Best books on preaching (1)
There are SO many books on preaching. Many have lots of merit, and it seems almost churlish to single out some over others. But over the summer, I've put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and produced a list of ten musts. These are all single authored (perhaps another time I'll pen something on multi-author preaching books) and I'm not even sure they're the best ten – but they're ten books that preachers or aspiring preachers would do well to have in that they represent a variety which covers lots of bases. So here goes, in no particular order:
1. I believe in preaching by John Stott
My colleague, Sir Richard Lucas (I'm anticipating his knighthood any day now), says this is a 'magnificent book' and he's not wrong. It was out of print in the UK for some time, but has been reissued by Langham. Good. It's a majestic introduction to the whole subject of preaching matching both a theological framework for preaching alongside help in how to preach. A good gift for any new preacher and still fresh for those with lots of experience, even after all these years (it was first published in the early 1980s).
Best Numbers commentary
Several people have asked me, as I've been working through Numbers, what my favourite commentaries have been. I've been using lots. But these three stand out.
- For a detailed technnical commentary I've found Timothy Ashley's NICOT extremely useful.
- For a best value verse by verse analysis, Wenham is hard to beat (Tyndale). Very thorough for such a short book.
- For a devotional commentary, Iain Duguid is simply superb. His volume is in the Kent Hughes, Preach the Word series.
There you are.
The error of disproportion
Had a cultural break from sport last week when Mrs R and I celebrated 21 years of marriage and we went to the Proms to see Elgar's The Apostles. It's a curious piece – full of Edwardian splendour and over-the-top-ness. There are some theological flaws in it (Mary Magdalene is not the Prostitute). But it can also be moving at times. What interested me most, however, was how disproportionate it was. It tells the tale of Christ from the point of view of the Apostles (fair enough, and quite interesting). But most space, by far, is given to…..Judas Iscariot.
According to the programme notes, Elgar was fascinated by him and the piece largely rewrites his role as one of misguided enthusiasm. No doubt he was reflecting the Edwardian mood of the moment. But it made me think how clever Elgar was to rewrite the balance of the gospels where Judas gets relatively little attention.
It's easy, isn't it, to give our pet subjects more preaching air time than the balance of the Bible maintains. Working through a book at the pace a book sets is an excellent way to give the right balance of time to the various topics and subjects that are raised. It would save you from a 10 week series on Judas (which is effectively what Elgar gave us). It would mean, for example, preaching Genesis 1-11 (as we are doing) that you would give the whole creation-evolution debate the right amount of time without missing the lessons of those glorious opening chapters.
The idolatry of the games
OK, it was fun wasn't it? I loved it. Free to air sport. Drama. Tension. Enjoyment. A really good spirit every time I went near the park and for the closing ceremony (which Mr Mayor gave me a free ticket for!). I am a sport junkie and I have to admit that it fed by habit. Moreover, even Mrs R and the Misses Rs got into it. Big time. (Though our sports of choice were different). But there was something not quite right. I nailed it during the closing ceremony when the male voice choirs sang the anthem (for which we were asked to stand!):
Immortal spirit of antiquity,Father of the true, beautiful and good,Descend, appear, shed over us thy lightUpon this ground and under this skyWhich has first witnessed thy unperishable fame.Give life and animation to those noble games!Throw wreaths of fadeless flowers to the victorsIn the race and in strife!Create in our breasts, hearts of steel!Shine in a roseate hue and form a vast templeTo which all nations throng to adore thee,Oh immortal spirit of antiquity.
Hm. It's semi-religious. In fact, not just semi-religious, but full on. The irony is that the music was encouraging us to shake off the shackles of religion (Freedom, Imagine etc). You can be what you want to be. The music portrayed a religion of self free from any outside influences or constraints. But this was set in juxtaposition to the commitment and 'worship' that we are called to pay to the Olympic spirit.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into it all? But it's a kind of idolatry, is it not. Leastways, that's what the Bible calls it.
The singing at this year's EMA was superb, thanks in part to a great musical team headed by Richard Simpkin. For those who have been asking, here's what we sang:
- Be thou my vision
- Come, O fount of every blessing
- Come praise and glorify our God
- I stand amazed in the presence
- Jesus, I my cross have taken
- Now unto the king
- O for a heart to praise my god
- Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
- Sovereign Lord, we sing your glory
- There is a fountain filled with blood
- When peace, like a river – only in an album or just lyrics
- Who has held the Oceans
A confession, but I’m not ashamed
I'm sorry, but today I have to admit…..that I read Thomas a Kempis. Of the imitation of Christ (77p on your kindle) is certainly a book of its time (late medieval). It's quite Catholic in some of its outlook, but in many places it is entirely protestant and I benefit from it greatly. Here's one chapter entitled: "That God is precious, above all things, and in all things, to him that loveth Him."
BEHOLD my God and my all! What would I more, and what greater happiness can I desire? O sweet and savory word! but to him that loveth the Word, not the world nor the things that are in the world. My God and my all! To one that understandeth sufficient is said; to one that loveth, to repeat it often is delightful. For when Thou art present, all things yield delight; but when thou art absent, all things grow loathsome. Thou makest a tranquil heart, great peace, and festive joy. Thou makest us to think well of all things, and in all things to praise Thee, nor can anything without Thee afford any lasting pleasure; but if it is to be agreeable and well-pleasing to us, Thy grace must be present, and it must be seasoned with the savor of Thy wisdom.
