To fly to serve part 2
You may already think I am making too much of my extended metaphor – in which case, take a week off from the blog and come back next Monday. But I have found that when we are training men and women to be Bible teachers – in limited amounts of time – it can help them have a simple illustration which works at many levels, a parable if you like. Yesterday we saw how the pilot needs to be clear on the destination. Today:
Step 2:Take off. How you start really counts. Imagine your transatlantic flight on the runway. Probably some passengers are nervously excited, anticipating the journey. Others want it to be over already. Others still are dreading what might happen. The take-off is key. Your job is to get the plane in the air so that the long, demanding work of being gripped by the text can start.
So, you need to build up speed quickly. Many Bible speakers make this mistake. They spend so long in the take-off that the plane never gets anywhere. Dick used to call this waggling on the tee before he embraced my plane metaphor (only joking!!). And the take-off needs to be appropriate – it gets you going in the right direction. Your listeners don’t want a funny story that has nothing to do with the text. The careful pilot accelerates quickly down the runway and then climbs quickly to his cruising altitude and direction. He avoids abrupt turns. Sure, if he climbs too quickly he’ll stall and crash. But too slow and he may not clear the trees.
Those who teach others need to begin well. What this looks like will vary according to audience, but most of us cannot get away with the John Owen approach, “As I was saying last week….” The start needs to relate to the whole in terms of direction. It must not overwhelm the whole – there is a long journey ahead. And the start is only the start: don’t make it more than it is – necessary to get the plane in the air, but it is not the journey itself.
Talk Shmalk: for the purposes of clarification
My post today is about more than preaching. I love the language of preaching and hate it when people introduce me to say I’m going to ‘explain the Bible’ or ‘give a talk’: I happen to think there’s something very special about preaching (theologically). I’ve written about that many, many times.
However, in my posts today (and this week) I was trying to help a broader range of people than just preachers: hence the language of ‘talk’. There are lots of teaching opportunities in church which – I don’t believe – are appropriate to call preaching: they are not the church gathered under the man of God bringing the word of God. These might be a small group talk, a women’s meeting, a youth group, a CU meeting: I used ‘talk’ to encompass all of these and more. The language was not the point of the post, and I hope that’s obvious.
Oh, and by the way, ‘sermon’ is not in the Bible either. In fact, it’s from old French meaning ‘talk.’ Voila!
To fly to serve part 1
This week I’m at one of our wives’ conferences and I’m taking a short seminar on giving a bible talk. To be honest, this is not something we talk enough about. Sure, our key priority is to get the passage right. But whilst bad exegesis cannot be corrected by good delivery, good exegesis can be seriously undermined by poor speaking. On the PT Cornhill training course, we devote time to this – including questions of introduction, structure, application and so on.
In my short seminar I don’t really have time to develop these ideas in great detail so over the years I’ve developed an extended metaphor to help teach some basic delivery and construction skills. The metaphor is that the Bible speaker is a long haul pilot. British Airways have played right into my hands with their new advert – so this approach is now called “To fly to serve”.
I’m going to spend a few days showing you my seminar – not because you, Mr Preacher, probably need it. But you may – I trust – find it helpful as you train men and women in your church to give good Bible talks and occasionally to preach.
There are four steps.
Step 1 is to know your destination. In many ways, this is the exegesis part. The pilot’s task is to know where the plane is scheduled for and to take the passengers there safely. A preacher or Bible teacher is not a stunt pilot – there to show off his tricks. Nor is he a combat pilot – out to shoot down whatever enemies hove into sight. He has a flight plan and must stick to it. And he has to take his passengers to the appropriate destination safely and smoothly.
And the pilot is employed by the airline. Put it like this: the pilot doesn’t load up the plane and then say “right, where shall we go?” No. The text in the talk determines the destination, and so step 1 of giving a Bible talk is to understand the text to understand the destination. This is what we normally call our exegesis work – understanding the text and, fundamentally, understanding what the text is about.
Only once this is known can the pilot plan his flight and load his plane.
For the love of God
This year I’ve returned to an old favourite in my morning devotions – Don Carson’s two volumes For the love of God. I say two volumes, but I’m only using one at a time. Based on McCheyne’s Bible reading programme I’ve been gripped afresh by the Donster’s insightful comments. I really believe these are a great gift for any thinking Christian and can even act as a kind of simple two volume Bible commentary.
