Why we preach?
There may be many reasons why you preach? Perhaps you're good at it? Perhaps you enjoy it? Perhaps you couldn't find another job!? Perhaps you kind of fell into it by accident or circumstance? Perhaps someone pushed you into it? All of those may be true or at least have some truth in them. They be accurate descriptions of where we have come from.
Wherever you have come from, the biblical pattern is this: we preach to our people because we love our people. Go read 1 Thess 2.7-12 again. Look at the love, care and concern Paul has for the Thessalonians and how that is worked out in "encouraging, urging and comforting…" Likewise, of course, in the ministry of the Chief Shepherd who has, above all, a ministry of love.
There is no way we can train ourselves to love people because we love preaching first.
We are called to love our people. And because we love our people, we love preaching.
How preaching Christ can damage your people
Latest thoughts from David Helm at our younger ministers' conference: it's a sobering thought, Mr Preacher, that it's quite possible to preach Christ and damage your people. That statement requires some clarification, of course.
We all know we want to preach Christ. But there is a way to do it that actually ends up being destructive rather than faithful. This is the kind of preaching in the Old Testament which has little or no connection with the historicity of the text but sees a reminder or something that looks like it might be about Jesus and then runs with this. OK, you might think: not brilliant. But damaging?
Surely. For if we disconnect from the historicity of the text to proclaim Jesus, how do we connect with the historicity of any text? What next? The resurrection, disconnected? If we bypass the hard work of exegesis and theological reflection, there is always a danger we will be disconnected from the text. And we will, within a generation, empty churches of those who are convinced about the historicity of the gospel and the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of the God who became man.
Sobering. And, if we didn't have enough reasons, cause for the hard work of preaching the gospel faithfully. You can read more in David's new IX Marks book Expositional Preaching.
Terminology may matter
I've been thinking a little this week about what we call ourselves. Partly that's because I'm taking a session this evening on why and how we should love our people. I guess the two key words are minister and pastor.
- Minister, I might suggest, is sometimes overused. It comes, of course, from the Greek, leitourgos. That means servant. Or diakonos. Similar idea. It's a good word for what we do. Although, as far as I can see, as a noun it nearly always used in terms of our relationship to Christ – a servant of Christ, a minister of Christ. It depends to be our default word with all its cognates – we minister to a congregation, we do ministry. I want to keep this word in our vocabulary.
- But I also want to reclaim the word pastor, that is shepherd. This is also a biblical paradigm and, I might suggest, is a more common word in terms of how we relate to our people (rather than how we relate to God). It implies a certain level of care and compassion and is modelled on the shepherding of the Chief Shepherd.
I'm certain we want to jettison neither description. But I wonder if we prefer one over the other. Why? And I wonder, further, whether we are detached from the original meaning of both words to make them biblically meaningless in our own context. "He's our minister" they say. Do they mean servant? "He's our pastor" they say. Do they mean shepherd?
Brothers, let's reflect prayerfully on what God calls us to be.
The professionalisation of ministry
I believe the care of souls is in such a deplorable state in otherwise orthodox (and often growing) churches because of the failure to love on the part of pastors….We pastors are being killed by the professionalising of the pastoral ministry… the more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Mt 18.3); there is no professional tender-heartedness (Eph 4.32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps 42.1).
This is Jim Eliff, founder of Christian Communicators Worldwide writing in Reforming Pastoral MInistry – now a fairly old book (2001), but still worth reading. It got me thinking a little about what it is in our current climate has professionalised ministry. These are observations made without comment – in the sense that some just describe the world we live in. We can't get rid of them, necessarily. But we need to recognise them if we are to avoid our own ministries becoming professionalised. Why does it happen?
- It is the general pattern of the world to professionalise. We live in a qualification culture where training needs to be undertaken for everything. This brings a focus on qualifications above all else.
- We are reductionistic about ministry. Preaching is key, it may even be the pinnacle of pastoral ministry, but it is not everything that pastoral ministry is.
- We increasingly work in team environments. As such senior ministers become team leaders rather than shepherds of the flock.
- Because of church size, pastoral work is often delegated downwards to, say, small groups. This may be practical but distances the pastor from the sheep.
- We've seen the resurgence of the alpha-male pastor. Perhaps this needed to be addressed, but we may have swung too far the other way.
- We've embraced the notion that bigger is better when it comes to church life. For all kinds of reasons this is sometimes the case. But not always, and never in some areas. Pastors are often now CEOs
We're always tempted to bring the world into the church, of course. And so we embrace professionalism without even noticing it. Heaven help us.
