Introducing the 2011 EMA books (3)
Our Day 3 stage recommendation for the EMA is Fred Sanders Embracing the Trinity (as it's known in the UK). It is also sold under its US title, The deep things of God: how the Trinity changes everything.
The author argues persuasively that evangelicals are deeply and profoundly Trinitarian, and yet we have let out "trinitarian-ness" (horrible made-up word by me!) drift into the background, with some dangerous consequences. He argues that we should learn to be Christ-centred without being Father-forgetful or Spirit-neglectful. Some of his chapters are hugely stimulating in getting us to make the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit explicit when talking about central subjects such as salvation, union with Christ, and prayer. We have been discussing a chapter a week on the Cornhill staff team, and finding our thinking challenged and sharpened. Warmly commended.
Introducing the 2011 EMA books (2)
Each day at the EMA we have a stage recommendation. Day 2's recommendation is Preacher, keep yourself from idols by Derek Tidball. I recently reviewed this for the Churchman journal. It's based on lectures Tidball gave at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. It's not a complicated book, nor will it teach you anything you didn't already know (though it may give you an appetite for reading more about John Chrysostom). However, it is sharp and focused and will help you if the Luther is right and the heart is an "idol factory."
There are one or two short places where it feels Tidball has a couple of hobby horses and the book might have been even stronger had these been edited. Nevertheless, overall it's an excellent book and useful reading for every preacher. The index is worth repeating:
Idols of the self
- The idol of the pulpit
- The idol of authority
- The idol of popularity
Idols of the age
- The idol of success
- The idol of entertainment
- The idol of novelty
- The idol of secularization
Idols of the task
- The idol of oratory
- The idol of immediacy
Idols of ministry
- The idol of professionalism
- The idol of busyness
- The idol of familiarity
Introducing the 2011 EMA books (1)
Each day at the EMA we have a special stage recommendation. Day 1's recommendation is Preaching to a post-everything world by Zack Eswine. This is a really useful book with some great help. For example, Zack encourages readers not to make what he calls "expository bans" – aspects of biblical reality we tend to avoid because they are culturally forbidden. He gives some categories of what he means:
- expository censoring – actions that we think should be expunged – e.g. Judges 19.22-30
- expository muting – words that make us feel uncomfortable – e.g. Song of Solomon 7.6-9
- expository equivocations – taking words with one meaning and infusing them with another, e.g. Joseph was thrown into the pit, what are your pits?
- expository evictions – removing people from their places (i.e. what we might call ignoring context)
- expository cynicism – suspicious of human motive and behaviour
This is Keller's endorsement:
Zack moves the Christ centred preaching movement forward with this volume. He not only calls us to carefully contextualize our message to various cultures, sensibilities and habits of heart, but he also gives us a host of practical tools, inventories and guidelines for doing it. All the while he assumes and strengthens the foundational commitment to preaching Christ and his restoring grace from every text. A great contribution.
Introducing the 2011 EMA
It's now one week to go until the 2011 Evangelical Ministry Assembly. That means the office is a bit, well, hectic. But it's exciting too. We have 831 delegates – people in full time Word ministry joining us for three days. The EMA has been full since about Easter – sorry if you missed out on a place, but unlike the Olympics, it's a very fair, first come first served process (booking for 2012 opens in July). We also have an army of volunteers – caterers; musicians; stewards; servers; bookstall guys; cleaners – 133 in all! And we have Rachel (hooray!) – our conference administrator – who organises everything and is the real star of the show.
Let me invite you to pray for the EMA:
- Please pray for the speakers: Liam Goligher, Tim Keller, Vaughan Roberts and David F Wells are our main speakers. David Robertson, Trevor Pearce and Carrie Sandom are leading seminars (as well as some others whose names we prefer not to publicise).
- Please pray for the delegates: pray for a good spirit, friendliness and that folk who come will be both encouraged and stimulated. Not everyone will agree with everything, I guess, but we want to get people thinking.
- Please pray for the office staff: it's hard work and our behind-the-scenes work often goes unnoticed (rightly so). But pray that we will be godly and patient and wise in dealing with any last minute hiccoughs.
Asking the right questions of a text
When faced with out-of-the-ordinary situations in Bible passages, our minds immediately fill with questions. It's difficult, as preachers, not to dwell on these questions, particularly if we feel that our congregations may be dwelling on them too. But the disicpline of good preparation is to ask the right questions. These may be:
- the questions the text wants to answer
- the questions the text asks, even if it doesn't answer
Let me give an example. I'm just studying Hebrews at the moment (yes, still!). I've got to the majestic chapter 11 and the enigmatic Enoch. What do you make of his "translation" (LXX language) – being taken whilst he walked with God. Try googling it. Try sermon-centralling it. There's lots about how this thing might have happened. Was it like a supposed rapture? Was it like Elijah? Was it an Acts 1 kind of moment?
But that is neither the question the text answers, not the one the text asks. In Hebrews 11.5-6, the author is concerned with WHY Enoch was taken, not HOW he was taken. A faithful sermon on Enoch, therefore – whether from Genesis 5.22-24 or Hebrews 11.5-6 ought to focus on that question too. It's quite a different sermon:
- He was taken by faith
- He was taken because he pleased God
- Without faith it is impossible to please God
- So, he was taken by faith
That's not an outline, by the way, just an observation on the logic of the first few sentences of the Hebrews reference. The key to a good and faithful message is always to ask the questions the text is asking/answering. You can't go far wrong if you do that.