These days, you get a daily feed live from The Gospel Coalition blog. I use them in Logos Bible software where they’re £12 each. For a while I think there were free copies knocking around the Interweb, but I’m not sure whether they were legit or not. There’s also an iOS app, though mine stopped working with the last iOS update. I’m glad to report that it seems to be back up and working – my favourite part of it is that when it opens it says “DA Carson would like to send you notifications.” The app is slightly annoying because it’s always a day behind (as with TGC blog).
However you read it, this is a great resource which, despite its age, stands the test of time and is worth recommending to your church.
That Friday feeling
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about post sermon blues and my own struggles in this area. But the truth is that my preaching crises are not limited to after the sermon. And for me, Friday’s are the days that bite. That’s partly because I used – as a regular joe-pastor – to have Saturday off. Friday was the last full working day on my sermon(s). I would often wake early on Friday worrying things around in my head like a dog worries a bone.
I was saved from this particular Friday feeling by listening to a sermon from the US by CJ Mahaney where he confessed his own struggles with Saturday night feelings (I was much ahead feeling this way on a Friday!). This is the same feeling that makes a preacher go over and over his sermon on Saturday night (and Sunday morning), never satisfied with it.
I found, purely by experience, that a sermon reworked on a Sunday morning was virtually never improved. Indeed, quite the opposite. Thoughts that had been clearly gathered and arranged over the course of several days cannot – generally speaking – suffer the rearrangement half hour that Sunday tinkering brings.
But the issue goes deeper. For my Friday crises (and Saturday and Sunday crises) reveal a lack of confidence in the Spirit of God to do the work of God. If I have prayerfully and carefully prepared, I need to be able to place my sermon before the Lord and commit it to him. He will do what he will do. Sometimes (and you may think this is stupid, but it helped) I would even physically lay out my manuscript on the desk a bit like Hezekiah. I am the workman, nothing more. I do my work. I plant. I water. Sure, but God gives the growth and this truth and this truth alone saved me from the Friday feeling.
New editions of Proclamation Bible
There are two new editions of The Proclamation Bible out catering for rather different ends of the markets.
First, there’s an RL Allan Bibles version. Allan almost certainly make the most beautiful Bibles I’ve seen – each is handcrafted with the finest materials. Allan buy the blocks (the inside pages) from publishers and then bind them in finest cow or goat or cat or something. The end result is great to hold – a real tactile Bible. My preaching Bible is an Allan Bible and The Proclamation Bible is a great addition to their range. Quality of this kind does not come cheap, however – yours for £140.
At the other end of the scale, Hodder have now produced a compact edition. At the moment, both the standard and leather bound edition (both wide margin) are hefty beasts; good for the desk or pulpit, but requiring their own baggage allowance. Now, however, there’s going to be a carry-on version. Same page count but in a smaller version. Hoorah. Out in time for the EMA. And £22.99 (probably discounted too) is a lot more manageable.
There’s also a mobile version available through the Olive Tree Bible app. At just $9.99, this is the cheapest way to access the material.
Teaching 2 Timothy
Tom Forryan (Watford) has written a brief but kind review of Teaching 2 Timothy in this month’s EN. He’s perfectly understood what we’re trying to do with our Teaching books and, whatever your level of preaching or teaching, you should find them both accessible and useful.
“Jonathan Griffiths, a tutor on the Cornhill Training Course, has contributed a particularly helpful title. In a short and readable book, he does most of the things a good commentary would do, and more besides. As well as tackling questions such as authorship and date, there are brief notes on each verse and in addition the theme and aim of each passage is identified. There are thoughts on links to contemporary issues and, most usefully, on the message for us today. Griffiths suggests that Paul originally wrote with two readerships in mind, Timothy and the church. So for most of the sections he suggests two different applications – for the church leader and for the believer. Then there are sermon outlines and discussion questions. Anyone wanting to preach through 2 Timothy or lead a study group would find excellent help here.
“Why tackle 2 Timothy? Griffiths gives us nine good reasons and here is one of them: ‘It reminds us why the gospel (and gospel ministry) matters. Paul has a consistently eternal perspective throughout the letter and he casts all his teaching about ministry in the light of eternity. How we and our church families need to be reminded that the gospel really is a matter of life and death!’”