Woodhouse on 2 Sam 6
There's no denying that 2 Sam 6 is a hard chapter. We're enjoying looking at it at the Spring Ministers' conferences. But, suggests, John Woodhouse, our problems with the passage generally seem to be problems that we have with the kingdom of God. For example, God's righteous anger against Uzzah is sobering, as it should be be when we consider the extraordinary holiness of our sovereign Lord.
But even more specifically, we have no warrant to go anywhere other than to and through Christ in these chapters:
the earthly reign of David is a token in which we must contemplate the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation of his Church to the end of the world.
Calvin by the way (sermons on 2 Samuel).
Oh, and Amen!
Store it up
Mike Bullmore on preaching: "the sermon is not a container to contain everything you have discovered about the text."
Preachers would do well to remember this. And by the way, the lamp post comment that was retweeted the other day was not mine, but David Helm's. Credit where it's due – or at least when he puts a little (c) on the diagram…..
I heard a wonderful story this week at our ministers conference. Our Australian visitors were on holiday staying in a small village in Dorset and went out for a walk. They walked through the graveyard and stopped to glance at a memorial stone: and it turned out to be that of Augustus Toplady (he's actually buried in Whitefield's Tabernacle in London), one of our finest hymnwriters. I love his strongly Calvinistic hymns, and am always glad when one is resurrected well. That's what I think about Sojourn's reworking of one of the best hymns that encourages us to talk to ourselves: Now why this fear and unbelief. Helpfully, it's part of Sovereign Grace's Gathering album which means it's available on video. But it also means that we have free sheet and piano music here. However, here's the thing: we learnt this yesterday at the ministers' conference and it was very easy to learn. That's a great bonus because so much of modern music is, frankly, unsingable. Not this one. Definitely worth learning and – for the record – we'll be singing it at this year's EMA. So learn it and come along and sing with us.
Preaching and painting
The impressionists transformed the painting world. Instead of concentrating hard on what they saw and trying to reproduce it, they looked at the world then painted 10 strokes for every glance at the world. The result?
The picture has some connection with the reality, but it is relatively loose. It is obviously from the original, but that is about it. So, is much evangelical preaching says David Helm, speaking at our senior ministers conference this week to me and 79 other guys. Much of our preaching can be like this. We make some connection but that is about it. The preacher uses the text like a drunk uses a lamp-post, more for support than for illumination. It is especially easy to do this with narrative.
Two new editions of journals
Two new editions of journals worth your time. First, the new edition of Credo is out. It's notable this month for a very short piece on baptism containing short explanations of various views. Not sure what happened in the edit, but Archbishop of Sydney's description of baptism doesn't sound very Anglican to me, which is a shame, because it would have been nice to see a pithy, well-articulated explanation of paedo-baptism. Though I am a convinced credo-baptist, I like to see the other side argued well. More significantly, there is an important article on how the prosperity gospel (or a form of it) creeps into the evangelical church. Perhaps not such a temptation this side of the pond, but worth reading.
Also out (ready, engage brain!) is the new issue of Themelios. Always sharpening and stretching, I particularly enjoyed Don Carson's characteristic challenge to orthodoxy (that will get you reading!) regarding "do the work of an evangelist." I can't help thinking his short article needed to interact with Eph 4 a little more. It gets mentioned in passing in his final paragraph, but if it is a separate idea there, I felt I needed to be persuaded more why it was not in 2 Tim (beyond immediate context). Stimulating,
It can still be expository preaching if….
….you just preach one verse.
Text preaching! Perish the thought.
Then again, no.
It's patently clear that some of the greats of the past did this. Their sermons were sometimes more expository than they are given credit for. In part, that is because (with preachers like Spurgeon and Archibald Brown) you never get to hear the reading comments they made which often set context and did various other things we would typically do in a sermon.
But if expository preaching is letting God say what he has said, in other words letting the main point of the text be the main point of the sermon, then a text can be expository too.
I happen to think it is harder to preach this way then with a longer passage. Nevertheless, it has its place. My esteemed colleage, RC Lucas, told me the other day that preachers have forgotten how to preach a single verse well. I think he's right. But in some places, it is called for. There's a need to preach Ephesians 1.1-14. But if you want people to drink in all the detail, sometimes you have to preach Ephesians 1.4-5 on its own too.
Many of us will do this with targeted evangelistic sermons. Why not at other times too?