Learning from Peter the preacher
Just sat through a great session at our younger ministers conference with David Cook on preaching in Acts. Audio and video up soon, but for now, here are David's conclusions on Peter's three sermons (Acts 2, Acts 3, Acts 4):
- 'cut me and I bleed the Bible' – Peter's sermons are infused with the Bible throughout. This is our task, to proclaim Christ from the Scriptures.
- engagement – we respect both the Bible and the people we are preaching to. Answer the questions that the text encourages us to ask.
- courage – too much preaching today uses phrases like 'perhaps' or 'maybe' or 'may I suggest' – these are never present in Peter's preaching
- gospel – Peter never loses sight of the gospel in his preaching
- Peter doesn't rush to imperatives. E.g. first command in Romans is Rom 6.11. Go to indicatives first. Who is God and what has he done? Imperatives derive from the indicatives.
Preaching from an iPad
I noticed last week that David Meredith preached from an iPad. I asked him for a few tips to which I'll add one or two of my own. These are, of course, not hard and fast rules. But it's useful to hear what others have found helpful. David pointed out that the glare from the screen and the lack of uplighting in his church made his face shine…. not sure that is exactly the kind of image we preachers want to present! But it made us smile.
And if you're not a techy. Sorry. I just see an increasing number of guys with tablets; I use one myself. Therefore, some wisdom on how to use them in preaching seems apposite.
- tablets lend themselves to situations where you have a lectern or a pulpit. Frankly, if you are a note holder and wanderer, they are too heavy, too slippery, too likely to fall.
- save your notes as a pdf and read them in something like dropbox. An iPad (not sure about other tablets) does not preserve Word formatting, so if you rely on notes looking a certain way, then you need a pdf
- However, this makes the file uneditable. Personally, I am still scrawling over my notes with a few minutes to go as I think of last minute things to say (or not). I use an app called goodnotes (iPad only) which allows you to annotate pdf files with a finger or pen – so I scrawl, highlight, cross out. Wonderfully, these last minute changes are then saved as part of the pdf (whilst a computer Word document rarely contains the final version of a sermon).
- Check you're charged. Duh! A tablet has plenty of charge to last a sermon. As long as it is charged, that is!
- Shut down other apps. You don't want pop ups distracting you during the sermon
- Seriously, if uplighting is a problem, you can turn down screen intensity. Worth knowing how to do this.
- Use a case that carries the weight of the iPad. I have an Apple smart cover whose back stops the iPad slipping when it's on a slope, except very steeply raked lecterns.
- Don't use your tablet for your notes and your Bible. It's difficult to keep switching between the two and, for my money, I think it's good for people to see you with a Bible in hand. There's nothing sanctified about a paper copy, I don't think, but your weaker brothers (i.e. the congregation) may not think so.
In broad terms, don't make a big thing of using a tablet. Be discreet. Don't show off. It should be serving you and the congregation, not the other way around. At the end of the day, it's just a techy way to display notes. Don't think it's more.
Three important history books
Having spent two conferences with Dr John Dickson, we've been encouraged to think rightly about history. We'll post the audio and video soon, but in the meantime, here are his top three history/background books:
- The Oxford Classical Dictionary, this is expensive, shop around
- The Dictionary of NT background, bit cheaper!!
- The Encyclopedia of the historical Jesus, another pricey volume, but apparently, as they say, worth it.
There's a longer list of twenty, but this seems a good place to start. Personally, as a history lover but history dunce, I have also found the NIV Archeological Study Bible edited by Walt Kaiser to be really useful. And slightly cheaper too….
A useful funeral tip (2)
How many of us have had to endure this 'nice' little poem at funerals:
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
A useful funeral tip
This week and next I'm chairing workshops at our ministers' conferences on preaching at and leading funerals.We've had some interesting tips. Here's one from Tony Cannon who ministers in leafy Surrey: often times the closest relatives are too upset to take in what you're saying so if you're the kind of preacher who uses a manuscript (and even if you're not) why not give the family a nicely presented copy of your semon in an envelope, perhaps with a hand written note or invitation to the church and a copy of the order of service if you have one. Who knows? They may read it later. And they may take it in. They will certainly appreciat that you are not just a professional but someone who's interested in them. Great idea. Nice touch, Tony.
Wisdom from the world?
Interesting to read an interview in the press at the weekend with Philip Collins. He was the (very young) speech writer used by Tony Blair who, it is said, made a large contribution to Blair's public speaking effectiveness. The Times included a cut out and keep (!) guide to "how to write a speech in six easy steps":
- Get to know your audience. 'You'd be amazed how often people forget about their audience before they speak'
- What expectations do you have? 'Failed speakers never quite know what they are trying to achieve'
- What's your topic? 'You have to know what you want to say' 'This is the most important thing you have to get right'
- Mind your language. 'Most speech writing is rewriting. Don't be precious about your words. It's the argument that matters, not the precise wording'
- Writing for an individual. He means, make yourself authentic.
- Delivering the speech. 'It's incredible how many people hear the speech for the first time as they are delivering it.'
Interesting. When I first read it, I thought to myself, there's wisdom in the world. We just need to sift it out. And sure, there's wisdom here for preachers. Some of it direct. Some of it indirect. Try it. You can apply these lessons in some way or shape to good preaching. I think there's worth in that.
As I reflected on it, of course, I realised that the reason there is 'wisdom in the world' when it comes to speech writing (and speaking) is that for many, many years the best (and only) public speakers were preachers. So by all means learn something from Philip Collins. But as you do, remember that he himself has learnt, some way down the line, from the great preachers.