2.To whom Thou impartest a relish, what will not be rightly agreeable to him? And to him that relisheth Thee not, what can ever yield any true delight? But the wise of the world and the wise according to the flesh are destitute of Thy wisdom; for in the former is found much vanity and in the latter death. But they that follow Thee, by the contempt of worldly things and the mortification of the flesh, are found to be wise indeed; for they are translated from vanity to truth, from the flesh to the spirit. Such as these have a relish of God; and whatever good is found in creatures, they refer it all to the praise of their Maker. But great, yea, very great, is the difference between the relish of the Creator and the creature, of eternity and of time, of light uncreated and of light enlightened.
3. O Light perpetual! transcending all created lights, dart forth that light from above, which may penetrate all the secret recesses of my heart. Cleanse, cheer, enlighten, and enliven my spirit with its powers, that with joyful ecstasy it may cleave to Thee. Oh, when will this blessed and desirable hour come, that Thou mayst fill me with Thy presence, and become to me all in all? So long as this is not granted, my joy will not be full. As yet, alas, the old man is living in me; he is not wholly crucified, he is not perfectly dead. He still lusteth strongly against the spirit, he wageth war with me, neither suffereth he the kingdom of the soul to be quiet.
4. But Thou, Who rulest over the power of the sea, and assuagest the motion of its waves, arise and help me. Scatter Thou the nations that delight in wars, crush them in Thy might. Show forth, I beseech Thee, Thy wonderful works, and let Thy right hand be glorified. For there is no hope nor refuge for me but in Thee, O Lord my God.
Sabbaticals – some practical tips
Perhaps you're thinking in your church – we could never do that! We don't have the resources, time, people etc. You may be surprised. Try it. Put it like this – if your minister burns out, you may have to carry on his ministry anyway, with the added burden of having a burnt out minister, quite possibly a broken marriage and a deflated church. Don't risk it.
Here's some practical ideas
- We used to say in our church (an idea we nicked, indirectly, from Woodlands Evangelical Church in Derby). For every year I worked I accured two weeks sabbatical entitlement. I could take this off in a block in consultation with the elder. So, in the event, after five years I took at 10 week leave. If I had left it 10 years, it would have been 20 weeks and so on. We all knew where we stood, and it was fair and agreed by the church in advance.
- In terms of what to study, if that is your thing, look for advice from WEST or Oak Hill or the John Owen Centre, all of whom will help you with planning a study sabbatical.
- Don't let the church see a minister's sabbatical as downtime, but rather training and developing opportunities.
- Plan a minister's sabbatical carefully but don't be overly ambitious
- If a minister has a family try to think how a sabbatical might be enjoyed by all of them.
- Consider, if possible, making sure that a minister does not lose out financially. He should certainly be paid – but if you agree ministry trips with him, consider funding them properly. Don't forget, paying for holidays, say, carries tax implications.
- Make sure your minister does not cut himself off from other Christians. If his friends are mainly in the church, this could be a real risk. I don't think ministers need to stop attending church during their sabbatical. It is, after all, their Christian family.
- Be rigorous about what a minister does (or rather doesn't do). Don't stand for "I'll still come along to elders meetings, of course…."
Sabbaticals – seven good reasons (7)
7. Sabbaticals protect ministry families
This will not apply to you if you're minister is single, but let's assume for a moment he's not. Do you know the pressure ministry puts on ministry families? It's greatly underestimated. Now is not the time to rehearse why is this. Trust me. It's true. Sabbaticals allow a minister to rediscover his family if they are lost – and, at least, spend good time with them. Families need this kind of break as much as a minister. Let him pick the kids up from school. Let him read bedtime stories. Let him date his wife and even cook her a meal. Let them take an extended holiday. A happy home will be a happy ministry.
Sabbaticals – seven good reasons (6)
6. Sabbaticals allow a church to exercise a wider mission
It does depend, of course, how a minister shapes his sabbatical. But unless he's just inward looking – focusing on his own walk (a dangerous path if that's all he's doing), there is a great opportunity to widen the church's influence. I personally think that world mission can benefit greatly from sabbaticals. Of my 10 weeks, I spend 3 abroad – two in India, writing a systematic textbook for translation into Hindi, and one week in Cameroon training pastors. The church really got behind it – financing, praying, supporting. Our outlook was broadened as a result and our commitment, I trust, to world mission deepened. That kind of ministry was not my main ministry (I was a local church pastor) but it was healthy for the church, healthy for me and, we hope, good for the church across the world.
Sabbaticals – seven good reasons (5)
5. Sabbaticals allow churches to reshape leadership models
Chances are leadership works in your church the same way it has always worked. That may be great. But there's no incentive (or time) to step back and think whether the shape is right and proper. Are the right people doing the right things, suited to their gifts. Are there nascent talents that need to be developed. The only way a sabbatical can work is if a church sits down and plans for the leadership change that will inevitably take place for a month or two or three. People may have to learn new skills. Some things may have to be dropped – and you may discover you don't miss them anyway! Again, it would be nice if this kind of assessment and reshaping happened all the time, but we all know……