Word Alive for preachers. Or something similar.
How do you make sure your own soul is fed, Mr Preacher? How many ministries and churches suffer because the pastor-teacher does not take care of his own soul? It's an easy trap to fall into. There's so much to do, so many meetings, so many tasks – and if you don't do them, who will? So, take a moment this morning to ask yourself this question:
How do you make sure your own soul is fed?
A key way is by sitting under other people's ministry. I think the best place to do this is in your own church. It's good to go to a Bible study you're not leading. It's healthy to be in the congregation when someone else is preaching. Always assuming, of course, you can do so uncritically, listening not as a fellow preacher or leader, but as someone who needs the Spirit to apply the word of Christ to you so that you might love the Father more.
To be honest, I sometimes struggle with this. That's partly because, even if I train myself to be uncritical in this way, people always view you as the pastor, so can't leave you alone. And here is the benefit of making the most of outside conferences. I'm particularly keen on Word Alive, not because they share a building with us, but because it's something that you, Mr Preacher, can benefit from with your family or church family. Here's a chance, pacing yourself well, to sit under ministry, learn and grow. It's not the only thing you could do, go to or listen to. You may have something else. But it's a start. Have a think about it.
How do you make sure your own soul is fed?
Don’t forget the autumn ministers
We're looking forward to welcoming some of you to the autumn ministers conference. It runs from 11-14 November (Mon through Thurs) at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire and we're looking forward to having David Gibb (Leyland) preaching and teaching on Book 1 of the psalms and Wallace Benn on maintaining momentum in ministry – both personally and as church leaders. These are critical issues. We're excited about Book 1 of the psalms too because these rich songs and poems are not always straightforward to preach as Christian literature. As with all our conferences, we've also planned in time to relax and meet with friends, so we hope and trust and pray the time away will be refreshing both physically and spiritually.
I've enjoyed reading Lee Gatiss' St Antholin's lecture on Edmund Grindal recently. He was strong on preaching and defended preaching groups/conferences robustly to Queen Elizabeth. I don't think our present Elizabeth as quite the objections that her namesake did, but it amused me to see why he thought preaching conferences were such a good idea:
- Preaching conferences make ministers more skilful preachers.
- They remove preachers from 'idleness, wandering, gaming etc'
- They persuade the doctrinally dodgy to confess the truth.
- They drive ignorant ministers to study harder.
- They show lay people that the clergy are not lazy.
- The train up good preachers to 'beat down Popery.'
Paraphrased by Lee of course. I'm not sure we can say, hand on heart, that these are our six drivers behind preaching conferences, but they made us smile and have a ring of truth about what we do. We long to better handle the word of God. We long to see godliness develop in preachers whom we serve. We long that as iron sharpens iron, we would help one another to grasp, understand and believe the truth. We long to encourage good and faithful study of God's word. We long that churches would see their pastor's progress. And we long to enable preachers to refute falsehood, even though we might not express it as "beating down Popery."
So, yes, these made us smile. But they also still ring true, 450 years on. Book here for the full Grindal experience, otherwise known as the autumn ministers conference. Lee's booklet on Grindal is out shortly from the Latimer Trust.
Praying the sermon in and preaching on the first day of the week
We all know that prayer is a key component of the preachers' life – reflecting his personal walk with Christ and also the ministry that God has given him. So praying over a passage or sermon as part of the preparation is a key component of sermon work. We neglect it at our peril. Now, we all know that – even if we are not the practitioners of it that we would always like to be.
But what about praying after the sermon? I wonder if too soon the sermon becomes old news to us. Monday comes around and we're already thinking about the next passage, the next text, the next message. So, here's something I've been trying to do recently with varied success, it must be said. I've been trying to do what I encourage congregations to do – that's to pray the sermon in.
