Why do you read?
When we moved the EMA to the Barbican, we had a major rethink about the Bookstore and, in particular, I gave some time to thinking through why ministers of the gospel should read. I guess we had, perhaps subconsciously, always thought in terms of providing a ministers bookstore. But what does that actually mean? The result was that we came up with our three categories of books. Some of these are more natural selections than others. I think we tend to use our limited time to read for ourselves, and often not for our own personal walk, but rather for ministry.
That’s certainly an important category, but not the only one. Here’s what we came up with.
We aim for the Bookstore to serve you in three different ways and have chosen titles for you:
– as followers of Christ: books that will help us understand what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34)
– as preachers and teachers: books that will assist Bible preachers and teachers to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15)
– as leaders of congregations: books that will be good for our people as we seek to shepherd them wisely (1 Peter 5:2)
In fact, ministers of the gospel who are not reading in each of these areas will be at risk of being seriously deficient.
What book shall I preach on next? 10 things to think about
I’ve always found it slightly ironic that we evangelicals who quickly decry the kind of preaching which jumps around from text to text as being a bit mystical (“the word the Lord gave me”) freely choose books through which to preach. Given that any individual book has a dominant theme, we are still, therefore, selecting themes on which to preach at some level. The only way around this, it seems to me, is to begin at Genesis and keep going!
No, I’m quite OK with giving the pastor-teacher (together perhaps with other church leaders) the prayerful and thoughtful duty of selecting a book to preach. I happen to think the value of consecutive expository preaching is not that is completely eliminates the whim of the preacher, but that it mitigates it. But how to choose which one? Here are some things to bear in mind.
1. What kinds of genre have you been preaching recently? Good to give a range.
2. What testament have you been in? We believe the whole Bible to be inspired as Christian Scripture.
3. What gospel have you recently preached? There are four for a reason and they are worth returning to regularly.
4. What particular issues are pressing in church? Are these addressed by a prophet or an epistle?
5. What are kids doing in Sunday School? Can you tie in?
6. Have you covered key themes? Churches turnover very rapidly; we need to ensure as much as possible that people with us for a while have not simply had three years of Jeremiah?
7. What speed have you been going? Try speeding up or slowing down? For example, a series on the Lord’s prayer is a good way to slow things up.
8. What have you been challenged by in your personal devotions recently? This kind of series is going to be fresher than something you have picked off the shelf?
9. What do your other leaders say? They can have good insights into what the church needs.
10. What can you cope with? Some parts of Scripture are harder than others. The over-ambitious preacher makes trouble for himself.
There are others, of course. But these will get you started.
Praying for Muslims
We’re right into Ramadan – possibly the longest one for many years as it falls squarely across the summer equinox when the days are longest. It means the area of London where I live is unusually quiet during the day but surprisingly noisy after sunset (just when I’m trying to get to sleep). We live in one of the most densely populated Muslim parts of the UK which brings with it all kinds of challenges. One of them – at least – is reaching Muslims with the good news of Jesus who saves.
Surprisingly, more Muslims become Christians during Ramadan than other times of year. Experts think this may be because they are more open to spiritual things and are, indeed, searching for something elusive during this period – something that Islam cannot deliver.
It’s therefore a great time to be encouraging your churches to pray for Muslims, especially those in the UK. Pray for conversations! Pray for engagement! Pray for disenchantment! But above all, pray for salvation. It’s a big thing for a Muslim to convert from Islam to Christianity; dangerous, even in the UK. We’re using the WorldChristian Concern 30 days of prayer booklet and resources and you might like to as well.
Loving your wife, Mr Preacher
Last year, Mrs R and I took a marriage seminar in Huddersfield and a dear saint gave me a copy of a cherished article she had kept (and obviously photocopied many times). It is entitled 103 ways a husband may express love to his wife (how to convince your wife you love her) and 94 ways a wife may express love to her husband. (Typical, women get the easy ride, only 94).