In good company and the tone of the text
There's a really very helpful post by Piper here on the preacher's tone and its connection to the text. Well worth a couple of minutes of your time. I notice too that Piper manages to group together Jesus, Paul, John Stott and our own RCL in the same breath….wonderful! I'm not sure (in fact I am sure) the latter two are not deserving of that company – but his point is well made.
So I ask again: What tone should you aim at in preaching?
My answer is: Pursue the tone of the text. But let it be informed, not muted, by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles and by the gospel of grace.
Working with women Part 3
Final part today:
- Recognise most women staff are more emotionally involved in their ministry and find it harder to switch off.
- Women may not have the same output levels as men (eg they might meet with less women but know them better; men might meet with more men but know them less).
- Often women can be the only female on the staff. This can be lonely for them. Ask them what it feels like to be the only woman on the staff and if that’s ok. Encourage them to meet with women outside of the church to talk about ministry issues with.
- SINGLE WOMEN – have to run their own home as well as full time job, tend to work longer hours, can easily burn out. Living on their own – nobody to talk to at the end of the day – can be an issue (women like to talk out their day). May not have husband and children to look after but are often involved in extended family, particularly ageing parents (can get overlooked). Holidays – sometimes hard to sort out. Having a day off when all friends are working is hard.
- CHILDREN’S WORKERS – have lots of admin to do (eg photocopying, cutting, colouring, gluing etc) which can be disheartening when they’ve been trained to teach the Bible / have degrees, have to rely on lots of volunteers (and are often let down by them), physically exhausting job (lifting and carrying, managing groups of children) Eg after weekend away!
Working with women Part 2
Brenda continues with godly tips for working with women:
- Initiate meeting up / have a regular meeting to talk about their work – women need to do this.
- When there’s a problem, it’s probably best not to give solutions too quickly, but more helpful to listen and ask questions. Most of the time women don’t need a solution, we just need a hearing!
- Ask them about their time off (if they’re having enough).
- It’s good to be available.
- Include women in staff meetings. Having staff meetings (even if there is nothing major to discuss) gives them and team time to relate, catch up on how ministry is going, have fun, encourage each other.
- Women will often hold back, so you may need to ask their opinion, invite suggestions – women won’t easily offer it, especially if there is some criticism to give. Don’t assume they have nothing to say.
- Include them in discussions about preaching. Women can help ministers to apply the Bible more effectively to the women in the congregation (more than half women!)
- Occassionally them to share what they have been teaching (outline of Esther etc).
Working with women Part 1
Many of us work with paid female staff. Those who do not nearly all work with unpaid female helpers of one kind or another. At our recent senior ministers conference we invited Brenda Beckett from All Souls to give the guys some help in understanding how the working relationship can work. Her nuggets of godly wisdom are worth repeating over a few days. Here's part 1.
- Ask them what would be helpful. They will know. Ask your wife. Act on their suggestions, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. This will give them a sense of your support, desire to lead them well. Also you may need to adapt how you lead different staff according to their particular needs.
- Make effort to know them as a person, especially when new (along with your wife) ie having them along to family meals every now and then – ask them about family, interests, etc and remember what they've said and ask them about it again.
- Communicate! Relate! Pass the time of day, drop in. Show an interest in them as individuals, part of your team. Show an interest in their ministry as part of your team (ask how a particular thing went eg weekend away talks / speaking at outside event, give constructive criticism on things you see them do). A 5 minute ask every week will save them major meltdowns later!
- The worst thing is just to leave a woman to get on. You may well trust her, not have a specific issue to talk about. But a woman just sees that as all sorts of negative messages. I may be trusted, but I want to see my boss—regularly!!
- Don’t be afraid to guide and direct the work the women do. This isn’t to be a control freak, or mistrust her. But women need reassurance they are on the right lines. Make time to discuss the things on her agenda. Know what she does. Give feedback. Say thank you.
It’s not fair (Olympics and Ministry)
- It's not fair. Despite applying for loads of Olympics tickets I received none.
- It's not fair. I even went for some really obscure ticket choices, after all second round men's epée anybody? Zippo.
- It's not fair. Local residents were initially promised priority tickets. Offer withdrawn.
- It's not fair. The marathon route was originally planned for about 100 yds from our house to go through our Olympic borough. Route redrawn and now nothing will go near our house.
You get the picture. I'm beginning to sound like one of the children. IT'S NOT FAIR.
It's amazing how much you hear that in church. Perhaps not those words, but that sentiment, anyway.
It's amazing how much you hear that in ministry. You've toiled as hard as Rev Joe down the road. How come he gets all the fruit? You've invested a huge amount into young Mike. Now he's off with another church completing his training. You've sweated over a sermon only to be told by dear Doris that she won't be there on Sunday. You've given a year of 121 studies to Kathy & Jim and then they've decided to move with work. IT'S NOT FAIR.
It's amazing how many of our gripes as ministers are linked to a poor doctrine of the church. Play back each of these scenarios with a bigger view in your head of the doctrine of the church. NOT FAIR my foot. HURTS MY PRIDE*, more like.
* speaking from personal experience….