Silence is not so golden
So, The Artist is the best film of last year. Not so sure myself, but then they didn't ask me (*). This represents the final nail in the coffin for visual over audio, apparently. The twentieth century is the one that marked our transition from audio experiences (the spoken word, especially) to the visual. TV and movies obviously contributed to that change. So it is interesting that we have come full circle to the place where a silent movie has won the Oscar. Picture is king (**).
That's also the end of sermons then, unless we can make them visual – hoorah for PowerPoint?
No. I don't deny the power of visual. But I do deny that words are powerless, or even that words cannot be visual themselves. This was brought home to me last Saturday. I was speaking at an evangelistic event in Essex and so was only able to watch the first half of England-Wales rugby (***). That meant I had to listen to one of the most exciting internationals for years on the car radio. And you know what? I loved it. It was breathtaking, exciting, visual – all this and more. That was due in part to the excellent commentator (Ian Robertson), but the spoken word need not be dead or dull, boring or irrelevant. It was – dare I say it? – more engrossing that the TV version…..
And of course, The Artist is not a silent film. It has a soundtrack; it's just that the soundtrack is not speech. So, ra-ra-ra for audio and hoorah for radio commentary and three cheers for sermons. Don't let anybody tell you their time has gone. The Sony radio awards do not get the same airtime that the Oscars or BAFTAs do. But they should. And sermons must not be despised. Dull sermons are hard to forgive. But sexing up with video/visual is a wrong reaction to incompetence. The word is still king.
* I'm not bitter about this – just a little disappointed. After all, apparently Denzel Washington's wife gets a vote. Well, he does, but he's too busy so he let's her vote on his behalf according to a newspaper article this weekend. I'm up for voting, if they need help.
** Not everyone can handle silent movies apparently. The official trailer on IMDB has overdubbed speech on The Artist print for John Goodman's character and the dog. See here.
*** For American readers, rugby is a game with an oval ball but without helmets. It's good. Like American football but for real men.
Last chance for London Preachers Day
It's the last chance to book for the London preachers' day here at Willcox House this Saturday. How to preach/teach the psalms….
More information here.
Spring Senior Ministers Conference
Hothorpe Hall, Leicestershire, Monday 30 April to Thursday 3 May 2012
All ministers need encouragement and help to keep going with the gospel and with the task they have been given, of proclaiming the good news of Jesus. These are the twin elements of our ministers' conferences. We long to see people built up in their faith and helped in the practical work of ministry. This unique combination means those who come to ministers' conferences have a chance to get away and be refreshed with the good news once again, and also to sharpen up the skills they are using for God's glory. This year our Bible ministry is led by David Meredith. David is minister of Smithton-Culloden and Nairn Free Church of Scotland and a fine preacher. Last year he was the moderator of the Free Church and he will be leading the expositions. We are also pleased to welcome John Dickson, author, historian and evangelist, from Australia. His sessions at the EMA in 2009 were very helpful and we shall have more of the same as he helps us think through preaching and evangelism. Why not put the dates in your diary and invite a friend along too? More information and booking here.
You can read Carl Trueman's assessment from our last minister's conference here.
'It is a tremendous encouragement to spend time with those who have no patience with pastoral pyrotechnics but who simply want to be faithful servants where the Lord has placed them'
And yes, that really is the Hothorpe Hall food……
Why quotes don’t work
I've been doing some thinking about quotes in sermons and I want to share my conclusions with you. In fact, to be more precise, I want to tell you why quotes rarely work. It's because there are fundamental differences between the written word and the spoken word. Writers rarely write as they speak. Speakers use short sentences. They avoid complex constructions and flowery synonyms. Writers love both and add in subordinate clauses like there was an offer on at Tesco. You probably don't realise this. Get this – that is because when you read out a quote you are in reading mode not speaking mode! But your congregation are in listening-to-speaking mode whether you are preaching or whether you are reading a quote out.
So, here's an excerpt from one of my sermons, word for word:
Imagine this kind of fear! It's fear that comes from being attacked. Attacked by one who was once a friend. Attacked by someone who walked closely with us. And don't think that's just for David. It happens. It happens in churches. It happens in marriages. It happens in families. It happens in Christian relationships.
No sentence has more than 8 or 9 words. That would (or could) look quite different if I was writing it in a book.
Imagine the kind of fear that comes from being attacked, even from one who was once a friend or someone who walked closely with us! It's not something that is unique to David because it happens today in churches, marriages, families and in Christian relationships.
Two sentences and if I'd tried hard it could be one. Same content. Different kind of writing. Some quotes work because people write in very pithy ways or because the story is so gripping the construction matters less (what I call testimony quotes). But these are rare. And this is why quotes often don't work. And we simply don't realise it.
Prophecy in the church today. Or not.
This video is now almost a couple of years old, but a repost is worthwhile. It is from the 2010 EMA and is a discussion on prophecy in the local church between Ian Hamilton (Cambridge Presbyterian Church) and Wayne Grudem (Phoenix Seminary, Arizona). Not only is the topic worthy of some discussion, but I think the whole thing is conducted in a strong positive spirit; which is just how it should be. Lasts for over an hour, so make a coffee first.
How to be a sermon hack
Enjoyable day yesterday when I gave the East Anglia Gospel Partnership meeting my top ten tips for "how to be a sermon hack and other ministry shortcuts." One minister said to me "that's a very appealing title." Quite. My Alice was a little worried for me. "Dad, what happens if they don't realise you're being serious?" I confess that up to that point I had not thought that very likely; however, her words shook my confidence so I made sure that I prefaced my talk with the encouragement that my sermon shortcuts would enable them to spend more time on important tasks such as admin, committees and pastoring through Facebook. Although, on second thoughts, perhaps that latter suggestion was not immediately ironic either!
