Well, I never saw that before
Isn't the great thing about reading the Bible, preaching the Bible, preparing sermon and Bible studies, the discovery of something you have read countless times over and over but which sinks in with renewed freshness, or even turns out to be something you've never seen before? Of course, it's wonderful when this is a great theme or application you missed; but with experienced preachers very often it's just a little detail here or a word/phrase there. I had that kind of experience this last weekend. I was listening to a sermon on Matthew 26. Here are the verses in question:
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the High Priest, whose name was Caiaphas and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 'But not during the festival,' they said, 'or there may be a riot among the people.'
And the detail? The enemies of Jesus were determined to kill him, only not during the festival. Jesus knew he was going to Jerusalem to die during the festival. His agenda. His timing. His plan.
OK, OK, you've seen that before, you clever thing. Perhaps I had too – but I had forgotten. Isn't the detail wonderful? There's a danger we lose our sense of awe and wonder at the Bible story – not just the grand sweep of what God is doing, but the intricate detail with which he plans all things. I feel suitably chastened and wonderfully uplifted, all at the same time.
Book review: Capital
I've just finished reading Capital by John Lanchester. It's not a Christian book, but it's the kind of book you might read in a book group. And it was only 20p (that's right 20p) on the kindle. Which is a bargain, whichever way you look at it. The book's premise is not particularly original. It follows the story of a group of people who live on the same street in London. Because the street is gentrified, there is a real mix of people who live there – from old EastEnders to city workers. It provides for a nice collection of interwoven stories. It's well written and pretty enjoyable (though not, as the Tube poster promised "outrageously funny" – were they reading the same book?). Partly because it described the kind of street I live in (though ours is not quite so upmarket), I devoured this book.
But here's my overall assessment. It's a sad book. Ultimately, even though some of the stories end well, most end unsatisfactorily. That feels appropriate because that's life. People lose jobs. People die. People get in trouble with the police. People get unfairly treated. People are unhappy. Essentially, even though, one or two stories end well, the overall feel is one of sad and unhappy life.
AS I said, it's not a Christian book, indeed there's very little that's Christian about it. But it reminded me of how good the good news is. The book portrays the people who live and work around us, even if you don't live in a city. Life is hard, sad and ultimately unrewarding. Christ is the only answer and a biblical view of life after death is the only hope. So here's the thing – this non Christian book made me want to go and talk to my neighbours about Jesus.
Lost: to do list. And there’s a reason.
Last week I lost my to-do list. I don't know where I put it, but it's gone. I feel strangely liberated – nothing to do! But then I also feel ever so slightly scared. What if I forget something that was absolutely critical. My colleague Mr Ash reminded me that I'll get reminders about anything important, so not to worry. He's probably right – I'll just enjoy the moment. My PA, however, expressed surprise that my to-do list wasn't on my iPad or computer, given that I'm such a techy "geek" (nice to have have respect).
However, there's a reason I don't have an electronic to-do list and hence a reason why I was able to lose the paper one I use. I learnt long ago that if I carry around an electronic to-do list with me I'm always looking at it and thinking about what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, what order things need to be done in, – even on days off, evenings in and so on. You can see how unhelpful that would be.
A few years ago I went to a pastors seminar where I heard Andy Paterson (previously pastor of Kensington Baptist Church in Bristol, now Missions Director for the FIEC) speaking. He said that pastors tended towards one of two sins: either overwork or laziness. We would do well, he suggested, to work out our temperament and likely sin and fight it hard. I remember the talk clearly even though it was some time ago. My predilection is overwork and carrying round a to-do list – always looking at it, thinking about it, working on it. It's all really very unhelpful.
So that's why I have a paper to-do list and hence, why it was lose-able.
What's your natural inclination? To overwork. Or to underwork? And how, under God, are you fighting that pastoral sin? Perhaps you need to go pen and paper?
Oh, and by the way, if you're expecting me to do something and it's important, would you mind sending me a gentle reminder?
Confidence in the ordinary
Very struck last weekend by Julian Hardyman's ministry at the FIEC Hub conference from Acts 20. There's lots I could say about it, but one thought – mentioned almost in passing – struck home with me. "We mustn't be overawed by great stuff on the internet. What people need is a local church pastor involved in their lives." It's an important calling to the ordinariness of ministry captured well by Don Carson's assessment of his father's ministry. Another man I interviewed over the weekend told me that he didn't want to be a mega church pastor or an internet sensation, he simply wanted to shepherd a local church. That was the limit (!) of his ambition. My heart leapt for joy. That's the kind of "ordinary" ministry that every pastor-teacher is called to – preaching to his people, involved in their lives, serving them with a loving shepherding heart. It's precisely the kind of "ordinary" ministry that we need to have confidence in.
Only it's not so ordinary, is it? It's glorious joy. It's precious delight. It's amazing privilege.
What's your ambition, would you say?
Where are all the seniors workers?
Youth workers are invaluable. They are also a very common concept. Churches that don't have paid youth workers generally have unpaid volunteers doing the same role. Churches that have no youth workers often wish they did. There's training available. There are courses. Books. Resources. All good.
But I wish the same could be said for seniors workers. The church has thought very little, it seems to me, about reaching and pastoring an increasingly elderly population. There are theological issues to grapple with – how do I pastor a church member with dementia? There are practical issues to deal with – how do we physically arrange things to make church accessible? There are urgent evangelism issues to deal with – not least, statistically speaking, older folk are closer to the Day than those who are younger (though I recognise there is a common urgency).