It’s quaint and humorous. No.42 “Gently brushing her leg under the table”, No. 14 “Looking at her with an adoring expression” and the remarkably practical and forthright No. 17. “Shaving or having a bath before having relations with her.” It’s easy to mock these things of course, but there’s plenty of wise advice mixed in among the old-folksy stuff that some people I know (me?) might do well to follow.
In a sense, it’s all part of a piece. “Husbands, love you wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” says Paul. Too many husbands I know obsess about what it means to be head of the house. Now, there is no doubt that husbands are head (I’m a firm complementarian) and they need to think about what that means. But “be the head” is not a command of Scripture. It is certainly a reality to be worked out, but it is significant, I think, that the command is actually “love your wife.”
That is the measure. And – to be frank – many ministry husbands could do with a dose of Mrs Saint’s 103 tips. They have spent too much time working out how they will be the head and not nearly enough time praying and acting on Paul’s marriage imperative.
How are you going to love your wife today?
Me? I’m going for no. 43. “Be reasonably happy to go shopping with her.” Now, that’s sacrifice.
I’m thinking a lot about persevering at the moment because that’s the theme of the EMA coming up in just two weeks. It’s amazing how many times the theme has come up in my morning devotions – just again this morning as I wrote out Revelation 2.1-7. I try to write a little portion of Scripture out each day as it helps me absorb (and sometimes even remember) what I’m reading. I’m currently writing out Revelation.
Now, I know that this is a letter written to a church. But the challenge is not just for a church (though that is its primary sharpness). It is also personal. For churches are made up of people, and are led by leaders. So what is written to the church must sink into the lives and hearts of leaders.
And on that basis, this first letter of Jesus is sharp as nails. It’s full of perseverance. Jesus knows my “hard work and perseverance” to make it personal. He knows “I have persevered and have endured hardships for his name and not grown weary.” All well and good.
But such perseverance is empty and meaningless; worse, it is dangerous, unless accompanied by love (v4-5). It’s good we’re talking about perseverance and keeping going. There is a real risk of giving up which we must face up to. But perseverance without love is nothing at all. If I make it to the finish line but have lost my first love then there is no finish line. I’m deluded. Worse still, I’m lost.
Perseverance Plus. Definitely.
‘Faith Comes from Hearing’
My spare-time reading in the last couple of weeks has, I admit, been a bit niche: a book about Bob Dylan, which argues that he has always expressed strongly monotheistic convictions and thus that his apparent period of overt evangelical belief (c.1979-81) was not just a blip in his career. (You may, or very well may not, be interested to know that the book is Stephen H. Webb, Dylan Redeemed. Despite much derision from my nearest and dearest, my fascination with Bobology won’t die.)
The author, a Christian, veers off regularly into musings of his own, and one of them (I joke not) immediately made me think of preaching. On the last page he asks, ‘why is hearing so important to us? And why do voices have the power to command our assent?’ His answer: ‘In listening to any voice … we are prompted to hear the silence out of which speech comes, and if we are truly blessed, we can hear an echo of the first voice – God’s Word – that, by speaking the world into being, gave us silence so that we might hear.’
OK, there is perhaps a little iffy theology and philosopho-babble floating around here, but the basic point is fascinating and (to me) persuasive. There is something about simply listening to the voice of another that has the effect of stilling us, silencing us, so that we may simply hear. That is a vital truth to be reminded of – especially so for we Westerners who are constantly told that voicing our own opinions is our most inalienable right, and who have been schooled by our culture to have the greatest difficulty in simply shutting up and listening to another command our assent. (And the rugged individualism of evangelicalism is at least as worldly as it is godly in this regard.)
