNish-Millar, currently Cornhill Administrator, working alongside Jasmine Goodyear.
Please join us in thanking God for faithful colleagues and their invaluable contribution to our ministry and pray for all these appointments and changes as we ask God to continue to bless the work of the Trust.
Delighting in the good
A small snap-shot for you of the happy life we try to live in PT Towers: on a warm afternoon recently during a break for Magnums (Classic or Almond), the conversation turned to favourite films. A wide variety of tastes was presented with some vigour, which is of course all to the good. It turned that I share with a certain Mr A.R. of this blog a love of the Coen brothers’ film Fargo (lately turned into a TV series). A certain Miss C. Sandom of this parish fails to share that love, as is entirely her right. I digress, though.
What I love most about the film Fargo is that it makes the good-hearted characters who live ostensibly dull lives seem far more interesting than the evil ones (and one is really nasty). Whenever I watch the film I feel that in some way my self-centredness is shown up as petty and boring and that any goodness in me feels like the really exciting thing about me.
I felt very much the same reading Dickens’ Bleak House, which I have just finished. The vicious and self-obsessed characters are of course painted by Dickens in vivid and often comic ways, but they are in the end essentially dull and monotonous in their unpleasantness. By contrast the morally good characters regularly find surprising new ways to show kindness and self-sacrifice to others.
Now here’s my point: most popular culture that I consume – which for me is primarily feature films and music – works precisely the other way round. It portrays selfishness and evil as essentially more interesting and sophisticated than goodness and self-sacrifice, which are usually more dull. Reading the closing chapters of Bleak House had, I felt, a positive effect on my soul, making me genuinely delight in good and find selfishness abhorrent. It is rather chilling to suppose that the majority of my cultural diet persistently has the opposite effect without me noticing very much.
This is surely one small reason why the NT Gospels present not a series of theological statements about Jesus but snap-shots of him in narrative action. Before us on those pages is the most excitingly good man who ever lived, showing up the evil of human self-righteousness in all its monotonous and destructive bleakness. May and I we be genuinely more excited by that goodness than by anything else. We may become very sophisticated readers and preachers of the Gospels; may we never lose a sense in our hearts and on our lips of discovering the most thrillingly unanticipated fact: the entire goodness of God came as a man and lived out his life, even as far as death, among us.
I wonder what comes to your mind when you think of leaders who are Spirit-filled? It’s almost certainly gifting. That’s our default mode to describe Spirit-filling, especially when it comes to ministry. But what if there’s another paradigm which is the dominant one, or at least a hugely significant part of the Spirit-filled life? What if a Spirit-filled pastor is not just one (or not mainly) one who is gifted, but one who is fruitful? That seems to me to be a legitimate line of biblical analysis, given Galatians 5. Of course, the truths there are not just for preachers, but for all believers. However, we ought to think of pastors and preachers as those who are faithful believers who are especially gifted by God.
In other words, ministry is godliness + gifting. Not the other way around. It starts with godliness and we appoint those to posts who are filled with the Spirit (e.g. Acts 6). Don’t you think that means godliness? Of course it does. It’s trendy to write down equations these days, so this means, quite simply M = Go + Gi in that order.
This was brought home to me this week as I spent a happy afternoon out cycling with two other pastors. They were incredibly patient with me. It takes a lot to get me up a hill (and, frankly, I’ve got a lot to get up the hill) – so I go pretty slowly up the inclines. Descents, by contrast, are straightforward. I was profoundly thankful for their patience. Isn’t that an underrated spiritual quality? Yes. And isn’t it an underrated pastoral quality? Yes, indeed. As are – as it happens – many of the component parts of the fruit of the Spirit.
I think we should all want to be Spirit-filled leaders.
So help me God.