The ministry of the word is an And
John Benton has written a perceptive piece as his leader in this month's Evangelicals Now. You can read it online here. His point, in essence is, thank God for courses which are teaching people to preach accurately. But this is not enough. Are we teaching (and showing people the importance) people how to pray. We don't just need accurate preachers. We need powerful preachers.
Amen and amen.
And, I might add. It's not just the preachers. It's churches too. How many church prayer meetings whether in small groups or in a larger context, spontaneously (i.e. without being asked) pray for the coming Sunday's ministry? Not many. We've moved in our church from having an elders prayer meeting before the service (very priestly!) to having a church prayer meeting – i.e. everyone's invited. It's small still – but the point is, we call everyone to pray for the ministry of the word. It's that important.
This idea of preachers and churches praying is the subject of a challenging chapter by John Armstrong in the book he edits – now somewhat out of date, but still worth some time. It's called The coming evangelical crisis.
More recently, we felt so strongly about this that we asked Stuart Olyott to write an article for our annual brochure, The ministry of the word is an and, which we've now uploaded to the site as a pdf here.
Financial help: Autumn Ministers Conference
We're in a position to be able to offer some subsidised and free places to our Autumn Joint Ministers conference for those whose financial situations preclude them coming. This year's conference features teaching from Doug Moo, Vaughan Roberts and Glynn Harrison and includes workshops on Colossians, Philemon, Isaiah, John, 1,2,3 John and a group looking at latest or upcoming sermons.The dates are Monday 12 November to Thursday 15 November. There's still time to book on.
- Perhaps you know someone or yourself are in a position where you would love to come but finances don't allow it? Perhaps it's another local minister who would greatly enjoy and benefit from the encouragement of joining us?
- Alternatively, perhaps you have an overseas connection; someone who would benefit from being with us? Why not encourage them to come – and come with them?
Either way, we've got these places on a first come first served basis. In the first instance, please email our conference manager, email@example.com, and we'll take things from there. We look forward to seeing you.
Reading the Bible in small groups
I've blogged about this before, but I'm freshly invigorated to share a new kind of small group study. Wait for it…..we read the Bible. OK, that's a bit simplistic. We're aiming to read through the New Testament together in fairly large chunks. We're not doing inductive verse by verse study. We're simply reading and talking. In case that sounds a bit vague, there is some structure to it.
- We're using The Books of the Bible, a Biblica resource which has the NIV text in the order it was written, but without footnotes, chapter numbers, verse numbers or headings. The text is remarkably uncluttered – much like it would have originally been received. By reading together large sections we are trying to receive the word of God in the same way it might have been first received when churches or individuals opened the mail.
- We're using some standard questions – generally these revolve around "what does this tell us about our triune God?" "What does it tell us about the gospel?" "What does it tell us about humanity?"
- Some leading is required. Some prep, of course, and the ability to head off red herrings. However, the most interesting question so far has been, "What do we see as a result of reading large sections that we haven't seen before?"
Our group, I think it is fair to say, is mixed in terms of age and reading ability. But we've all managed (and for those who struggle, the scheme includes a free audio version). And the insights have been inspiring and have prompted prayer and praise. For example – reading through the first few chapters of Luke we saw how clearly the hero of the story is God (Duh!). Read small stories and you have the accounts of Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, the angels, Simeon, Anna, John the Baptist etc. Read a large section and suddenly the light dawns!
I'm not sure we would want to do this all the time. But it's a refreshing and, it seems, worthwhile task. We're loosely using Biblica's materials – they have a more structured programme if you want – more information here. And this last week's small group was one of the most invigorating we've ever had. So there.
It’s never too early to think about Christmas
Mrs R and I have a book we read each Christmas. It's called Skipping Christmas by John Grisham and it's a short, sharp parody on the excesses of a US Christmas. It makes us smile and gets us into a suitably Scrooge like mood for the festive season. All of which is a rubbish introduction to a great new resource. I can't for the life of me now think why I decided to open that way, but there you go.
Oh yes, Christmas and the potential for a perennial Christian/evangelistic favourite. What if you had a perfect bound (i.e not cheap looking) evangelistic resource that explained the Christmas story in short, sharp language that was accessible and readable? What if it was cheap enough that your church could buy lots and give them away as presents? What if it felt significant enough that it wouldn't just be put in the bin, but read and kept on the shelf? What if it was a faithful telling of the Christmas story? What if?
Christmas uncut is this kind of evangelistic tool. It picks up on key Christmas themes and texts (with links to where the full story can be found in the Bible) and develops them, drawing out the significant meanings that people need to hear and know. Split into seven scenes (Mary, the angel, the shepherds, the magi, King Herod, Simeon and finally Jesus) this is a super way to find out about the Christmas story.
Take a closer look here. It's a 64 page book, but if you buy a hundred you can get it down to £1 which seems excellent value. But this is the kind of book to invest in – I can see it as a good gift for everyone who comes to an evangelistic carol service, for example.
My favourite bit (cheekily) is the quote from Lizzy Smallwood on the back. Not the commendation itself. But the description of her as "presenter of Tales of the Unexpected." And I always thought that was Roald Dahl, sitting in his armchair? Perhaps it's an age thing?
More seriously, make sure you take a look.
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament
Our London fraternal is thinking about preaching Christ from the Old Testament using this paper by Sinclair Ferguson. It's free in our resources section and well worth some of your time (and discussion?).