That’s the link to preaching. Even my all-too-skimpy reading of older writing on preaching reveals that Paul’s statement in Romans 10.17 that ‘faith comes from hearing’ has loomed pretty large. Dever and Gilbert, in the first chapter of their simply titled work Preach, make much of this – as, in his own more understated way, does John Stott in I Believe in Preaching (published in America as Between Two Worlds). The point being stressed for us in such thinking is not that the Word of God has a unique power in the pulpit that it does not have in the family devotion or the coffee-shop one-to-one. It is that to hear the Word preached is to be in the position of someone invited not first of all to discover for yourself or to ask an impressive question, but to respond with faith to a message which you simply receive and to which you yourself make no actual contribution. In such a context the form of communication matches the content of the gospel of salvation achieved for us in a way that a Bible study (for all its marvellous benefits) does not quite carry off.
I suspect that sharp questions need to be asked of a Christian who always insists that they prefer participating in Bible studies to listening to sermons. There might be some unobjectionable reasons for this preference, but I have come to feel that too often the real reason is unspoken and reveals a spiritual malaise: the person prefers to encounter the Word in a context in which they contribute more than just grateful faith – i.e. one in which they can retain a feeling of control. That may well reveal the presence of a self-serving heart that secretly desires to be justified by works, whatever it may notionally assent to about grace, rather than a heart that is content always to receive with empty hands.
EMA 2016 new songs
Each year we try to sing a mix of old and new songs at the EMA. This year we’ll be singing Dustin Kensrue’s Grace Alone. You can hear the song here. If you’ve accomplished musicians in your church, they’ll be able to pick up the song from chord charts available online. One thing you won’t be able to find though is the sheet music for those who need it. We’re very hesitant about learning something new that is not repeatable in church life, so you’ll be glad to know that we’ve scored out the music which, if you email us nicely, we can send to you. It goes with all the normal copyright restrictions, of course.
EMA 2016: just a couple of weeks to go!
It’s just over two weeks until this year’s Evangelical Ministry Assembly – Leaders who last – at the Barbican. We’d love to see you there and here are five reasons why we think it’s worth making space in your diary for this annual event.
1. The topic is important. Statistically, you’re more at risk of giving up than you might imagine. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young and seemingly invincible or experienced in ministry and a little more realistic – we all need help to make it to the finish line.
2. The fellowship is essential. Ministry, even within a team setting, can be a lonely business. We need the fellowship of others in ministry to be encouraged and to encourage. Standing with like-minded brothers and sisters spurs us on in the gospel.
3. The resources are unparalleled. This year’s Bookstore has some great titles, and you’re not going to see a handpicked store of this size targeted at those in ministry anywhere else in the UK. This year we’ve also got a new consultancy area where you can get free advice for your church in a number of ministry areas.
4. The solidarity is spiritual. The EMA is not a church gathering. Nevertheless, when people from different backgrounds get together in the context of the gospel, we proclaim to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms the manifest wisdom of God. This is an enormous privilege.
5. The habit is healthy. We need good gospel-forming habits, and taking time out to be spiritually refreshed is key. Maybe you don’t feel like you need that this year, but regular attendance is a good habit to form, ready for the more barren times.
Leaders who last. Tues 21- Thurs 23 June 2016 at the Barbican Centre, London.
You can book online here.
EMA 2016 Bookstore: open to the public
One of the highlights of the EMA is our Bookstore. Packed with over 1,250 titles (many of which are new this year) each one has been carefully chosen to serve those who attend. These days, it’s difficult to find a good Christian bookshop and those of you whose members live or work in London may like to know that the Bookstore is open to the public via the Barbican Terrace. It’s open during conference hours from 9:30 to 5:00 (3:00 on Thursday). Come along and browse and encourage your people to visit too. We’d love to see them.
Spring ministers media
We were packed out at this year’s spring ministers conference and had some excellent input. Here are the video links. The audio is also available for download on our website.
Bryan Chappell’s sessions are here, here and here.
Vaughan’s opening and closing expositions.
Simon Medcroft’s two sessions on 2 Corinthians here and here
Andrew Cornes’ sessions will follow shortly.