Daniel and the power of prayer
I have just been re-reading the book of Daniel in preparation for teaching it at Cornhill, and I was struck afresh by the response Daniel is given to his prayer of national confession in chapter 9. While he was still praying, Gabriel came to him and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision’ (Dan. 9:22-23 ESV). Gabriel then proceeds to tell Daniel of God’s plans to answer his prayer and restore Jerusalem.
The term ‘apocalypse’ means an ‘unveiling’, and as an apocalyptic work, the book of Daniel gives us insight into presently unseen spiritual realities that stand behind human history. Very often these insights relate to wider geopolitical matters, but here in Daniel 9:22-23 we are given insight into what happens in heaven when Daniel prays. At the beginning of Daniel’s pleas – before Daniel has even had a chance to say all that he had to say – the Lord takes swift action and sends his response. And we’re told why the Lord responds swiftly: because Daniel is greatly loved.
All this must have come as a huge encouragement to Daniel, living in dark days in a foreign land. He may well have wondered if the Lord still heard his prayers and was still powerful to act. What an encouragement for Daniel to be given this insight into the very workings of the heavenly throne room – and to have this assurance that his prayers are heard and answered by the all-powerful God who loves him greatly. And what an encouragement for us too.
Well, it was a good two weeks in Asia, but can I just say that India is not the place to be when your cricket team are doing so disastrously in the World Cup. A large chunk of the population here live and breath cricket and want to remind you constantly about your team’s poor performance.
But not everybody.
India, like many places, is complex. Take sport for example. The national sport of India, anybody?
That’s right: field hockey. A sport that is relatively elite. Cricket is much more evenly spread. Football is increasingly popular. In villages, local sports often dominate. India has also produced some top tennis players – grand slam winners mixed doubles pair Mahesh Bhupati and Sania Mirza, but, again, this is an elite sport. India is a large country made up of – in effect – many different nations and religions. Sporting interest often follows some of those lines.
In short things are complex. British preachers often come here and think that if they use cricketing illustrations, they will win over congregations. Not true. It’s simply playing to a stereotype. Like most places in the world, culture here is complex.
Which brings me my home congregation. I want to make my preaching culturally accessible and relevant – that is part of the key work of a preacher as he ‘lands’ the sermon. However, sweeping generalisations about church congregations generally will not do.
Rather, there is no alternative to a settled long-term ministry in which the preacher gets to know and love his congregation and is able to preach to them as his own people. Even in complex cultures, this is the ministry that counts.
Notes from another country part 5
I’ve been leading a small Cornhill missions team this last week. We’ve been abroad somewhere hot and somewhere increasingly difficult to be a Christian. It’s probably not appropriate for me to say where (or necessary, even) because I don’t want to put believers at risk. But, as ever, my heart has been stirred and my faith has been challenged by being with believers from a different culture. For sure, other cultures have their blind spots – and they are painfully obvious. But, more to the point, being with Christians in another culture allows us to see our own blind spots more clearly. And it’s this I want to write about this week.
We need to stop wallowing in self-pity. Period.
We have this rather curious notion that Christians in the UK are being persecuted. I just want to say: can we not call it that, please? It is undoubtedly harder to be a Christian in the UK than it has been for some time. But we are not being persecuted. Not really. To claim that we are does a great disservice to brothers and sisters around the world for whom daily persecution and facing death all day long is a reality.
The trouble is that when we convince ourselves that our persecution is real and deep, our reaction is to wallow in self pity. And that’s ugly. I have met several pastors here for whom church burning, threat of death and family reprisals are a reality. The one thing you never see in them is self-pity. I see all kinds of reactions and emotions, but – on the whole – these are godly and honourable. They don’t even ask to pray that persecution would stop: rather that they would endure (a lesson for every church prayer meeting back home!). Having to change the way we run our B&B seems rather inconsequential in comparison.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. I am not suffering back home, and there are some whose very livelihoods are on the line. So forgive me if I have spoken out of turn. Nevertheless, there is a kind of persecution complex that we all rather like and embrace. As long as it’s not too dangerous that is. It gives us the chance to be the centre of attention for once. Never mind brothers and sisters around the world.
As if our troubles are anything in comparison.