Preaching happy triggers
I sometimes catch a snippet of the Radio 4 Sunday Morning service and yesterday was one of those kind of days. The service came from Brooks Bar New Testament Church of God in Manchester. I caught only the reading and a small part of the sermon (the reading was Luke 4.14-21 and the sermon on leadership). Notwithstanding the fact that the preacher seemed to have completely missed the point of the passage (the sermon went something like – we’re all leaders, we’re all saved to lead one another and the Spirit has anointed us for this task, for which the proof is Jesus’ words in the synagogue), it got me thinking about preaching happy triggers. Let me explain.
When the pastor extolled clearly (as he did) that Christians were those justified by faith in Christ Jesus and therefore eternally saved, there was barely a murmur from the congregation. But when he then went on to say that Jesus sends his Spirit to make us anointed leaders, there was a loud chorus of hallelujahs. Now, I wasn’t there, so I’m not standing in judgement – but it got me thinking in my own ministry of how easy it is to touch the happy trigger, simply to get a positive response.
I once sat through a sermon series just like this. The preacher felt he needed congregational response and when he didn’t get it he fired off a few well-worn phrases that he knew would stir people up. Job done. We might not have the same blatant approach – but if we know what the happy triggers are in our congregations, it can be tempting to keep pulling them. Conversely, of course, we can avoid those things which cause disquiet. It’s very easy to preach a passage but to avoid something obvious if we know it is going to wind some people up.
The only antidote to all of this, of course, is faithful preaching of the text which, by the way, I commend to you.
Expository preaching in the US
I can't tell you how heartened I was to see this infographic at this year's T4G conference. Worth a minute of your time. And not as universally accepted across the pond as you might think….
Preaching the psalms
This Sunday evening I'm taking our evening service where we have a little section on "how to read…." for different genres of the Bible, followed by Q&A and a short sermon from that particular genre – all designed to help people make the most of reading their bibles. It's an exciting idea – not original to us, but gratefully pinched from Mr David Cook in Australia.
The psalms are an interesting part of Scripture. Here's the thing: ask people what their favourite part of the Bible is and they will often say the psalms. Ask an occasional preacher to take a service while you are away, and he may well preach a psalm. And that's not surprising. To paraphrase Luther, they contain all the theology of Christianity and all the experience of life – no wonder these honest songs resonate.
But they're not easy to understand. For one thing they are Old Covenant songs, and if I had a pound for every time I've heard a sermon or talk that ignores that fact I'd be a rich man (or, at least, I'd have £34 extra). And how to they preach Christ (which we believe they do, of course)? How do you preach them as Christian literature rather than Rabbinic song?
I think the answer is to see the psalms as the kingdom songbook and to see, therefore messianic fulfillment in terms of the anointed king. This is how we teach the psalms at Cornhill (and how Christopher preached them at 2012 EMA). So, for example, I think all the psalms fall into one of four categories:
- songs about the anointed King – what we sometimes call messianic psalms
- songs sung by the anointed King – e.g. Psalm 22
- songs about the anointed King's city – Jerusalem features heavily in the psalmody
- songs sung by us only because we're in the anointed King – Christopher has a way of putting this which I like – Jesus is the soloist and we're the backing singers. This is a great way to see Jesus in the psalms.
Think back to when you last preached a psalm. How much of Christ was there? Did you remember that these are Old Covenant songs? If you're free you're welcome to come along on Sunday…!!!!
Who are we, exactly?
From time to time it's useful to say who the Proclamation Trust is – not because we're in any doubt ourselves (!) but because it's quite incredible just how many people don't get it. For example, just last week I was reading an article by a well known evangelical leader in the UK who described Tim Keller as someone who has been invited to speak "at three Anglican Evangelical Ministry Assemblies." So for the record, here goes.
Our aim is to serve faithful Bible preachers and teachers wherever they may be found. Mostly, they will be in evangelical churches (though this is not always the case). We don't have a denominational affiliation. We're not ashamed of our past though – which is that we grew out of the ministry of Dick Lucas, rector of St Helen's. But we don't have any formal links with St Helen's (though are proud to count them as friends). Our trustees are both from free churches and anglican churches. As are our staff. In fact, our staff belong to Anglican churches (both in the system and on the fringe), a well known church planting network, FIEC churches, we've had presbyterians, someone from a Calvary Chapel and so on and so on. I myself served a Grace Baptist Church for 9 years. We're all sorts – intentionally so.
That's not to say that we don't all have convictions about ecclesiology. We do. We know it's important and too important not to form opinions on. But it's not what defines us as we seek to serve the local church.
And whatever your background, if you want to preach and teach the Bible faithfully, we're happy to serve you. Come to our conferences, use our books, send your girls and guys to Cornhill. We'd love to see you.
How your preaching reveals your bias
An interesting conversation with a colleague today about preaching bias. None of us, of course, would say that we don't attempt to preach a particular passage faithfully. We study it, we think about context, big ideas, outlines, aims and so on. And in any short period of time, we would probably expect to see preaching that reflected the weight of, say, Hebrews, were we to preach through Hebrews.
But what about in the longer term. What about if you were to, let's say, stand back and examine 5 years worth of preaching? What then? I think an evaluation of your preaching over that time would reveal your bias. Measure it up against the weight of Scripture. It's an interesting idea. Too often we measure our faithfulness in terms of the short term – was that sermon I preached faithful to the passage? We nedd that, of course. But we also need the kind of assessment which looks at preaching in the longer term.
If someone attended my church for five years would they hear the whole counsel of God in the same weight as the Scriptures teach. Would they only ever hear about grace and never about the obedience that comes from faith? Would they hear too much on the sovereignty and character of God and not much on the loving relationship he longs to have with his children?
I find that a particularly examining question. Because, standing back (and even with the difficulty of being objective in assessing oneself) I can see that my preaching reveals my bias. What is yours? And how are you going to correct it?