Given all of this, it is surprising there are so few (any?) seniors workers. Why? It's tempting to think that your next church appointment must be a youth worker. You see that as intrinsic to the survival of the church. Perhaps you're right. But have you even thought of appointing a seniors worker? It need not be expensive – perhaps a newly retired man or woman; they may have a pension and even some housing. But think of the benefits it could bring…..
Woah, slow down Tiger!
We have long espoused the practise of looking at the text carefully and working out what the teaching units are and using those as a basis for preaching. That is especially important when it comes to preaching narrative – old or new testament. It works well for prophecy too. But it is often the case that preachers in our constituency can be tempted to go too fast through a book. True, there is often value in stepping back and taking in the big picture – it's something we commend. But there are times when it does well to slow down. Even take one verse.
In those situations, carefully working out the context and making sure it informs the text is even more critical. A stupid example suffices: 1 Corinthians 7.1 needs the verses that follow otherwise you would miss the point or get completely the wrong point. There are some texts that will sustain a slower approach and some that won't and we mustn't try to force those that won't.
But some slowing is useful and helpful. I thought about this morning. I'm studying through Romans in my devotions and spent all my time this morning on one particular aspect of 1.16-17. It was an immensely rewarding time. It made me want to preach 1.16-17 as a little unit, without speeding off into the distance. That would be of great benefit to the congregation. Of course, to go through the whole of Romans at that speed would take years and years (hasn't someone done that?). But there is surely a case for, every now and again, pausing, stopping, slowing, reflecting.
Slow down Tiger!
Applications are now coming in for the PT Cornhill Training Course starting in September 2013. The course is unique in terms of its focus (on preaching and teaching) and intensity (four days over one year or two days over two years). Most people do the course part time and work in a church. We've enjoyed partnering with churches in and around London, but also further afield. This year we've students from Bristol, Oxford, Lincoln: they mostly stay in London overnight for the two day part of the course. We've found that the combination of doing PT Cornhill and working in a local church is a precious way of making what students learn grounded in reality. Do call us and speak to one of the staff if you would like to find out more about how you can partner with us (or rather, as befits our ecclesiology, how we can partner with you, the local church is king!).
Perhaps you have suitable guys (and girls) in your church whom you would love to encourage into training? Even if they don't go on into ministry (and a large minority of our students don't), the PT Cornhill course prepares them really well for a lifetime of service in the church. Perhaps you have students but are not in a position to finance them or host them? Why not consider partnering not just with us but with another church which runs a training scheme? I happen to know that Duke Street Church, Richmond, Whittlesey Baptist Church, nr Peterborough, ChristChurch Harpenden, ChristChurch Southampton and Farnham Baptist Church are both looking for people for September 2013. There are also opportunities in Dublin, though obviously not doing the PT Cornhill course…!!
The biblical imperitave to train a new generation is critical to the life of the church. What part is your church playing?
Important announcement on EMA audio
We've decided that from now on ALL our online audio will be free. That means that the last few EMAs are all now available online for download at no cost. Spread the word!
- EMA 2012 Heart Matters here
- EMA 2011 Preaching that connects here
- EMA 2010 Not by might, nor by power
The best way to enjoy the EMA is still in person of course! Booking is now open.
A few people have emailed to ask what exactly we taught on our marriage course and how we ran it, so here's the low down. We took two Saturday mornings and ran from 10.00am-2.00pm. The actual teaching only ran from 10.00am to 12.30pm including a break for coffee. That's because we wanted to encourage couples to take a lunchtime together without their kids, with us providing central childcare. In the event, that didn't work out exactly as we expected, but it was the plan. Our overall aim was to be biblical first and foremost. There are other courses around which provide lots of practical wisdom, but we wanted to encourage couples to think about big issues from biblical principles, and also learn to work things out for themselves.
Mrs R and I ran it jointly. We've done similar days before but this was the first on home turf. I did the teaching (apart from one section where we split in two and she taught women, I taught the men). She tended to introduce application questions or video clips (we had Mr Bean and Fawlty Towers among other clips). We sat the couples in…well, couples and told them that they would only have to discuss with their partner. There was no group discussion or asking for answers. We think this is pretty important to make this kind of day hit the right note.
So, four sessions:
- purpose and role
- words and communication
- sex and intimacy
- rows and in-laws
All pretty self-explanatory. We spent longest on number one. All the way through we emphasised the importance of strong marriages not just for their own sake but for the sake of the church too. I commend the idea. Well worth doing in your own setting. And we had a nice invite which I've shown above and below:
We asked Doug Moo to say a little about Bible translation (and the updated NIV in particular) at our Autumn Ministers Conference. He made some helpful observations that are worth bearing in mind when it comes to translations – some of which are useful for preachers as well:
- it is important to read theology out of the text rather than the temptation to read it into the text
- all translations have to think about meaning – you can't simply translate words. A literal Bible is not, by definition, a more accurate Bible
- translation is important because translation is a form of communication; therefore you always have to be asking for whom you are translating (all preachers should be thinking this way)
- the general and steep decline in the ability to read and comprehend has huge implications for Christianity given that it is based on the interpretation of a book. Churches have not really begun to grapple with this sea-change
Doug's presentation is online for free here, Doug starts speaking just over half way through, you can scan through until Glynn's voice disappears and Doug's appears!