When a few words of faith are not enough
Watching the FA cup final on Saturday (US readers, that's a sports game called association football that is the world's favourite game, but I understand if you've not heard ot it), I was delighted to see Fabrice Muamba in the crowd. He was also interviewed in this weekend's press. It's truly remarkable. The man should be dead. His heart stopped on the pitch for 78 minutes. Twice doctors threw in the towel on resuscitation. Yet here he is. He's forgetful. He'll never play again, I suspect. But he's alive. Like I said, I'm truly thankful.
His situation raises some interesting questions, not least the Christian veneer with which everything has been coated – headline in The Times, for example: "If God is with me, who can be against me? There is nothing to fear" Quite an amazing statement for the national press. His recovery, we read, is down to prayer. Sounds good, huh? Romans 8:28 and intercession all wrapped up together.
But the interview made me uncomfortable. Here is a man who lives with his girlfriend, with whom they have a child. He, according to the interview anyway, swears like a trooper. These are hardly the normal marks of a believer. Who am I to say? Well, quite. But isn't it interesting how quick the Christian population are to pick up on a few words of faith in order to be able to claim someone as our own?
I don't want to draw lessons about Fabrice. I am truly, truly glad he's alive and (if he has not already) I hope that he will soon come to a real and living faith in Christ. Rather, it makes me think of the local church. How quick we are to latch on to the words of someone in church and immediately claim them as a convert. I can think of several cases in my own ministry where that has proved to be patently unjustified. We are, of course, desperate for people to be saved. So a word here or a gesture there – well, of course, it gets our pulses racing. But perhaps we also need to be honest and say, a few words of 'faith' are not enough.
The problem is that we stop evangelising such people. They're 'in' aren't they! Job done. And then, something happens, time passes, and suddenly you realise they're gone and lost. Hebrews 6 is sobering here.
I sat through Mark Dever talking about the danger of unconverted members in our churches when I was in the US recently. At the time, I was thinking to myself, perhaps this is a particularly American problem. Now, I'm thinking again…. Our church life needs to move people along constantly in their walk with Christ. I hesitate to say 'journey' because it just sounds so, well, emerging. Nevertheless, a few words of faith are often not enough and we have to help people to start well, race well, and finish well – finish with real, lasting and effective faith.
Youthwork and legalism
This is a really useful article by Cameron Cole over at TGC on why youth work tends towards legalism. Read it if you're a youth worker or minister with youth work in your church, It's important.
Preachers loving history, with a few exceptions!
At this year's senior ministers' conference and being greatly challenged by John Dickson's sessions on history, evangelism and exegesis. Helpful stuff for preachers which will be online in next few weeks. When John told Dick what he was speaking on, Dick said, "how fresh." John wasn't sure whether to take this as a compliment or not! But here's a summary from day one:
History, argued John is critical. Why?
- Because Christianity is definitionally historical. Unlike many other religions it is fundamentally about events that happened in history
- We're always doing history whether we like it or not. When we read the Bible and understand Greek words, for example, we're basing this on history
But, said John, history has limitations too:
- History is random. We have less than 1% of NT documents and archeology. For example, no personal correspondence from Tiberius who ruled the world but we have a complaint from a junior tax collector about being beaten up at the gym from the same period.
- History is incapable of demonstrating some things that are essential to our faith, e.g. that Christ died for sins
- It is sometimes difficult to avoid bad history, e.g. 'there is more evidence for Jesus than Julius Caesar' which is simply not true.
- History can tempt the preacher to show off
- History can distance people from the text of Scripture. It can become like a secret knowledge.
- History is not an objective discipline. Some historians have stretched history to disprove the Bible and we can sometimes be guilty of the opposite.
But tonight, John is just getting going on why history is friendly to the preacher… so it's not all bad news.
Call me: we all have a blind spot
At least one, in fact.
I was reminded of this reading obituaries of Chuck Colson, who died last week. He was a great Christian, in many ways. His conversion was astounding and the work of prison ministry exceptional. His autobiography, Born Again, was one of the first Christian books I ever read (because a Christian friend had given my father a copy – he never read it). But he had an obvious (to me) blind spot: I could never understand his attachment to and promotion of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. (Along with, may I say, another hero of mine, JI Packer).
I still see clear water between the two groups. That's not to say I've not met godly Catholics. But it seems to me that they are so in spite of the system, rather than because of it. This clear water is an issue that Michael Horton tackles in the latest issue of Modern Reformation:
In five hundred years, what has changed?… There are indeed remnants of truly Orthodox with genuinely biblical faith and practice in the Roman Catholic Church, but as a total structure the flaws go right to the foundation. In terms of authority, Rome teaches that Scripture and tradition are two. That's why the Magisterium – the teaching office of the church – can invent sacraments, forms of worship and even dogmas that it acknowledges aren't in the Bible.
He goes on to show how the Church fights strongly against the imputation of Christ's righteousness while teaching that Mary's righteousness can be imputed! It's not a blind spot that I am at all comfortable with – even though, I realise, it may make me sound rather like an old-fashioned Protestant. But the fact is, I've got something to protest against. So be it.
That's hardly my point for writing though. You may, or may not, agree with me on this. But what else? I'm sure we've all got a blind spot. I'm personally very, very good at spotting other people's. Call me if you need help. But when it comes to my own……