- Post preaching, I've tried to be more disciplined in bringing the sermon and its effect in my people, to my Almighty Father. I don't want to get so caught up with the next week's business that this is neglected. Strangely, one thing that has really helped me with this is thinking about Sunday as the first day of a new week rather than the last day of the old week. I think that many of us preachers are hard wired to think of Sunday as the culmination of the week's effort – everything works up to this point. It's easy to get sucked into thinking that Sunday ends the week and Monday starts the new one. But if we train ourselves to think differently about the weekly pattern we see Sunday as the beginning of the week and then it feels more natural to be praying through that week for what has gone before.
- I've also tried to continue preaching the sermon to myself in the coming week. Many of us (somewhat tritely?) observe during the sermon "of course, I've preached this to myself this week" (last week, that should be?!!) but now I'm trying to train myself to pray in the Sunday sermon into my own heart. I've written down the key application and used it in my prayer times, running through it again and again and applying it to the situations I face throughout the week.
Why not give it a go? And why not see how thinking differently about the week can help your preaching?
Setting boundaries on your time
I'm just off the back of a stupidly busy eight days. All, pretty much, self inflicted. It wasn't helped by a broken down train on Saturday night meaning it took me 6 hours to get home from just outside Leeds, before then climbing in the car again for a two hour drive to preach in Hampshire. Fool! It's the last one of these silly stretches because I've got a small group of friends whom I have to run such outside speaking engagements past. It seems to be working – it's helping me set boundaries. But I have learnt the hard way that it is important to have some mechanism in place to help with this. Exactly what depends on your nature. It also depends on your setting. Ordinarily it should be your fellow church leaders or your spouse if you are married. But however it works, I wonder how you make sure you able to set – and keep – appropriate time boundaries. You are no use to anyone if you cannot.
The context of words
Words always have contexts. It's absurd to strip out words from their contexts and try to make them stand on their own. I was reminded of this as I read some BBC articles about the crackdown on racist chanting (a good thing, by the way). Much of the online debate centres on the word "Yid" used by both opponents and supporters of Spurs alike. The FA have announced that using the word is inappropriate and probably illegal. Some Spurs supporters have reacted strongly, saying that "Yid army" is one of their terrace chants. Yet there is no doubt that it is also used as a term of abuse by opponents.
Should there be such blanket bans? I think the answer probably lies in the fact that the word, once stripped of its context, is very difficult to interpret. Words can be offensive in one context but not in another. That is true historically (try reading Isaiah 36.12 in the King James version!!), as well as culturally and even locationally – most couples for example have a private bedroom language that would not be appropriate for, say, the pulpit.
The bottom line is that it's naive to think that words have meanings without contexts. Of course, this is supremely true in the Scriptures. I'm acutely aware of this preaching in Ecclesiastes at the moment where context shapes much of how a word should be understood. And here's the lesson for preachers – when studying a text, look first at the context to work out the meaning of words. Don't fly to the lexicon or commentary. There's many a mistake there for the taking by pursuing that path too quickly. Rather, look around. Read the surrounding words. Re-read them. And remember every word has a context and it's that which brings meaning.
Bible centred youthwork
Of the making of many books on youthwork there is much. And of the organising of conferences on youthwork there is much. And, to be frank, not all as helpful as it might be. Incredibly, one of the missing ingredients is often….wait, for it…. the Bible. Yep, that's right. Your youthworkers, Sunday school teachers, kids workers – they all need help, right? And you're probably not in a position to give them all they need. So if you're going to invest in them, you need to invest in something which will work on their skills – including (and centrally) Bible skills. That's why a strong and biblically robust consortium of partners put on the Growing Young Disciples day conferences and the January residential. This is a key way to invest in your youth team and ensure that they get the good Bible input they need. Click on the links for more information.
- Southampton (Above Bar Church) Saturday 12th October 2013
- London (All Souls, Langham Place) Saturday 23rd November 2013
- Midlands (Cornerstone Church, Nottingham) Saturday 1st March 2014
- High Leigh Conference centre. Monday 20th-Thursday 23rd January 2014.
How to choose a training course
Here's a short video I did for the FIEC. I tried to be objective as possible – there are LOTS of good training opportunities in the UK. Praise God for that. I am biased in particularly recommending PT Cornhill, which started this week. But the course deserves my bias. Good to see so many eager students of God's word.