The truth was that it was relatively easy to come up with ten tips. I also asked Christopher and Robin for theirs – and we could have based a whole Cornhill term around them. That's not surprising of course. First, the negatives are simply the corollary of the positives. One necessarily follows from the other. If we have thought through carefully the positive exhortations about preaching that we value, it's not too tricky to come up with the opposites. But, more profoundly, the truth is that our list of tips had a ring of familiarity about them. It was not difficult to come up with them because, though we are loathe to admit it, they are all things we've done from time to time.
The slightly nervous laughter at the EAGP meeting gave away that we were not alone! I've written them up for this year's brochure, so you'll have to wait for June to get the full lot. In the meantime, I'm sure you can come up with your own list.
The language of a sermon
This Sunday, one of our congregation came up to me after I had preached Jude 20-25 and said "nice speech, pastor." I was a little bemused. I suppose, in some ways, my sermon was a speech – I was speaking. But a sermon is more than a speech or a talk or an address. I understand that we might use those terms on occasion, especially with unbelievers present. But we mustn't be ashamed of proclamation language. Like many others, I recoil when, as a preacher, I am introduced with "now Adrian is going to explain the Bible to us" or "now Adrian is going to come and talk." A sermon is not less than those things, but it is certainly more.
And the danger of reduced language is that it soon becomes a reality. Introduce me too many times with the "explain the Bible" thing and, after a while, I might just start doing that and nothing else. We have a South African evangelist in our church – a great man! – and when he is leading the service, he always says, "now Adrian is going to come and preach to us." I like that. He's not ashamed of what preaching is and what a sermon should be. And neither must we be. Moreoever, we have to teach our congregations to believe that a sermon is more than a talk or a speech. It's only when they understand this (humanly speaking) that they will pray, listen and act on God's word as we pray and long that they would.
How to read the Bible through the Jesus lens
This is a book I really wanted to like. Each book of the Bible is taken in turn and using a biblical theological framework the theme of the book is explained (in a pithy sentence) together with what the author calls "the Jesus lens" (essentially how the book relates to Christ) and "contemporary applications" (which does what it says on the tin). The idea is great – imagine a well presented, short-ish (250pp) summary of Bible books that would be useful on your own bookshelf and something you might want to give to others.
Does it work, though?
Here in the office we haven't read it all through. What we've done is take the two or three books that we're working on in detail at the moment and read those chapters. It's those books we're best placed on to comment, otherwise we're just commenting as generalists.
First of all, I looked at Ezra, my current study project. The Ezra chapter is good, theme "God brings the exiles back to Jerusalem and directs that the temple should be built" gets a thumbs up. The lines to Christ are appropriately drawn (new kind of temple, new kind of building etc) and the applications are sharp. A good start. Then I turned to Numbers. This chapter is poorer, though it still has useful stuff in it. The theme is weaker, "God chastens his disobedient people but reaffirms his intent to bring them into the promised land." Scripture is much blunter about this disobedience and it is telling that in this chapter Michael Williams refers neither to 1 Cor 10 nor Hebrews 3/4, two of the major commentaries on Numbers in the NT.
Robin looked at Leviticus. Proverbs and 1 Corinthians. He's much cleverer than me, so he has these three projects on the go at the same time. He thought the analysis in each of these chapters was warm, but not quite spot on; it could be sharper.
Christoph Christopherson thought the chapter on Job good, though once again the theme sentence was a bit thin. He said that four pages on the psalms is always going to be a struggle to do justice to a diverse book, but it was particularly weaker here on lines to Christ. Good on John, he said, but weaker on Romans. He did have a quick flick through Deuteronomy and said the Jesus lens section there was excellent.
So, all in all a book we really wanted to like. The direction and aim are admirable – but for us it didn't quite click. More B than A student, we might say. That's not to say that it might not serve a purpose, particularly with those starting out reading the Bible for themselves. But we hoped for a little more…
Weakness and authority in preaching
I have been reading very slowly through 2 Corinthians in my personal bible reading; it has been doing me a lot of good. In chapter 13, Paul is grappling with the tension between weakness and strength in a matter of apostolic discipline in the church. They were asking (v3) for proof that Christ was speaking through Paul. Then he says of Christ that, "He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him in our dealing with you."
Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2012
Here are some fascinating EMA stats:
- in the last twenty years over 5,500 different people have attended the EMA
- in the last five years over 2,500 different people have attended the EMA
- last year we welcomed over 300 new delegates
Perhaps that all sounds a little daunting? Maybe, but it's a cause for great rejoicing too. It's still a drop in the ocean of course, but praise God that younger men are being raised up to serve in local churches. And just like local churches we have to work hard to make everybody welcome. Just like newcomers in the church, we want to welcome, integrate, listen and grow to depend on those who have been around for less time than we have. It's the same for us all at the EMA. We plan hard to make it enjoyable and useful for everyone, newcomer or not.
And it's also why, in 2013, we're on the move to a bigger venue with – and this is key – bigger networking and meeting space, so that seeing friends and making new ones continues to be a key part of the EMA. For the moment, places are filling up at this year's event. We need to know how to preach to the heart; who can say that they have this sorted? So make a date to be with us, we look forward to seeing you whether it's the first time you've been or the 29th.