Blind spots and inconsistencies
We all have them – and we often need others to point them out. Not so long ago I went on a long journey with a fellow pastor who was hot on Sunday observance but drove the whole way at 90mph (on a 70mph motorway). Just a short while ago I spent an evening with some London Christians who love Jesus on Sunday morning but on Saturday were seriously (and I mean, seriously) hard drinkers.
In both cases, neither could spot the inconsistency of their position, as I’m sure I cannot in my own life. I need people around me to graciously and lovingly point out such areas. And I do need it (and so, I epxect, do you):
- it’s part of the work of putting sin to death in our bodies which we must be committed to
- we are called to live pure lives in the world (see, for example, 1 Peter 2.12)
So, if you can’t work it out yourself, ask someone close. What are your blind spots and inconsistencies? Then, in the power of the mighty Spirit of Christ, put them to death.
New conference audio – only 19 years late
We've a small staff, but we're gradually getting round to transferring old conference audio from tape to digital. Latest are four talks by Peter Adam from the Senior Minister's Conference in 1993. Peter is the principal of Ridley Theological College in Melbourne. Click here for the free talks on:
- Foundation of the Ministry of The Word
- What then is Preaching?
- The Practice of Preaching
- Evangelical Protestantism
Psalm 150, Luke 6 & Ezekiel 1
If you want some audio to start the week with, here are the most recent sermons from the PT directors:
- Christopher preached last Sunday at St Mary's Maidenhead. He took the church weekend on the psalms and you can listen to his sermon on Psalm 150 here.
- Vaughan is just starting a series at St Ebbe's on Luke 6 – the sermon on the plain – and you can hear the first three sermons here, here and here.
- I've just come back from preaching Numbers in Asia, but I took a break from that book and preached Ezekiel 1 (a last minute change) on the Sunday morning as the church prepared for a period of praying together. You can hear the audio here.
What do you do all day?
In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Joanna asks Huck what it is that ministers actually do.
"Oh, nothing much. Loll around, pass the plate – and one thing or another. But mainly they don't do nothing."
"Well then, what are they for?" asks the curious Joanna.
Huck has the answer. "Why, they're for style. Don' you know nothing?"
This great Mark Twain quote is remembered by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg in their excellent book, On being a pastor (p149). This week I've been teaching the Cornhillers about a pastor's private ministry (as opposed to his public ministry) and realised it's a much neglected topic. There's an excellent chapter by Johnny Prime in PT's own The Practical Preacher – here are some other resources on private ministry:
- Reforming Pastoral MInistry edited by John Armstrong – some good stuff here
- The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter
- The classic text, The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges
- There's also a good article in the Sepember 2009 Briefing "One sheep at a time, the power of one-to-one ministry."
- If you can make it through, Gregory the Great has some winsome advice in his Pastoral Rule (you can google it or it is in the second series of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers volume 12)
At the very least, make sure you're not just for style!
What do you do with those total destruction passages?
Numbers has a bit of everything – law, story, poetry, prophecy – which makes it an exciting book to read and preach. But it also means that the tricky issues raised by OT preaching ALL come up in Numbers, not least of which is the herem holy destruction like that against the Midianites (Numbers 31). If you're preaching these sorts of passages, you've surely got to talk about the issue and understand it for yourself. One book I've found very helpful is Show them no mercy which includes an excellent chapter by Tremper Longman III on this very subject. It is in the 4/5 views series produced by Zondervan . I found it useful for understanding the issue myself and also understanding what other people think, even if some of them are far from being mainstream evangelical views. Worth the £8 it costs.
Why context really does matter
A bit more banging of the drum.
Have a quick look at Numbers 30. Woah! One verse on oaths for men and 15 on oaths for women. Or, more precisely, why oaths for women can always be overridden by their fathers or husbands. Not very 21st Century. In fact, totally demeaning to women and a good illustration of how regressive Christianity can be.
Well, that is certainly one way to read it. But think again. Think about some context, both immediate (in a section of the book where women have their rights extended) and historical – where women had few rights if any.
Now this passage is transformed. It's a liberation – can you see it? Women can take oaths just like men, and except in certain circumstances they are binding too.Women are protected too. OK, husbands and fathers can – for a short while – nullify their vows, but after that, the oaths are confirmed and they are legitimate before God.
Quite a different reading (and, in this case, I would suggest, the proper one).
Yes, I know we say it a lot. But content really does matter.
A new start: recommended audio
Here is the audio from Vaughan Robert's talk at our Spring Wives Reunion last week. It's based on Luke 6. Although some of the application is targeted specifically at the wives, it's really good stuff for anybody in ministry, especially those who find it a struggle to get going after the summer break. I sat through the talk and thought it was very helpful indeed: faithful exposition matched with warm application. A great way to start the week and the term.
Playground friends for pastors
Today, Isabel (7) proudly told dad that she is to be a playground friend. What does that mean? "I have to help people who are arguing and make sure everyone has someone to play with." I take it that "helping people with arguing" doesn't mean developing their rhetoric and sharpening their arguments, but rather, breaking them up! It's a good idea, and not only for schoolgirls….
Being a pastor is a lonely calling – even in a large staff team there is an inherent lonliness about being in ministry. That's why getting together with other pastors is such a good idea. There are a number of ways of doing that, of course. Traditionally, fraternals fulfilled that task – but they often become too big or focused on discussing issues, so there is not the fraternity that pastors crave and need.
I'm a great fan of small preaching groups. 5 of 6 pastors from different churches, but from a locality can meet together every few months and use the opportunity to preach their sermons to one another. There are a number of obvious upsides to this:
- first, and most importantly, it will feed the souls of those who are listening
- having a sermon critiqued is humbling but, more importantly, sharpens your own preaching in a way feedback from a congregation rarely will
- critiquing someone else's sermon will sharpen your own exegetical and hermeneutical skills
- this kind of intimacy and trust will develop good friendships which can last and be fruitful
So, yes, I'm a fan of small preaching groups. 4 or 5 good friends encourgaing one another.
But how's it going to start? That's where the playground friends come in. Perhaps you need to be a playground friend and make sure people in the playground are happy. Why not start a group?
Summer Wives Reunion
Yesterday we had our spring wives reunion and a great time it was – not too formal, just a chance for those who come on the spring conference to get together and encourage one another. We've also planned in a reunion for the summer wives conference. If you're a younger minister and your wife attended this conference (or if you're a younger minister and she didn't, but she would like to 'try it out') then why not encourage her to book in for the 16th November. Lunch included! Book online now.
A different kind of funeral?
Funerals always seem such a miserable send off. A poorly attended mid week meeting or, worse still, 90 years of life crammed into 15 minutes at the Crematorium. So here's what we used to do at our old church (BTW, I realise that this wouldn't work in many larger churches, but be creative).
- The old approach. A dear saint dies and the Friday funeral is attended by a scattering of church members who are not in work and the family. We struggled to get any musicians – all at work.
- The new approach. A small family commital by the graveside or in the crematorium on, say, a Friday. Then, a Sunday afternoon service for the whole church (replacing our evening service) which is the memorial service. Good singing. Good music. A full church, and a proper thanksgiving for the life of N by the whole church family to which he or she belonged. The family are moved by the support of the congregation – follow it with a church tea for everyone. It can be good to make these events part of the ordinary church life. No coffin to preach over. All the kids can come. It all seems so…well, appropriate. Could that work in your church?