PT Cornhill Teaching Days – coming your way very soon
We're on tour…! Our autumn series of training days around the country kicks off this Saturday (21st September) at Otley in Yorkshire (still time to book here), Dublin on 12th October and Colchester (East Anglia Gospel Partnership) on 9th November. Perhaps see you there? They're excellent opportunties to train your preaching and teaching teams. Thinking ahead there's also Bath on 15 Feb 2014 and Sussex Gospel Partnership on 15 March 2014.
A labor of love
Our friends at Reformation Heritage Books have sent us a truly wonderful book – A labor of love by J Stephen Yuille. It basically takes sixteen prayers of the puritan minister George Swinnock and turns them into short chapters on the nature of Christian ministry and its high calling. I've been reading one a day and finding it really very helpful. The Puritans can – at times – be a little introspective. And there's always a danger that this kind of book could be just that. However, Yuille steers us down the straight and narrow and provides a useful biblical commentary on each chapter. Here you will find the full breadth of Christian ministry and a useful challenge and tonic for the soul.
The book ends with a farewell sermon Swinnock preached in 1662. It's hard not to be moved by this (and if you'd sat through a sermon this length, you can be sure you would have wanted to move just a little – it's long!). It strikes me that it's Puritan preaching at its worst and best. Worst – because the preacher sits sometimes very loosely to the text; it's quite incredible what he gets out of it. Best – because it's biblical truth rooted in pastoral warmth and genuine love for the people.
Overall, highly recommended. Even though it's only available on kindle in the UK at the moment, it's definitely worth getting.
The preacher’s besetting sins (part 4)
Self pity is one of the most ugly of sins, yet least called out. It is closely related to pride and vanity of course, but has at its root a lack of contentment in Christ. It also has many shades. But it is rarely private. In many ways, self-pity is badly named. For although it starts with feeling sorry for oneself (in lots of areas), it rarely remains private for long. In some preachers this manifests itself in their preaching illustrations. Just get in another illustration about tax credits and you can remind the congregation how little you are paid! For others, it is in personal conversations with members of the congregation. Car is playing up again. Can't really afford to fix it.
I think self-pity centres on one or two key areas of life:
- money. We are not paid wild amounts and convince ourselves that if we had stayed in the secular world we would be much better off.
- time. Ministers make huge sacrifices in terms of time. We'd love people to appreciate that more.
- ministry success. Our ministries are just not as fruitful as we'd love them to be.
I think (and have discovered myself) this sin to be insidious. It creeps in slowly and, like Russian bindweed, takes hold and is a devil to shift. Literally. Try reading Screwtape! Self-pity is a great satanic weapon.
So. here are a few home truths:
- money. You may be one of those pastors who is paid too little. I pray your church remedies that. But let's say you are paid £20,000 plus house. That's not much is it? Er, yes. It depends where you live, but let's assume your house would cost £1,000 to rent a month (round us it's £2,000 a month). You don't pay tax or NI on that benefit. Some of your bills are probably paid. You can make deductions as a minister that no one else can. And yet, the tax system still assesses you on the basic salary because you are a minister. So you may get tax credits. Even allowing that you don't – my fag packet exercise reckons on £20k plus house being equivalent to a salary of almost £40,000. Not so shabby now. So (for most of you!) enough of the whingeing about money.
- time. Yes, you do spend evenings out. But what do you think your secular church leaders do? They work during the day and come out at night. You can, if you plan your day well, have an evening meal with your family. You can be flexible. I worked in the city and I have never yet met a minister – even one of the workaholics – who works harder than we worked then. That's not to say we shouldn't be wise about time and time management. We must certainly not overwork. But the case is overstated.
- ministry success. Go away. Read Ezekiel 1-3. Ministry success is not your measure. Ministry faithfulness is. So if your self-pity is caused by a lack of ministry success, you have greater demons to fight. God have mercy on us all.
Sorry to be so blunt. But self-pity is ugly. And it has no place in the life of any Christian, least of all a minister of the gospel of grace.